Hillside on the Hudson

Heatherwick’s 2.7-acre floating park will include gardens, cultural venues, and rolling hills.
Courtesy Heatherwick Studio/MNLA

The next bold architectural statement planned for Manhattan’s Far West Side will not be a High Line–hugging condo, but an undulating 2.7-acre park anchored nearly 200 feet offshore. Heatherwick Studio and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects designed the futuristic structure, known as Pier 55, which will feature lawns, gardens, and three cultural venues. The floating park and arts destination would be primarily funded by billionaire media mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, who have pledged $113 million of the $130 million total cost. The location of Pier 55 is ideal for the power couple, who both oversee companies headquartered within walking distance of the site. New York City will also be providing $17 million for the pier and New York State is spending $18 million to upgrade the esplanade along the river.

 
 
 

Pier 55 is propped up above the river on 300 concrete piles that essentially double as the park’s planters. These piers rise to varying heights—from 15 feet to 71 feet—to create the effect of a rolling hillside above the Hudson. By lifting the corners, Thomas Heatherwick told AN, the park could add three dimensionality to the riverfront’s profile and create a unique topography that offers sweeping views from the river. “There is no reason, if you need to make a new pier to start off with, and your brief is to put horticulture into that, that that should be as flat as a pancake,” he said.

The firm’s initial presentation to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) and to Diller and von Fürstenberg happened just hours before Superstorm Sandy swept across New York City. After that point, the brief changed entirely, said Heatherwick. At their lowest point, the cast concrete piers are designed to provide enough clearance for the park during a future storm.

   
 

While Heatherwick is still designing Pier 55’s arts spaces, Diller has announced that an A-list team of performing arts types, including the award-winning film and theater producer Scott Rudin, has been brought on to program them. According to the HRPT, the majority of cultural events will be free or close to free. Through a nonprofit, called “Pier55,” Diller and von Fürstenberg will fund the costs of this programming, as well as day-to-day operations, and maintenance for the next 20 years.

 
 

Pier 55 would replace the crumbling Pier 54, which holds a significant place in maritime history: It was the first departure point of the Lusitania and where survivors from the Titanic were brought ashore. According to the New York Times, the HRPT wanted to rebuild the historic pier, but did not have funds to do it. Diller was then brought in, and the largely secretive design competition that would culminate in Heatherwick’s design was launched.

A public hearing about the plan—specifically, the proposed 20-year lease between the HRPT and the Pier55 non-profit to redevelop the site—is scheduled for December 17. As it stands now, construction is expected to start in 2016.

The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation is expected to cover any cost overruns.

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