This article has been updated with a new statement from the HRPT on the pier’s design.
The newest waterfront park on the Hudson may not appear quite like the stunning first renderings suggest.
The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), a public benefit corporation in charge of Hudson River Park, wants to change its plans for the design of Pier 55. Initially conceived as an undulating 2.7-acre park supported by more than 500 mushroom cloud–like “pots” (precast concrete piers), the park was downsized slightly (to 2.4 acres), and many of the signature pots will be replaced by a flat structural base sandwiched between the piles and the landscaping.
Conceived by London-based Heatherwick Studio and executed in collaboration with landscape architect Mathews Nielsen, the pier’s sculpted topography, rising to six stories in some places, would host concerts, events, and public art in a sylvan setting that draws inspiration from the colors Acadia National Park in Maine. Over the objections of public space advocates, most of Pier 55’s design and construction costs are being paid for privately by the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband, media executive Barry Diller. Overall, estimates place the project cost at more than $200 million, with the city contributing $37 million in funding.
The Architect’s Newspaper obtained a copy of a permit modification request the HRPT submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers that outlines changes to Pier 55’s design (PDF). The changes raise questions about its final appearance, and about a design process that’s shaped a major public space largely outside of the public eye.
The modifications dramatically reduce the number of pots, a signature design element. In a letter to the Army Corps, the HRPT requested the changes because potential construction partners “expressed reluctance” to bid on the project, citing concerns about the pots’ complex fabrication and installation challenges. The HRPT explained that an inadequate pool of bidders could lead to runaway construction costs.
The flat space, in dark green, as originally proposed. The stepped area in blue is the pier’s theater, which includes an amphitheater and back-of-house programs. (Image via Army Corps of Engineers / Hudson River Park Trust)
New drawings reduce the number of piles by 27 and the number of pots from 202 to 132. The remaining pots will be concentrated on the pier perimeter, concealing an interior supported by more traditional piles in steel and concrete.
To visualize the changes, the original, more sculpted topography is depicted above, while the modified version of the design is below:
The flat space, in dark green, has expanded in the new and approved proposal. (Image via Army Corps of Engineers / Hudson River Park Trust)
Initially, the pots were supposed to provide the structure for the topography throughout; now the architects will use light foam material to create the rolling hills depicted in the renderings.
In light of these substantial design modifications, one public space advocacy group is doubling down on its vocal opposition to the project. “Pier 55 was conceived and sold on the basis of a major sculptural art, so by putting it on a flat base and putting a lace tablecloth around it, the whole thing becomes a parody of itself,” said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club of New York.
The proposed changes, Gruen added, would reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the river for at least one hour per day by 36 percent, which could have an impact on marine life.
The City Club has opposed Pier 55 almost since its inception. In a suit filed last year against the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the civic group’s legal team contended that the Trust didn’t do a proper environmental review of the project. In an email to supporters, the Club confirmed that that suit was dismissed, but called the court’s decision “distressingly inaccurate.” A second suit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the main permitting agency for the project, is ongoing. (Diller has called the lawsuits “garbage balls thrown at us.”)
The group also contends that Pier 55, which sits between two city blocks, would obscure cherished public views of the Hudson. Plans show that the pier ranges in height from 9.5 to 61 feet above the waterline, potentially blocking the now-sweeping views.
When reached for comment on the viewshed, pot count, and a request to verify other basic information in the document, the Trust, citing the pending litigation, declined to provide additional information “beyond what [it] has provided to the Army Corps.” (Since press time, the Trust has issued the following statement: “The Trust has made technical alterations to make the project easier to build, but the topography, landscaping, program and size have not changed. Construction continues and we’re looking forward to opening this addition to Hudson River Park in 2019.” )
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