On May 31, the state agency charged with reimagining Governors Island revealed five all-star teams’ design schemes for the 176-acre island’s public spaces, beginning a juried review process that will stress usable ideas. The jury will prioritize proposals that seem most likely to create a park constituency that will prompt office, institutional, and commercial users to build out the island’s southern half. “The park is a first phase to promote future development,” the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) president Leslie Koch told AN. “We need a public space people will visit and visit again,” she said. “The word we use is ‘compelling’.”
The five finalists are Field Operations/ Wilkinson Eyre; Hargreaves Associates/ Michael Maltzan Architecture; REX/MDP; West 8/Rogers Marvel Architects/Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Quennell Rothschild & Partners/SMWM; and WRT/Urban Strategies. The brief requires a promenade circling the island and a park big enough for festivals. GIPEC seeks uses that wouldn’t necessarily work in nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park or Battery Park, and that will lure bikers and picnickers to ride a ferry or come across in a gondola from those areas, which are undergoing their own renovation. “It must offer completely unique, compelling experiences…as well as provide for common activities in an uncommonly wonderful setting.”
In that context, even virtuosos like Field Operations chief James Corner have submitted restrained or low-key playful approaches. “Do too much and you get the world’s biggest theme park,” he told AN, “so we really minimize the architecture.” The most fanciful proposal, from the team including Diller Scofidio + Renfro, works around the concept of “urban illusions,” including loaner bikes. Such fancy has prompted some observers to question whether the architectheavy roster is equipped to handle the site’s manychallenges.
REX-NY principal Joshua Prince-Ramus, whose describes his firm’s proposal as a development scheme, endorses GIPEC’s logic of using public space to prompt private investment. “What they’re doing is really smart,” he told AN. “Private development won’t come without the grounds cleaned up in such a beautiful way that a university or institute would want to be there.” Indeed, GIPEC had tried earlier to start the revitalization process by asking developers’ teams to submit ideas for building out the island, then dismissed all those proposals, except for a small charter school, as insufficiently imaginative or financially feasible. The future, then, begins with open space that the public will use and love. A panel discussion on June 11 and public hearing on June 20, Koch promises, will clarify the public’s priorities for uses of the new park. The jury, which includes SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli and former Planning Commissioner Joseph Rose, will evaluate schemes over the summer.