It was "kind of intimidating," Rykiel says. "I don't want to mess with Olmsted. Everything we did was in the spirit of [their] design. We were trying to preserve and enhance."
With the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, Rykiel has developed a master plan for the exterior gardens of the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park. The plan provides for free, public access to the gardens during the day as well as "tentable space" for party rentals that can draw income for the conservatory.
Needed: a good eye
We needed someone who could really see the space's functionality and at the same time, he understands the horticulture," says Mary Porter, a design planner with the city. "He's a person who enjoys Baltimore and enjoys any projects that make our parks and public spaces look nicer."
Rykiel's work led the American Society of Landscape Architects to induct him last weekend into its Council of Fellows, an honor reserved for the group's most accomplished members. But recognition for a job well done poses a conundrum to someone in the business of altering urban environments, he says.
"You do want [finished projects] to be memorable," Rykiel says, "but you do want them to seem seamless."
Indeed, while sauntering through Bond Street Plaza, one of Rykiel's projects, it's easy to assume that the waterfront park, with its inviting green lawn, London Plane trees and harbor vistas, has always been a part of the urban fabric. Built upon a former pier in Fells Point, the plaza bonds naturally with the revitalized landscape showcasing Baltimore's historic waterfront.
His future design for honoring the pontiff, who visited Baltimore in 1995 and who died last year, will face the same litmus test as his other projects.
"I couldn't imagine how they can get a prayer garden to work there," says Mark Cameron, a Baltimore architect who reviewed a preliminary plan as a member of the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel. "How do you create a space appropriate as a prayer garden in an accessible urban environment on a small site on a small corner?"
But Rykiel appears to have done the best he could under the circumstances, Cameron says.
After realizing that other concepts were impractical for the garden, Rykiel says he settled on the theme of ecumenism. He had considered engraving in the garden wall the names of all of the saints the pontiff had canonized, but, he says, "there were too many."
Even as its wrought-iron fence and curved seating walls embrace visitors with a sense of enclosure, the prayer garden's design invites circulation along various pathways. Alcoves reminiscent of interior chapels and confessionals are designed for privacy, Rykiel says. At the garden's center, a statue of Pope John Paul II will rise from a shallow reflecting pool. Within the garden, the design calls for a statue of the Virgin Mary as well as elements marking the history of Catholicism in the United States and religious freedom.
God in nature
Intended as a complement to the basilica, the garden, planted with perennials, shrubs and shade trees, "will help people of all faiths to experience God as divinely revealed in nature," Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese, writes in an e-mail.
Eva Lane, a Historic Charles Street Association board member, served on the garden design committee. She and others agreed that Rykiel's interpretation compared favorably with a design that was submitted by a prestigious international firm.
It was "something that felt right for that particular location," Lane says. "[Mahan Rykiel Associates] are local. They have a sensitivity for what works in Baltimore."
One of Rykiel's projects not on his resume is in northern Anne Arundel County's Hanover -- where he still cares for the yard of his mom, Theresa Antoniak.
"He got me a fish pond and he'll come out and help me with that and the outside," she says.
Antoniak had yet to speak with her son about the prayer garden, but she is certain of one thing: "I bet you a dollar it's going to have a fountain somewhere."
Age -- 51
Education -- Bachelor's degree in horticulture at University of Maryland, College Park (1977), master's degree in landscape architecture, Morgan State University (1982)
Family -- His wife, Mary, a nurse, does diabetes research; three children, Natalie, 16; Graham, 14; Haley, 12
Other current projects -- National Arboretum Fern Valley Walk, Baltimore Convention Center Hotel, Washington College Arts Center in Chestertown
LANDSCAPING PROJECTS BY SCOTT RYKIEL
Plantscape of the University of Maryland Medical Center?s atrium (2003) // The sky-lit atrium features three landscaped settings, each increasingly private, to accommodate the public, patients and patients? families and friends.
Troia eco-resort, Portugal (master plan completed in 2001) // Rykiel?s model for this project was Kiawah Island, S.C., a resort development noted for sensitivity to environmental and historical preservation.
Anne Arundel Medical Center Healing Garden, Annapolis (2001) // Rykiel and his partner, Catherine Mahan, looked to create places in health care facilities that encourage well-being for visitors, patients and staff.
Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman (1987) // One of Rykiel?s earliest efforts, this resort design, including a series of gardens and water features, helped to establish his reputation.