April — better known as the month of showers, Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday, and Earth Day — has also been designated National Landscape Architect month. Aside from Olmsted, however, landscape architects continue to fly largely under the radar. A case in point: Clarke and Rapuano, a firm with enormous impact on New York City’s urban landscape, whose name is hardly known outside the profession.
Gilmore D. Clarke (1892-1982) and Michael Rapuano (1904-1975) began their professional partnership in Engineering and Landscape Architecture in 1934. Their first collaboration was on the design of the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Encouraged by the success of their pilot project, the two went on to become one of the first multi-discipline landscape architecture firms in the country. In association with Robert Moses, the firm was responsible for designing many of New York’s important public spaces, including Bryant Park, the United Nations, the Conservancy Gardens in Central Park, and the Brooklyn Heights promenade.
In addition to shaping most of the parks, parkways and housing projects of the Moses era, Clarke and Rapuano were also involved in designing both of New York City’s World Fairs. Most iconically, it was Gilmore Clarke who came up with the design for the recently restored symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair — the Unisphere.
While the Unisphere has always been a popular (if not critical) success, Clarke and Rapuano were also involved with some of Moses’ more reviled highway projects, such as the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. For controversial projects, at least, anonymity has certain advantages.