With new leadership at its helm, Governors Island, the 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbor, is poised for some exciting changes. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Michael Samuelian about balancing public and private space in new developments, changes on the New York City waterfront, and his soon-to-be-finalized new job as president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. AN: You are a board member of Friends of Governors Island. How were you selected for your new role? Michael Samuelian: Through conversations with the mayor's office, with [deputy mayor] Alicia Glen's office, a few key people on the board of the Trust, some of whom I knew, some I didn't know. I don't know how many people they were speaking with at the time, it was not an atypical series of conversations; we spoke about the position, about why I wanted it, and how I can give back to the city. As a vice president at Related Companies you were responsible for the development of Hudson Yards, a project that weaves together public and private space. What lessons from that project will you be bringing to Governors Island? For the last couple of years I was predominately responsible for public space at the Yards, and its interaction with the High Line, the Shed, the Community Board, and the BID, all of the outward-facing entities, so I certainly learned about the balance of public and private needs on the job. I think that's one of the most important things I'll bring to Governors Island. Governors Island is not about creating the most value, necessarily, it's about creating the right mix of uses. That's what I'm most excited about. With Hudson Yards, it was about integrating the project with the rest of the neighborhood. With an island, there's not a lot of integration you can do, but you can focus on some of the most important aspects of public space, which are connectivity and vitality. That's what we want at Governors Island... to create a place that's a real destination, that New Yorkers fall in love with. There's a lot of development happening on the island's south side: The Hills were just completed and there are more opportunities for private development there as well. Could you speak to how you see those public and private spaces being integrated? The most important thing—one of the things the mayor and I discussed about the role—number one, is do no harm. Governors Island is a fantastic place today, and like a good doctor, you don't want to kill the patient, you want to make him better. Our challenge on Governors Island is that it's a fantastic place already, but how do we make it better? The issue of balance is important to me, figuring out what the right balance of public and private uses while making it even more accessible to people. While we have half a million people coming there per year; that pales in comparison to other public parks. One of my first priorities is getting more people, more New Yorkers, to the island and figuring out that right balance of uses. That will be through some additional private uses. But the number one thing is enhancing accessibility, getting more people to the island. There's some concern about private uses there and honestly I don't come with any predisposed notion of what should happen on the island. The other important concept is plurality. There's not one big idea that will make the island magical, it's already magical. It's really about finding the right balance of uses there. Aside from the public space, not one use should dominate the island; all the other uses should support the public space. I hear you. Is there an ideal balance of uses in your mind, though, or the Trust's mind? We have to figure that out. We really want to harness the energy of the city, and aside from housing, that could be any use under the sun: Institutional, cultural, commercial, retail, hotel. Our first task is to figure out what the appropriate mix of uses is, in order to answer the number one goal, which is enhancing access to the island. What are the great public uses that will get people to experience the island? All of the historic buildings, and the public spaces that just opened, those are starting to gain traction with visitors. For the first time, more people are coming to Governors Island from the Brooklyn side rather than the Manhattan side. I think that's an important thing for people to know. It's an island for everyone, not just north Brooklyn or lower Manhattan. It's an island for the entire city. The more we can get this on people's radar, the better we've done our job. In terms of broadening access to the island and on the island, are there any specific projects we should be looking out for? I think the mayor's plan for enhanced East River Ferry access is a great first step to get New Yorkers thinking about the water and waterborne transportation. Obviously, we are an island so we'd be the main beneficiary of that [laughs]. But with all the waterfront development that's happening in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, all along the Brooklyn waterfront, all of that will help us as more and more people build a relationship with the water, and being an island on the East River Ferry route, it's important that we are part of that conversation. There's so much development, as you said, happening on New York's waterfronts in all five boroughs. Do you see Governors Island setting a model for waterfront development in the city? I'm coming there as a neutral party, not predisposed to any particular uses, but we are starting with relatively neutral territory: We have a million square feet of empty historic buildings, we have the potential for a lot more development on the south side of the island, but there's no magic number, no magic piece that will make it all sing together. To use kind of a difficult term, it's about curating the right types of uses that will make Governors Island even more special. Interview edited and condensed for clarity.
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The New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year at the 2014 President’s Dinner Gala. For this occasion, the ASLA has selected the Rockefeller Foundation's Judith Rodin, the Trust for Governors Island's Leslie Koch, and the NY1 News Organization as their honored guests. All Renderings Courtesy of The Trust for Governors Island The New York chapter of the ASLA was established in 1914 as the second chapter of the national organization and has since become a leader in urban landscape design and architecture. The annual President’s Dinner celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of individuals and groups who have made a prominent and positive impact on the New York architectural community. This year's event will take place on Thursday, November 6 in Tribeca. Judith Rodin, the first of the honorees this year, is the current president of the Rockefeller Foundation and an avid supporter of the Rebuild by Design initiative to increase the resiliency of the Eastern seaboard. As president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Rodin has given the Rebuild for Design competition a great deal of support; the Rockefeller Foundation is the biggest and most generous funding partner of the competition. The second honoree, Leslie Koch, is the president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island and has been the recipient of numerous awards from various Architectural organizations, including the ASLA. Since taking charge of Governors Island in 2006, Koch has transformed the barren military base into a major public attraction. Finally, NY1 News has had an important role in bringing the news on architecture and urban landscape design to the eyes and ears of New Yorkers. Through their news coverage, NY1 News has provided residents of New York with a greater understanding of issues involving landscape architecture.
