Andrew Jackson Downing’s City Club building sat decaying in Newburgh, New York for decades. Poison ivy ran wild as plants threatened to escape from windows and overcome doors of the building, whose designer worked closely with Alexander Jackson Davis and Calvert Vaux. Whereas locals saw this as an eyesore, Martin Roth saw it as an opportunity for a masterpiece. With this inspiration, he worked on his project “A Home With a Garden” until his death on June 14, 2019.

Historic photo of the Newburgh "City Club" building
Historic photo of the Newburgh “City Club” building. Courtesy of Strongroom.

Roth’s vision was to create an auditory experience driven by plants. By attaching sensors to plants that had overtaken the building, Roth could access the plants’ reactions to their space. These reactions would then fuel an auditory experience that changes for each visitor.

The experience, which Roth once described as a “natural concert hall,” prompts visitors to ruminate about their connection to nature. The technology attached to the plants amplifies the internal sounds of nature. With different notes for different plants, the plants react to those in their presence as harmonies and rhythms are created.

In creating this installation, Roth aimed to honor Downing, who believed in the idea of “domesticated nature” while simultaneously providing an immersive art space for the community. Although this idea is closely related to park design, Roth twisted the meaning to bring about this installation.

Aerial view of "A Home With a Garden" by Martin Roth.
Plants threaten to escape Roth’s exhibit. Courtesy of Strongroom.

The building reminded residents of the “urban blight” in Newburgh. However, Roth’s installation celebrates the union of technology and art while giving a stage to local history and landscape design.

“For the duration of the exhibition the building will exist in two parallel realities: as the site of the former City Club, but also as the home of this new illusionary public garden,” Roth said to Strongroom, the organization that helped with the installation. “I will work closely with the natural environment of trees and bushes that already exist inside the site, but alter it, and in a sense cultivate it, with more colorful plants and flowers, and a winding path.  I believe that if you change reality just a little bit, everything changes.”

However, Roth tragically passed away before he completed his installation. Throughout his artistic career, he sought to create a clash between natural and artificial objects. His goal was often to prompt viewers to contemplate how their humanity related to his work.

Aerial view of Roth's renderings.
Aerial view of Roth’s renderings. Courtesy of Strongroom.
Interior view of Roth's renderings in "A Home With a Garden."
Interior view of Roth’s renderings in “A Home With a Garden.” Courtesy of Strongroom.

Following his death, Strongroom wanted to finish his project. The organization worked with landscape designers and Roth’s notes, renderings, and ideas to bring his concept into fruition. As they raise money with a Kickstarter Campaign to finish the project that Roth started in 2017, Strongroom aims to open the installation by the end of June. Visitors will soon be able to experience the “plant concert” until October.

Next, check out the work of one of Downing’s colleagues, Alexander Jackson Davis!