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Scientists and artists team up to create park
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

It was a dirt lot that sat vacant for 20 years -- an eyesore in Princeton Borough's otherwise tony business district.

Then Kevin Wilkes, a Belle Meade architect, Peter Soderman, a landscape planner, and Alan Goodheart, a landscape architect, joined forces to bring together some of the Princeton area's biggest brains in science, architecture, art and landscape design to turn the spare half-acre plot at Palmer Square into a garden that is far from ordinary.

The result is Quark Park, a verdant labyrinth showcasing some of the world's most provocative scientific concepts through sculpture and structured spaces.

Scientists teamed up with local artists to convey the central insights of their work in a free and, for now, public garden that is not dumbed down, but arted up.

"It's a very stimulating place," said Carlos Rodrigues, a Princeton planner who was not involved with the project. Unlike most parks, he said, "visitors won't go there to zone out because it is far too interesting."

"It's not a forest of mature sequoia trees and it's not a field of flowers," said Wilkes, who came up with the idea more than a year ago. "It's not even a beauty that replicates something Mother Nature has created. It's a manufactured, ascetic beauty that is trying to bring ideas to the foreground."

Wilkes raised about $40,000 for the project, most of which came from Bristol Myers-Squibb, Trillium Trading Corp., Princeton University and individual donors. He is still trying to collect another $20,000 in donations to cover the costs of a stage and additional lighting.

Named after the term for a subatomic particle, Quark Park opened last weekend and will remain open through October. Wilkes said the gardens can be enjoyed whether or not visitors possess a vast knowledge of science. But it won't hurt if they do.

In fact, Wilkes and his partners say they learned quite a bit just bringing together artists and some of the world's deepest thinkers in such heady fields as molecular biology, neuroscience, cosmology, materials science, geoscience, solar physics, plasma physics, computer science and both mechanical and electrical engineering.

The artworks are contained within a series of "follies," or garden huts, where greenery is abundant. Spiral juniper, sunflowers, bamboo and savanna grasses adorn the scene. There is a pond, a Stonehenge-like circle of trees and a sundial.

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