Kicking off this year’s elaborate celebration of Henry Hudson’s voyage into New York Harbor, the Dutch architecture firm UNStudio has designed a sinuous “X” to mark a spot in the Battery where New York and the Netherlands will jointly honor the founding of Neue Amsterdam some four hundred years ago.
On January 28, the whirligig-shaped pavilion designed by Ben van Berkel was unveiled to the applause of Mayor Bloomberg, the Dutch Consul General, and others, among them Dutch newsmen who demanded to know whether the structure wasn’t in fact shaped like a windmill. Others called it a flower, and some even thought it suggested a “ninja star,” but no matter, said van Berkel. “It’s all good,” he told AN. “I always aim for designs to work on many different levels.”
The 5,000-square-foot pavilion will enliven what is now a bleak piazza hemmed in by Whitehall Street and the bus loop in front of the Staten Island ferry terminal. Every year five million people, including 70,000 daily commuters, charge across the so-called Peter Minuit Plaza between ferries, buses, and subways. “That’s a quarter of the entire population of the Netherlands,” van Berkel said, a bit awed by the prime Manhattan site.
The structure is multivalent in more ways than one. Known as the Amsterdam Plein and Pavilion, it will include openings on three of four sides to accommodate a cafe, an information desk, and public restrooms. Materials for the project are as yet undetermined, although it will, according to its architect, most certainly be white with a changing LED light display. When asked if that was rather too much like another sculpted white pavilion—Zaha Hadid’s art-stuffed pod for Chanel that critics deemed an unseemly metaphor for corporate profligacy after it landed in Central Park—van Berkel replied to the contrary. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “This is a really working pavilion.”
Handel Architects will serve as local associates on the job, with site design by New York City parks department landscape architects and furnishings including van Berkel–designed park benches. Due to be up and running by September, the pavilion will be the famed Dutch architect’s only extant work in the United States, since a widely published house that van Berkel and partner Caroline Bos designed in upstate New York burned to the ground last February, barely six months after its completion. Construction on the firm’s luxury condominium, the metal-beribboned Five Franklin Place, has been reported to be at a standstill, but van Berkel said it is going ahead as planned, and that its 55 apartments are still getting snapped up, albeit less briskly than before.
Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, said in a statement that the pavilion will offer “a superb culinary experience, great visitor orientation information and materials, and an iconic, recognizable spot for residents and visitors to rendezvous.” But let’s not forget the toilets, perhaps a most fitting way to celebrate the pragmatic genius that has long marked this great Dutch-American experiment, New York.