Southside Precast Products fabricates landscape architecture firm West 8’s designs for an organic system of concrete benches and curbs.When Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8 envisioned a new terrain for Governors Island in New York’s East River, part of the plan included a section dubbed The Hills. The recently completed curving expanse of green space is defined by nearly one dozen curved sections, or “petals,” of seamless, white concrete bench and curb edges fabricated by Buffalo, New York-based Southside Precast Products. Ellen Cavanagh, Director of Park Design and Construction for the Governors Island Trust, said that the concrete pathways along the petals help define areas where the ground was formed to rise and recede. “They call it eyeliner,” she told AN in a recent interview. “Thick and bold white stripes give your eye an anchor so you have a better sense of depth as opposed to one solid color.” At approximately 24 inches in width, the curbs along Governor’s Island are decidedly more massive than standard street curbs. From Southside’s 37,000-square-foot facility, 4,250 curb and bench units were fabricated using a combination of custom molds. To expedite production and cut costs, a standard set of shapes was defined in AutoCAD and formed from rubber molds, but none were of standard, square dimensions. “Everything has a radius edge, from seats to curbs to the grass level,” explained Southside President Paul Rossi. The team worked with rubber and foam molds to achieve the desired, smooth texture on 3.2 miles of concrete at an affordable price. In addition to unique profiles and varying heights, West 8 designed an organic, circular low bas-relief “fish eye” pattern for every section of the curb. “The architects were very particular about the density of the pattern,” said Rossi. To ensure the patterning met the designers’ expectations, each coating was hand applied by Southside’s team of fabricators, but was modularized for 12-foot repetitions along 140 flexible, rubber molds. For corner sections and curb pieces with receding angles, hundreds of custom molds were cast to ensure the surface of each piece remained perfectly smooth and the patterning unblemished. To withstand weathering, Southside follows production guidelines established by the Architectural Precast Association (APA) for air entrainment, consolidation, and consistency of binder to aggregate. Beyond APA standards, the fabricators took advantage of the Buffalo climate and put each piece through freeze-thaw testing. Southside also applied a proprietary coating—a secret blend of epoxy and a marine-grade coating for fiberglass—to withstand salt from de-icing treatments and the river’s brackish water. The treatment, however, will not discourage development of a patina that will enhance the fish eye pattern. Once site installation was completed, designers from West 8 were able to observe the execution and American craftsmanship of their design. “Their principal was impressed with the quality of Southside’s work,” said Cavanagh. “Their principal felt it was the best product he’d seen in his career working with precast concrete.”
Yesterday City Council green lighted new zoning to allow commercial development in 40 historic structures on Governors Island. This change will introduce restaurants and retail establishments to the sleepy, mostly park-filled island, and also help to generate revenue for the upkeep and operations of the island's parkland. One stipulation of the rezoning is a commitment from The Trust for Governors Island to use union labor for all construction projects. (Photo: Courtesy Trust for Governors Island)
Only a little over decade ago, Governors Island was a sleepy coast guard base just a stone's throw from Lower Manhattan, but it has since become a destination for New Yorkers offering a slew of recreational activities, events, and new park land. Now the idyllic island could be populated by a new hotel along with restaurants, retail, and other commercial development. Crain's reported that City Council will vote tomorrow on a zoning change that would allow 40 historic buildings—that make up 1.2 million square feet on the island—to be used for commercial activity. The revenue generated from commercial development would help with upkeep and day-to-day operations of the island, which so far has been paid for by the city. In December, the Trust for Governors Island issued a request for proposals asking developers to submit ideas for the 40 structures that could provide a range of uses and services.
On Monday, the Trust for Governors Island released a request for proposals, calling on developers to suggest meaningful uses for 40 of the former Army and Coast Guard base's historic structures. New York City is in the midst of a $300 million revitalization program that is modernizing the island's infrastructure and re-sculpting its landscape in order to transform it into a major recreational destination. The RFP seeks to bring private investment into the mix in a way that will create a sustainable economic future for the public park. In that spirit, the Governors Island Alliance has released a list of nine criteria for evaluating proposals. The criteria favor uses that enhance the public space, protect the historic character of the buildings, connect with the waterfront, and encourage a diversity "of people and price points." Details can be found here.
In a unanimous decision, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the first phase of plans by the Trust for Governors Island to restore and revamp the island. The vision includes a paisley-like landscape by West 8 on the terrace in front of McKim, Mead and White designed Liggett Hall. Way-finding by Pentagram and lighting by Susan Tillotson also made the cut. For a detailed breakdown of the designs click here.