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From Swimming Hole to Artful Landscape

by Shawn Mayers

Franklin, MA, hired groundSwell Designs in 2013 to develop a schematic master plan for a small town parcel that had been neglected for almost 50 years.  The wetland site had served as the city’s “swimming hole” in the 1930s.  A municipality with an extremely limited budget, all construction was to be completed by the DPW or volunteers. Hence, all design elements had to be simple, inexpensive and easily constructed. The program called for revitalizing this neglected landscape by creating a walking path around the wetland, with spaces for sculpture, and a large gathering area for community groups and visitors.

Since the parcel is quite small (2.5 acres) and the walk is brief, I chose to elongate the journey by providing areas to contemplate both art and nature. Giving a nod to the history and ecology of the site, I selected the footprint of the former bathhouse to locate the primary gathering spot. It is centrally located and provides views into the ponded area. The flooring here is designed to illustrate the hydrology with differently colored and patterned concrete, illustrating the flow of the stream beneath it. Since this area had to be fully accessible, the concrete “stream” serves as a ramp to navigate the change in grade. A large, colorful “listening tube” was inserted in a pre-existing hole in the foundation and now serves as a place for children to listen as the water rushes by, connecting them to the natural surroundings.  

A simple pathway encircles the pond. It features several niches to pause and contemplate the artwork – with differing views and highlights depending on direction. Native trees, grasses and wildflowers were added adjacent to the path to frame the art, stabilize the shores, and add a beautiful backdrop to the sculpture when in bloom.

About the Author

Shawn Mayers is lead designer at groundSwell Designs of Jamestown, RI a design studio founded on the practice of cultivating the love of nature. She has been designing landscapes of all shapes, sizes and functions since 2000. A graduate of the Landscape Institute of Harvard University and the Boston Architectural College, Shawn completed her undergraduate studies at Providence College.


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