East Midtown Greenway - Diatom Lace - CODAworx

East Midtown Greenway – Diatom Lace

Client: Stantec Consulting Inc.

Location: New York, NY, United States

Completion date: 2023

Project Team


Stacy Levy

Stacy Levy

Landscape Architect

Amy Seek


Public Art facilitators

Emily Blumenfeld

Via Partnership


Diatom Lace is underfoot at the East River. This new park project is a half mile journey across pavers that show the life in the East River. These pavers, designed by Stacy Levy show the gorgeous architecture of the diatoms in the waters of the East River which flows past the newly constructed East Midtown Greenway, a new park for the City of New York. 5,000 embossed concrete pavers are placed along the walkway which hovers over the East River. Stacy worked with Landscape Architects from Stantec to create an artwork which embellished the park’s paving pattern with an ecological ornament of microorganisms.
Unseen by our naked eye, microscopic organisms called diatoms drift in the East River, thousands in a single teaspoon of its water. Single-celled and photosynthetic, diatoms supply oxygen to one out of every five breaths we take. Floating in the water below are the common diatom groups Coscinodiscus, Navicula, & Cyclotella. Crucial to life on earth, they are celebrated on the patterned, interlocking concrete pavers of Diatom Lace.
The outsized, critical role of these tiny phytoplankton is as unrecognized as their intricate architecture. Their ornate silica shells are magnified and represented here. The artist focuses our attention on an invisible keystone of the ocean’s food


Through an artist selection committee process which included community participants, the design team worked to integrate the artist into the early stages of the design process so that the artwork could be conceived alongside the overall design. The project is a linear park on structure with a narrow width constrained by DEC Permit; it was imperative that the artwork not reduce critical clearances for pedestrians and cyclists. However, given the project’s tight constraints, the artwork was called upon to elevate the design beyond mere passage, to arouse curiosity, to add texture and beauty, and to educate along the way. A sculptural paver inspired by Gaudi’s sealife tiles satisfied these demands. The pavers provide a fanciful depiction of sealife, illustrating the microorganisms of the East River, with a modern ecological perspective. Pedestrians can enjoy the intricate architecture of the diatoms that live in the river water itself, with educational signage at periodic intervals. The tiles shimmer in irregular shapes, echoing the play of light on the river’s changing current, and bringing the water nearer.


Our collaboration began during our shortlist interview when the artist communicated her understanding of the design goals and the constraints of the site. Once selected, her process unfolded alongside that of the larger design team, and frequent meetings were held to share progress on both sides. Our team provided feedback on technical and conceptual levels. Together, we created the overall pattern for the clusters of hex pavers. The park is long, and it would be easy to lose a sense of cohesiveness while walking its length. We wanted to achieve an impact across the entire course of the park, so the team agreed on large groupings of clusters at the main entrance to the park, at special intersections, and a slipstream of clusters all the way to the end of the park. The work was shown together during multiple reviews by the Public Design Commission, our client team, and the various agencies involved. Because the artwork also serves as paving, our team worked together with the artist to develop details and specs to ensure the constructability of the paver. During construction, we were on site together laying out site elements and artwork in tandem.

Additional Information

Stacy Levy worked closely with research ecologist Judy Yaquin Li, NOAA Fisheries, Milford Laboratory.