Thomas Heatherwick’s Little Island Park and Outdoor Theatre Opens in New York City
- Architect: Heatherwick Studio
- Structural, civil, and mechanical: Arup
- Landscape architecture: MNLA
- Lighting design: FMS
- Wayfinding Design Development: C & G Partners
- Irrigation design: ICI
Thomas Heatherwick, the British architect and designer has created a concrete muse on the Hudson River in New York City with the help of 132 concrete columns that support the Little Island Park along with a performance venue. The park is built in collaboration with MNLA for Landscape design along with Arup for covering structural, civil, and mechanical works.
The design is such that two bridges connect the park to the mainland to form a sense of disconnect while keeping the structure a part of the west side in Manhattan. It is located close to the southern end of the high line with over 540 meters of pathways that intertwine into the park. The pathways have various picturesque viewpoints and various performance spaces that also include a large amphitheatre amidst the backdrop of the water.
The feature part of this park is also the mushroom-shaped concrete columns that add a sense of beauty to the structure. Moreover, these columns are also set at different levels to create a gradient through an undulating pattern.
The Mushroom-Shaped Concrete Piles
According to the architect’s thought, the design inspiration came from the piles of the old Pier 54 that help in poking the water and also help in providing the fishes to breed.
“Typically, piers are composed of structural piles that go down into the river bed with slabs that cover them to make a surface, However, we were inspired by these piles and the civil engineering required to build structures that are able to withstand extreme river conditions,” said Thomas Heatherwick.
The piers during the earlier times were traditionally flat to allow boats to dock. Due to this the design team wanted a contrast created in the flat streets of Manhattan by providing a newer form of topography to the city which could rise up in a variety of shapes and spatial feel. They wanted to create levels for the user group to engage in a diverse type of spatial use that enhances the city life by making it more human-centric.
The first iteration of this design concept was the curled leaf form that was floating over the water with adjacent veins that were rising like ribs. The studio envision the piers as a separate experience in itself with a single and cohesive object rather than keeping them unrelated while being stuck together.
Each Pier has its own sense of identity. The pile then later became the deck as well, forming interesting spaces for interaction. They, later on, extend to form into containers to create undulating landscape surfaces for the flora and fauna. The height of all of these piers varies to create various contours which also allow an interesting play of light and shadow. The design of the amphitheatre is also carve out from these undulating surfaces to make it look as if it’s a naturally frame element rather than a distinctive one. The per and the supporting structure then becomes a single element to support the flora within the landscape.
The concrete piles individually can support 350 tons of weight. They have been driven deep inside the rocks beneath by 61 meters. These precast elements are fabricate by using almost 39 types of formworks and shapes that can be help to transport the site via a barge. These cast in place concrete slabs connect all the precast elements. Here the top portion of these mushroom-shape concrete piles is make up of prefabricate ‘petals’ that in themselves are containers that are six meters in width where they can hold the soil.
The firm MNLA has chosen over 400 species for the park and 100 types of trees for the project. They have strategically planted and executed the evergreens according to the climatic condition mainly to handle the excessive wind. The design is such that allows enough space for a sunbathe to the visitor as well, without hammering their much-necessary light and shade.
The planter or pots have almost 100 different species of various types of indigenous trees as well as plants. These landscape species are not only to enhance beauty but are also meant to encourage biodiversity. The species are meant to thrive in the Newyork climate.
Every part of this island depicts a different microclimate of its own. It engages the community to take a break from their city life and enjoy the peace. The tessellated patterns of the ice formed during winters were also an inspiration to create repeated elements. Fabrication of these forms proved to be an asset. The studio engaged in working with a local fabricator and it understands all the nitty gritty of curating these mega fabricated units.
All the precast elements were transport via a boat and were directly assemble on site. This also helps in minimizing the disruptions within the city life.
The steps are made up of black locust which is a hardwood native in New York City. These piles are arrange in such a way for people to scramble into a more adventurous alternative path.
There are three performances in the entire park, including the amphitheatre that has several wooden benches. These benches cumulatively have a capacity to hold 700 audience members at one time. It creates a dynamic viewing experience for the visitor. This space is also a community binder that ends up turning into a communal pace for interactions and events.
Another communal space is the central area that can hold up to 3500 people at one time. The park also includes a 200 person stage for smaller events with a more personalized audience.
The best part about the park is that it has very little built-up visible to the eye. The key concept was to avoid any form of distractions from the serene view of the landscape and water. To ensure this all the services and backstage facilities are place under the pier which can be accessed with the help of bridges. This adds a sense of boundlessness to the entire experience where there is no hindrance for the view.
The design of the entire space is vision such that every element has its distinctive identity while merging together to form the ideal blend of undulations and spatial experiences with hardscape and softscape. It creates a niche in itself to redefine the flat streets by adding a sense of topography and giving the city of Newyork a new identity.
The Little Island Park is now open to the public and can be easily accessed with free timed tickets.
It took almost 8 years for the architecture to realize this project’s concept. This project was originally known as Pier 55 when it is propose in the year 2014. Earlier it was backed up by Barry Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg who is also a fashion designer in the industry.
Initially, the construction start in the year 2016 but was halt for a while. The reason being the legal lobbying of some of the local campaign groups. After the to and fro, the project is again start in the year 2019 under new terms.
Other than this, Thomas Haetherwick has been involved in some of the most iconic projects globally. The Coal Drop Yards in London and the Vessel in Hudson Yards are some of his most applauded projects.
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Address: Little Island, Pier 55 at Hudson River Park Hudson River Greenway, New York, NY 10014, United States
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