Despite all of the preconceived notions about New York City being overpopulated, noisy and constantly bustling, there are numerous pockets within the five boroughs that offer respite from the city. This design strives to be one such pocket – or island. Governors Island has a long military history that dates back to 1776. It was controlled by the U.S. Government first for the U.S. Army and later for the Coast Guard. In 2002 the island was “sold” to the people of New York and declared a national monument. In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson agreed on the future operations, planning and redevelopment of the island through the Trust for Governors Island. Since then, the island has been open during the summer months for visitors to enjoy the unique seclusion offered by the the old military grounds. But the Trust had bigger plans. Choosing a team of architects, urban planners, designers and landscape architects that include Rogers Marvel Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mathews Nielsen and led by West 8, plans began to unfold that would reimagine the island as a getaway for New Yorkers. Playing up to its isolation, its abundance of lawns and trees, and the views that it offers, the first phase of the plans have officially broken ground and are scheduled for completion in Fall 2013. Check out what’s in store for Governors Island after the break.
The design and plan for Governors Island is a balance between creating new environments for New Yorkers through the island’s natural landscape and location, and reinforcing the conditions under which the island has been used over the past several years. For several summers, Governors Island has been accessible to visitors with its huge lawns, bike paths, old red brick institutional buildings, occasional art shows and concerts. The development strategy is not to take any of these things away, but to organize them through sustainable solutions, new ideas gathered from New Yorkers, and a transformation of the topography in a way that creates new vertical conditions along the southern portion of the island.
To address these basic design principles of levels of landscape architecture, engineering, architecture, and operations and maintenance, the team looked at these aspects to organize the planning of the project: program, topography, views, circulation, paving, edging, furnishings, planting and park buildings. When facing the existing conditions of the island, the team looked at the organizing principles of the site. The public buildings, along with the ferry landing, are clustered to the north of the island with additional buildings around its perimeter leaving an open lawn in the center. Within this void, the topography is planned, laid out in swooping paths, carving out hills that form a new topography. Circulation paths and paving fit between the green and planted spaces creating a lush and accessible park. The scale of the paths are suited for their uses and change dimension for the anticipated traffic from pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists. Such changes in scale also ensure that some paths will be more intimate while others can become points of gathering.
Overlaid on this framework is a variety of programs inspired by New Yorkers’ suggestions and inherent properties of the island. Fields, bike paths, open lawns for spontaneous activities, a kayak launch, access to the water, festivals, fountains and shore side access for many passive activities such as bird watching and yoga, all with accessible views of New York City and New Jersey are just some of activities and programs planned for in the design. It is just as important to program the spaces as it is to allow the spaces to develop organically and flexibly over time. Part of the design keeps 20 acres of lawn free, as these spaces are most flexible for a variety of uses. The rolling topography of some of these lawns will become custom play areas that include monkey bars, slides, climbing areas, hammocks and swings for children and adults. The grounds are crisscrossed with a different bike routes and offer free bike rentals to visitors. Areas are designated throughout the park for art installations, sculptures and site-specific work that will change over time. Water access points will be introduced, allowing visitors to walk out over the water, access water taxis and the ferries, and use the kayak launches.
The principle behind altering the typology is driven by function and program. Grading the ground of Governors Island provides adequate drainage for the site, while also creating vistas of the surrounding city and creating isolated and intimate moments within the rolling hill of the landscape. The changes in elevation also adds variation to the scale of the spaces; the hills become dividers between areas around the lawn. Such measures also extend to the overlooks and promenades within the park. These areas are designed to be elevated seven feet above grade. This creates broader views of the harbor, creates a topology that creates areas for seating and separates biking and active paths from passive activities, and raises tree roots above the future flood elevation line, ensuring decades of growth. This strategy will vary throughout different locations along the island. In some areas, the current grade elevation and the trees along it will be preserved. In other areas, where the grade will be raised, a wetland will be developed below.
The foundation of the park – the plants and trees that will inhabit the island – are organized according to five planting strategies: using native plants of different plant communities that thrive and create habitats throughout the four seasons, plant to micro-climatic conditions, collect and reuse stormwater and gray water, plant more under the best soil conditions, and use the shading of the plants to organize activities in the park. The intention is also to create biodiversity through a range of habitats in order to attract native animals, birds, insects and fish to the site.
Three main buildings are also planned for the site to serve the needs of the visitors. Soissons Ferry Pavilion is located towards the north shore of the island where the ferry lands out of Manhattan. It will serve as an indoor waiting area for the ferry. The Shell, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, will be located on the promenade and will have a sheltered space for sitting, dining, and relaxing in the shade along the water. Yankee Landing will be the arrival point from Brooklyn at the eastern end of the island. Designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, the two structures are a sheltered space for waiting, information and bicycle pickup. Be sure to check out The Way It Works, a pdf organized by govislandpark.com to give an in-depth look at the design strategies and intentions of the design team. Click here for a detailed look at the areas that are part of the plan.