The vision for Governors Island came into sharper focus after more details of the first phase of development were revealed to AN last month. Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island, confirmed that the city has committed $300 million to the project. During construction through 2012, the island will only be open on Saturdays and Sundays; work is expected to be complete by October 2013. New key features, from transparent signage to curbs that morph into seating and customized lighting provide a distinct identity.
The most immediate change that visitors will notice is a new arrival pier at Soissons Landing. Koch said that Yankee Pier to the south would accommodate visitors from Brooklyn. Historic areas will be left pretty much alone, though nearly $27 million has already been spent to stabilize historic structures. The project will also bring much-needed infrastructure such as telecommunications and a potable water connection from Brooklyn.
On arrival at Soissons Landing, a transparent Welcome Wall developed by Pentagram will greet visitors. Partner Michael Bierut said the designers knew that if the signage was too large it would become intrusive, too small and it would become useless. So the group explored ways to dematerialize the wayfinding. The firm created a trellis-like gate to hold cutout letters (a redesigned version of the font Agency), making the background for the letters the park itself. “The more they get smothered by the landscape the better,” said Bierut.
The terrace in front of McKim, Mead and White’s Liggett Hall seems set to become the island’s social heart. West 8’s Adriaan Geuze described the paisley-like interplay of plantings and fountains found there as a “baroque” composition. Here a swirling labyrinth of boxwoods weave in shallow fountains and play areas that don’t quarantine the kids. “No fences around this play area,” said Koch.
The Liggett Terrace swirls give way to the much-ballyhooed Hammock Grove where Geuze described a “micro typography of oak trees” leading toward baseball fields overlooking the Statue of Liberty. From the terrace to the playground and on through the southernmost tip of the island, generous white precast concrete curbing undulates with grade changes to form seating in certain areas. The curbs delineate the landscape, allowing visitors to read the typographic changes from flush with the lawn in some areas to 18-inch ledges in other areas. The petal-like swirls that are writ large in the site plan and scaled down in the boxwood hedges translate into an even smaller whorl pattern in the curb’s pre-cast concrete.
At night, lighting by Suzan Tillotson is moody. Again, Liggett Hall takes center stage with the façade washed from below with LEDs. Nearby, discreet fixtures, tucked under the boxwood and with a pale green gel, bounce soft light off one side of the hedges. Tillotson explained that in order to preserve off-site views, the light levels taper off closer to the water’s edge. Twelve-foot high lampposts use only 40 watts. The West 8-designed fixtures resemble asymmetric Calla lilies whose light spill along the walkway. As the island’s perimeter is not included in the first phase, elsewhere the familiar orange-hued street light bulbs will be used to differentiate old from new, but the closer you get to Liggett, the cooler it gets.