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Governors Island Park and Public Space Phase 1
New York, New York, USA | 2016
Architects: West 8 urban design & landscape architecture b.v.
Associate Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Client: The Trust for Governors Island
Contractor: Turner Construction
Photographer: Timothy Schenck, Iwan Baan, Kreg Holt, Jim Navarro, The Trust for Governors Island, West 8
The architects’ design for Governors Island dramatically transforms this once-abandoned island from a utilitarian, windswept military base closed to the public for nearly 200 years, into a vibrant, resilient and, thriving mixed-use destination. Phase 1 Governors Island Park and Public space is the first step in a multi-phase process that is transforming the Island by addressing larger goals of long-term livability and sustainability within the context of New York City’s urban fabric. West 8’s design for the new 30-acre park, which opened in 2014, encompasses gardens, groves, lawns, a contemporary plaza, and new topography that lifts the park above the 100-year flood zone. Four key principles, grounded in a deep understanding of the Island’s inherent attributes, its collection of unique micro-climates and it’s potential to revolutionize the perceptions and role of public green space within the City, have informed the design:
Transformation through Topography – A new rolling ground plane choreographs the park experience through framed views, enclosure, and a sense of drama. The 17,000 linear feet of embossed precast edging acts like eyeliner to accentuate the composition of views, undulating pathways and forest. Originally pancake-flat landfill, the southern part of the Island was created using material excavated during the construction of the Lexington Avenue subway line. By importing and recycling on island fill material we raised and sculpted the flat, featureless landscape. The Island’s new elevation armors the parklands against the predicted effects of flooding and sea level rise. By importing and recycling hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of fill material the Island’s new elevation armors the parklands against the predicted effects of flooding and sea level rise. Hurricane Sandy brought the future sooner than expected and the power and height of the storm surge on the Island proved the importance of integrating resistance to the rising waters into the DNA of the park. Despite Sandy’s storm surge exceeding the projected 100-year flood in the year 2100 by a foot, Governors Island made it through the storm relatively unscathed.
Green Island – Phase 1 incorporates regenerative strategies for managing stormwater and increases softscape by removing the abundant hardscape associated with vehicles and parking and recycling them for earthworks. Sixty-seven distinct plant species are represented in the 7,600 trees and shrubs that make up the park’s new lawns, gardens, groves, and forests. Majority of these new plants are native and locally-adapted species that will thrive as climate change occurs.
An Island Like No Other - With a unique vantage point in New York Harbor and its many icons and treasured historic landscapes, Phase 1 offers an opportunity to revel in the sensory experiences of water and sky. Designed for experiencing the Island, West 8’s collection of park-wide custom details such as lighting, seating and signage, enhance the connections between the new public spaces stretching across the Island.
A Carefree Island - Governors Island embodies a special carefree spirit, with visitors remarking that a visit is like a vacation. The 7-minute ferry ride allows passengers to leave the worries and sensations of the City behind. An oasis of car-free bicycling, play, the arts, and imagination - the new park and public spaces embrace active and environmental design philosophies offering a rich array of recreation choices, playscapes, and a constantly evolving program supported by robust pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Five miles of sinuous pathways are designed for recreational cycling with view corridors revealing and concealing the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor.
Today Governor Island is a major summer festival and event space, a tourist draw within the region, and everyone’s offshore neighborhood park. 8,000 people visited the Island when it first opened to the public in 2005. By 2015, visitor numbers have swelled to nearly 500,000. With 85% of visitors living in the five boroughs, Governors Island has become a ‘destination’ for the people of New York, the dot on Manhattan’s exclamation point and the centerpiece of the City’s efforts to revitalize its waterfront.