Heatherwick Studio’s Little Island – half way through construction in the water on Manhattan’s southwest riverside in New York City – makes the most out of the hundreds of old wooden piles which stuck out of the Hudson River, to create a landscape that blends public park and performance space
On Manhattan’s southwest riverside, strange sculptural concrete shapes appear to be emerging from the depths. While works on site have now, understandably, paused, due to current health developments in New York, standing proud, about half way through construction, Heatherwick Studio’s Little Island resembles an artist’s mould or a curious industrial prototype, more than a conventional, empty, building site.
The project, won by the London-based studio following a design competition arranged by the Hudson River Park Trust and businessman and philanthropist Barry Diller, looks at creating a new pier, making use of the old wooden piles that stick out of the Hudson River – the structural remains of old piers, now destroyed.
The new design adds new, concrete piles to create a raised platform that will merge a public space and a flexible, outdoors, performance venue. Rising up from the water, the piles expand, fusing together and forming a brand new topography; a park. In the same space, the project will contain an outdoor theatre for over 700 people, a smaller performance space for 200, a main space for 3,500 and several different pathways and viewing platforms.
Greenery was an important element in the design and each of the some-280 piles contains a planter at their top. The team researched flora that is local to New York and can survive its hot summers and freezing winters and filled the planters with more than a hundred different species of indigenous trees and plants.
‘[My team and I] wondered if the identity of our new park and performance space could emerge from the water, just like these structural piles, but without needing to add any slab on top,’ says studio founder Thomas Heatherwick. ‘This idea evolved to take the new concrete piles that would be needed to connect to the granite at the base of the river, and to then continue them out of the water, extending skyward to raise sections of a generous green landscape with rich horticulture. Fusing at they meet, these 280 individual piles come together to form the undulating topography of the park, angled perfectly for performance and theatre spaces.’
At a time when open, public areas are more important than ever, Little Island is something to look forward to. At the start of the year, construction was on track for a 2021 opening.