A New Park Floats on the Hudson River in Manhattan
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
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Rising from the Hudson River, Little Island preens atop a bouquet of tulip-shaped columns. Outside, it’s eye candy. Inside, a charmer, with killer views. Near 13th Street in Hudson River Park, is the architectural equivalent of a kitchen sink sundae, with a little bit of everything. The park-within-the-park was conceived nearly a decade ago to replace Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side. In 1912, the R.M.S. Carpathia brought survivors of the Titanic to Pier 54. It had become a venue for outdoor concerts in recent years but started to crumble and had to be closed. Park officials approached Diller — his headquarters are in the neighborhood — and in turn Diller enlisted Thomas Heatherwick, the English designer and billionaire whisperer. New Yorkers may recall Heatherwick devised the Vessel at Hudson Yards.

 

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The concept: Heatherwick sold to Diller and the Hudson River Park Trust looks largely unchanged since it was unveiled in 2014: an undulating platform, extravagantly planted with beautiful trees, flowers and grass, detached at a jaunty angle from the bulkhead and organized around performance spaces, including a spectacular 687-seat amphitheater overlooking the water, custom-made for watching the sunset while sipping Bellinis. The engineering firm Arup figured out how to balance the whole thing on the columns. Signe Nielsen, a co-founder of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, designed everything green and flowering that visitors will see, smell, lay a blanket on and walk past.

 

The hill rising to the topmost point on the island 1

The Hill Rising to the Topmost Point on the Island

where a Weathered Steel Picket Fence Surrounds a Crow’s Nest Overlooking the River

 

Heatherwick Studio explored the idea of designing a new pier that could draw from the remaining wooden piles from Pier 54.“My studio and I became interested in the remains of the old piers on the west side of Manhattan, where their top surfaces had long gone, leaving only hundreds of ancient structural wooden piles sticking out of the river." Hundreds of free and modestly priced concerts, dance and children’s programs are planned to get underway this summer.

 

spring with tulip posts

 

Trish Santini, Little Island’s executive director, told me that her staff has been working closely with community organizations to ensure free and inexpensive tickets get into the hands of underserved groups and neighborhood schoolchildren. A second stage, called the Glade, at the base of a sloping lawn, tucked into the southeast corner of the park and framed by crape myrtle and birch trees, is custom made for kids and educational events. The main plaza, where you can grab a bite to eat and sit at cafe tables under canvas umbrellas, doubles as a third venue.

 

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Landscape Design

 

MNLA’s landscape design was conceived as a leaf floating on water – a space that could be both visually surprising and inspiring for New York City. “The pier’s landscape will be a sensory delight in all seasons and times of day.”

 

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Artist Series: New York's local performing artists fill Little Island with music, dance, rhythms, and more any day of the week. Come find your new favorite artist, bring your friends, and enjoy some live art on the Hudson in these free, recurring events.

 

 

 

view of Impire State Bldng 1

 

This stretch of the West Side waterfront is changing swiftly. Just to the south, a former sanitation garage is being turned into Gansevoort Peninsula, with ball fields, a sand beach and a sculpture by David Hammons, donated by the Whitney Museum of American Art to Hudson River Park, which traces in steel the outlines of bygone Pier 52. North of Little Island, Pier 57 — where Google is leasing new quarters — will soon open community spaces, a food court and its roof deck to the public (City Winery is already up and running there). Piers 76 and 97 are also getting makeovers.

 

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Now bourgeois central, the West Side used to be the busiest port in the Americas, a clangorous maelstrom of swinging cables and breaking booms, bulging warehouses and stevedores’ bars. A titan’s comb of piers stretched from the Battery as far north as the eye could see, the air choked with particles of grain and bone dust when “skyscraper” was a word that still referred to the topsail of a clipper ship. Decline started after the Second World War, as air travel made ocean liners obsolete. Industry fled the city. Huge new containerized ships were too big for New York’s docks. By the 1960s, a district where the R.M.S. Lusitania berthed before its fateful voyage became a shamble of auto salvage shops, tow pounds, S&M bars and taxi garages. Communities of artists and L.G.B.T.Q. residents colonized some of the crumbling wharves. But when a section of the elevated West Side Highway collapsed in 1973 (beneath a dump truck that was carrying asphalt to repair a different part of the road), the political impetus to “clean up” the West Side gathered momentum in the form of an urban reclamation plan called Westway.

 

 687 seat amphitheater will offer performances 1

With Dramatic Views of the water at Sunset, a 687-Seat Amphitheater will Offer Performances

 

Chief designer Thomas Heatherwick segmented the park into three main areas — a “Play Ground” with snacks and beverages, a nearly 700-seat, thrust-stage amphitheater, and a Glade area for quiet contemplation. The amphitheater will host a range of live entertainment, much of it free and open to all.

 

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The Main Plaza, with Food and Cafe Cables and Chairs can Double as a Performance Space

 

Little Island hovers like a mirage behind the ruin of a Cunard archway that greeted Titanic survivors in 1912. The roughly square park, a marvel of waterborne engineering and landscape design inspiration, slowly took shape on a platform supported by 132 concrete “tulips” — which are mounted on pilings where the old Pier 54 stood. Each tulip is uniquely shaped to support Little Island’s varying weight loads.

 

 gateway underneath Tulip Columns 1

The Gateway Underneath Thomas Heatherwick’s Giant Tulip Bulb Columns

A century ago, the banker Elkan Naumburg paid to install a band shell in Central Park and even hired his nephew to design it. The Delacorte Theater was constructed in 1962 with money from Joseph P. Delacorte, Jr., and his wife, Valerie, after the producer Joseph Papp and actress Helen Hayes petitioned for an amphitheater to stage Shakespeare in the Park. And of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art, privately endowed by wealthy New Yorkers, occupies a big chunk of public parkland. Little Island is nothing new, in other words. From the beginning, for better and worse, this is how the city has worked.

 

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