On April 9, 1776, General Israel Putnam of the Continental Army fortified Governors Island with mounds of earth to stave off the encroaching British Army. Now, Dutch firm West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture and local landscape architect Mathews Nielsen are essentially emulating Putnam’s plans to create an undulating, playful topography.
Known as “The Hills,” the project comprises four mounds made using recycled construction debris that form a rolling landscape with grassy slopes. Rising up to 70 feet, the tallest, “Outlook Hill,” will offer panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, and all five boroughs.
The project is part of West 8’s master plan for the Governors Island park, encompassing 87 acres. The Hills adds 10 acres of greenery to the island, including 43,000 shrubs and more than 860 trees. At 38 feet high, the aptly named “Slide Hill” will feature four slides, one of which will be the longest in the city.
A “granite scramble” will also run through the site using blocks that once made up the island’s seawall. The scramble will link with other paths on “Discovery Hill,” which will be lined with a series of site-specific artistic installations.
“The ‘granite scramble’ presented a unique opportunity to recycle precious granite from the seawall, enriched with the scars of history,” said Adriaan Geuze, one of the founders of West 8. “We were convinced that this pile of granite rock offered the chance for a degree of informality throughout the park; the granite is laid out for seating, climbing, and pleasure.”
From an ecological perspective, the scheme contributes significantly to the vicinity. “By adding a minimum of soil above the salty groundwater, the park can perform as an ecosystem with the gradient of fresh brackish water,” said Geuze. “On top of this, hundreds of indigenous plants have been planted, and the island has been seeded with wild flowers, which creates a micro-biotope for millions of insects, and attracts birds.”
“Pleasure, journey, lightness, and playfulness” formed West 8’s initial approach and “a collective decision was made to avoid the cliché playground and to look for a form that could expand play beyond just children.”