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The Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA

Size of Project

6.5 Acres


New Orleans, LA


The New Orleans Museum of Art




Completed in 2019


Reed Hilderbrand + Lee Ledbetter & Associates


A reinvigorated natural canvas.

Some projects are truly marvelous. But the caveat includes a weight and complexity like no other. When the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) engaged RNGD as the Design-Assist Contractor for the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden’s new 6.5-acre expansion, we knew that it was a singular opportunity. We would manage and produce something truly one-of-a-kind. Through this addition, NOMA looked to further its mission of increasing broad access to art and artists. It would also provide additional programming opportunities in an engaging learning environment. RNGD would lead the challenge along with the vision and design of Massachusetts-based Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects. The complex 15-month timeline would see a variety of components, including improvements to the 11-mile long water system, installation of flowing pathways and bridges, construction of The Pavilion—a single story ellipse shaped exhibition space designed by Lee Ledbetter & Associates—and protection of the area’s wildlife. In essence, RNGD was about to cultivate and enrich a natural canvas for future community inspiration.

Reshaping the existing shoreline.

In one way or another, water is part of all RNGD’s projects. This time, it was the main player. With lagoons bordering the expansion, the RNGD team looked to enhance the spatial experience of the open water by improving the shorelines. The short timeline made plan consistency and quality control central to every component. Our team used DJI Phantom 4 Pro with Propeller Aeropoints in lieu of traditional surveying. The tool shot nearly 21 million independent points across the 6.5-acre site to provide photogrammetric models accurate to 3cm. The infrastructure team drained the lagoon into another portion of the water system and contained the rest with two aqua dams. Work on the lagoon’s revitalization involved reshaping the existing shoreline and reclaiming a portion of the lagoon to serve as an in-grade amphitheater, formed with a variety of soils. Almost 50,000 cubic yards of soil were removed and replaced with environmentally appropriate soils. But restraining water to build, comes with its own unique challenges.

Clearing the path.

New Orleans weather is only predictable in that it’s unpredictable. Building the bridges and walkways within the drained lagoon required a dry site. The schedule for the expansion allowed for 3 days of rainfall per month. In total, there were 95. At one point, excessive rain and lack of power from one of the city’s pump stations caused excessive strain on the aqua dams. One of the dams failed, and mass flooding crawled over the site. The RNGD team responded immediately, recovering the barrier, stabilizing it, and reinforcing it with an earthen dam. In clearing the path—once again—the team drained the flooding, removed the muck, and went to work on laying 800 feet of walkways and bridges. Connecting the gardens was the Canal Bridge, the second of its kind in the world. The 300 ft. submerged concrete shell structure is a walkway that gives visitors the feeling of walking through water. Additionally, two elevated structural steel boardwalks with handrails and Cumaru wood decking would chart the lagoon’s border. Artistic and geographical expression was infused into a 30-component, 70 ft. long site-specific glass bridge with Elyn Zimmerman’s depiction of the avulsions of the Mississippi River gliding across the top.

A culture of “always finding a way.”

End results drive our team. It’s about putting the right pieces in place to see the extraordinary. The project engaged multiple renegade teams in redefining lagoons, installing water management tools—like the weir and bridge drainage system— constructing the flowing walkways and bridges, and creating and implementing Impetus’ wildlife protection plan. The project was completed three months early thanks to our signature review process and Zero Defects approach—achieving the design team’s vision while addressing issues immediately. For NOMA, the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden expansion brings a unique experience found nowhere else in this country. It’s a celebration of art, both made and grown. For RNGD, it was a successful test of partnership, planning, and stamina, with our solution-oriented team that always finds a way.