Heatherwick Studio, MNLA, and Arup today announced the opening of Little Island, a 2.4-acre urban park and performance venue, situated above the Hudson River in New York City. Owned by the Hudson River Park and designed by the London-based Heatherwick Studio and the New York-based landscape architecture firm MNLA, the opening of Little Island is the culmination of over 8 years of planning, development and construction.
The Vision: Heatherwick Studio was initially invited to create a pavilion for a new extension to the waterfront. But the team felt this was a missed opportunity to make a significant new urban space for New York, whilst at the same time reimagining what a pier could be as an experience. Rather than creating another flat jetty, the pier could become a new piece of topography, rising and falling to shape a variety of spaces and functions – even performance spaces. The idea of raising the park on its foundations came from the existing wooden piles in the water. The piles have become an important habitat for marine life and are a protected breeding ground for fish. The height of the piles varies to create the contours of the new landscape. The corner of the pier is lifted to allow sunlight to reach the marine habitat, and the edge falls to define hills, viewpoints and to carve out a natural amphitheatre for performances. In this way, the pier and its supporting structure are one.
The planters, or ‘pots’ are filled with soil and planted with more than a hundred different species of indigenous trees and plants, which encourage biodiversity and are able to thrive in the waterside
climate of New York. To determine the pots’ form, the design team looked to nature, and the mosaic of ice that forms around the wooden piles when the river freezes. The studio reinterpreted this in a tessellated pattern that appears organic, but uses repeated elements that could be standardised for fabrication. The precast components were fabricated locally and then transported by boats and assembled on site, minimising disruption to the city.
Access to the pier is via two accessible ‘gangplanks’, covered in timber planks and oriented in a continuation of New York’s street grid. Inside, paths wind through trees and grassy seating areas to hidden, unexpected views. Restoring the entertainment venue that was lost when Pier 54 fell into disrepair, the park integrates three performance spaces: an acoustically-optimised 700-seat amphitheatre, a more intimate 200-seat spoken word stage, and a flexible venue with capacity for 3,500 at the centre.