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09 Jun 2021
Heatherwick's Little Island – an 'urban park on stilts' – opens on Hudson River
By Tom Walker
Heatherwick's Little Island – an 'urban park on stilts' – opens on Hudson River
The 1.1-hectare Little Island rests on 132 tulip-like, concrete piles
Photo: Timothy Schenck/Heatherwick
Little Island, a 1.1-hectare (11,000sq m) urban park built on stilts on the Hudson River in New York, has opened to the public.

Designed by Heatherwick Studio, in partnership with Arup and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA), the park and performance venue features 540 metres of pathways and a range of performance spaces.

Little Island’s distinct exterior is supported by 132 "tulip-like" concrete piles.

Each tulip’s shape is unique and has a different weight load capacity to hold the soil, lawns, overlooks and trees.

The original Pier 54 piles around the new structure have been retained to provide habitat for aquatic life.

Arup served as the project’s engineering consultant, providing services spanning structural, mechanical, electrical, public health, and civil engineering.

Arup's engineers created a benchmark structural approach to build the park, harnessing advanced 3D design and prefabrication techniques to deliver Heatherwick's unique design.

Facilities within the park – nestled among more than 350 species of flowers, trees and shrubs – include a 687-seat amphitheater and an intimate stage and lawn space, along with views of other portions of Hudson River Park and the Hudson River.

The landscape, designed by Signe Nielsen of MNLA, provides a "visually surprising and inspiring experience" as visitors walk across the park.

The plantings are varied to provide an environment that changes with the seasons, with flowing trees and shrubs, fall foliage and evergreens. More than 66,000 bulbs and 114 trees have been planted, some of which will grow to 60 feet tall.

The park is free to access – but will be ticketed to control numbers during COVID-19 – and is open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am.

Heatherwick Studio was appointed to design the park following a design competition launched by the Hudson River Park Trust and businessman and philanthropist Barry Diller.

Planned in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust, Little Island was funded primarily through Barry Diller and the Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation through an "extraordinary philanthropic gift" to the Hudson River Park.

The park is owned and managed by Hudson River Park Trust and Pier 55 Project Fund.

The project was first announced in 2013.

Thomas Heatherwick said:“The project began when we were asked to conceive of a sculptural structure to go on a design for a newly enlarged piece of the Hudson River Park promenade.

"The project was interesting, but we saw the opportunity to create a more engaging experience for New Yorkers and to build on the city’s heritage of inventing exciting new public spaces.

"Instead, we had the idea to make an entirely new type of pier as a lush rectangular garden island, connected to the land with generous gang-planks as bridges, aligned to the street grid of New York.

"As well as making multiple spaces for different activities and performances, this new public space could also take advantage of the water to create a more meaningful threshold that allows visitors to feel they’re having a break from the hecticness of the city.

"Typically pier structures are always flat, but we saw this as an unmissable opportunity to lift the surface to create a topography that would make a more dynamic social experience for visitors and give great sightlines for performing spaces and lookout points over the river and back towards the city.

"Also, typically, piers are composed of structural piles that go down into the river bed with slabs that cover them to make a surface. However, we were inspired by these piles and the civil engineering required to build structures that are able to withstand extreme river conditions. Could we make these the heroes of our project, rather than hiding them?

"The vision that’s been built is based on taking these piles and turning their tops into dramatic planters that fuse together to make a richly-planted undulating landscape.

"Our intention has been to make an exciting space that is free for everybody to come to, that treats the river as part of nature as well as plants and even each other.”

For more information on Little Island,
click here.

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