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Basking at Mussel Beach
New feature on the East River Esplanade harkens to New York City's long-lost shoreline.
Peter Mauss / ESTO

Construction recently wrapped up on housing for a new demographic at Manhattan’s East River Waterfront Esplanade: mussels. Working with SHoP Architects, HDR, and Arup, Ken Smith Landscape Architect designed a 50-foot intertidal Eco Park at Pier 35 that is part of a two-mile shoreline revitalization effort by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

The design for Mussel Beach, as it is called, draws from European archival maps of Manhattan’s shoreline from the 1700s. To recreate the rocky shoreline, angular concrete blocks were stacked against the sloping expanses of surrounding lawns. Precast in Schuylerville, New York, the blocks, some as heavy as 57 tons, were barged down the Hudson River and installed at low tide. The angles in the blocks allow water to flush throughout the bed between high and low tides.

Peter Mauss / ESTO

“The park is interesting sculpturally because it had to engage the water between low and high tide, and that informs the slopes,” said Ken Smith. “Generally speaking, the tidal range in the East River is 6 feet, but there are extremes informed by the stages of the moon.” Deeply formed crevices in the concrete block, which range between 1 inch and 11/2 inches wide and about ¾ inches deep make ideal mussel habitat.

According to Smith, the client requested the mussel habitat because of the way the shellfish filter water. The NYCEDC hopes that building the biotope in the East River will create a safe haven for the existing mussel population, and encourage greater development of the river’s ecosystems, where a brown algae called fukus already thrives. The forthcoming construction of a pedestrian bridge will serve as an observation deck where New Yorkers will be able to stop and gawk at all the action on Mussel Beach.

Emily Hooper


Courtesy SHoP