A Pier's Dead In The Water

Heatherwick’s Hudson River pier is a no-go

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The latest rendering of Pier 55. (Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)
The latest rendering of Pier 55. (Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

It looks like the Heatherwick pier on the Hudson is a no-go.

A federal court vacated the permit for building Pier 55, which was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and largely funded by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and her husband, financier Barry Diller.

Envisioned as a performance and events space that extends from Hudson River Park near 13th Street, the $200 million pier has sparked controversy from its inception.

Opponents, led by advocacy group the City Club of New York, found little public benefit in the project. The group asserted that the pier’s undulating topography, supported by distinctive mushroom-cloud piles, would block views across the river from Hudson River Park, stir up pollutants in the silt, and block sunlight from hitting the water, making it a threat to marine life in the Hudson River estuary. From certain angles, the pier could be much flatter than initial renderings suggest.

In turn, the Hudson River Park Trust, the nonprofit that manages the park, declared that the 2.75-acre structure would provide much-needed recreation areas and cultural programming for thousands of New Yorkers.

The City Club brought multiple lawsuits against the Trust. In the latest, Judge Lorna G. Schofield of United States District Court said that Pier 55, despite its name and location, was mostly a park and a concert venue, and therefore wasn’t dependent on the Hudson River for its existence. Unlike kayakers who depend on a boat launch, or swimmers on the beach, concertgoers and joggers could just as easily listen to music or work up a sweat somewhere else.

“We’re very happy,” said Michael Gruen, president of the City Club, told The Architect’s Newspaper. “It looks like this ruling may be very beneficial for the public in terms of finally being done with a project that would obscure the view of the water and could very well go somewhere else.”

Schofield’s ruling, moreover, determined the pier would interfere with the Trust’s fundamental obligation to maintain the Hudson as a fish and wildlife refuge.

“The Trust was given a duty to protect the estuarine sanctuary—and it failed to steward the river appropriately,” said City Club lawyer Richard Emery. “Instead, it tried to put in a concert venue in one of the most important rivers in the world.”

The Trust shared the following statement when reached for comment: “We have won four challenges in four courts on this project. Not one of those decisions determined the proposed project would harm the environment—and neither does this one. But even if largely procedural, we are deeply disappointed by this ruling, and are reviewing it carefully to determine our next steps.”

To continue the project, the Trust could re-apply for a permit with the Army Corp of Engineers, but the ruling (below) would make it almost impossible to build out Heatherwick’s vision.

This post was updated with more information on the March 23 ruling.

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