On the Hudson River in New York City, there is a brand-new “Floating Park”!
When the plan for a new waterfront park on Manhattan’s West Side was first proposed eight years ago, it followed a well-worn formula: use the piles from ancient piers to create a thin landscape thrusting into the river, extending the city grid. Thomas Heatherwick, the London-based designer whose now-completed Vessel anchors Hudson Yards, was among those asked to consider the job. commercial real estate
The proposed commission — designing a pavilion for a pier park — seemed misguided to Heatherwick. “The initial idea was quite flat — a fancy shape in plan,” he remarked to AD over the phone from London. When he began to consider the project’s design issues, the apparent appeal of that orientation — a flat, wavy plan — seemed completely inappropriate. He clarifies, “We’re not in helicopters.”
With this in mind, Heatherwick reacted with an entirely new idea, producing diversity in three dimensions rather than merely in plan. “Just putting some plants and trees on a flat surface doesn’t produce a park,” he explains. “We didn’t want this to turn into a glorified parking lot.” As a result, he resorted to topography to create a more dynamic landscape experience, relying on the English landscape heritage.
The result was a setting that was distinct from the rest of Hudson River Park. “The potential enjoyment of the project is not to be on a piece of Manhattan,” Heatherwick says. For him, the park’s success would be determined by how well it could create its own ambience away from the city. He explains, “We intended to establish a buffer between the park and the freeway.” Heatherwick accomplished this by constructing a gangplank that spans Hudson River Park and Little Island. Heatherwick folded the park upward on the Manhattan side and slipped the gangplank below, allowing guests to arrive at the heart of Little Island, surrounded by parkscape and distant from the city, rather than joining it from the park’s closest edge. “You have a more dynamic interplay between pier and edge,” Heatherwick says.
Despite its name, Little Island is a 2.4-acre environment that packs a punch. Cultural performances will be held in a 687-seat auditorium, while a smaller 200-seat stage will allow for more intimate events. More than 400 varieties of trees and plants were used to create a rich landscape setting, which was designed by MNLA, a landscape architecture firm based in New York. Heatherwick hopes that, beyond activities and facilities, the site will accomplish what public parks do best: bring people together. “We are in a crisis of place in the middle of all these other problems we are all facing,” he argues, alluding to the status of many metropolitan surroundings. “We have gotten so technologically connected,” he continues, “but that has tended to divide us into distinct tribes.” “We were just as interested in how this project would operate in the day-to-day experience of people just roaming around — all of us with each other” with this project.