Park Plan Is Chosen for Governors Island
By ROBIN POGREBIN
December 20, 2007
More than 10 years after the Coast Guard left Governors Island in New York Harbor, a team of architects has been selected to design a grandly whimsical green 40-acre park on its southern half that public officials hope will ultimately attract commercial development.
City and state officials announced Wednesday that the design — by the Dutch firm West 8, Diller Scofidio & Renfro, Rogers Marvel Architects, Quennell Rothschild & Partners and SMWM — had triumphed in a competition that had narrowed to five finalists.
Governors Island “has languished without sufficient attention, without sufficient investment,” Gov. Eliot Spitzer said at an outdoor news conference at the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Manhattan with Governors Island as a backdrop.
In an interview, he added, “We are committed to building it.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg echoed the governor’s determination. “It is one of the jewels of our city,” he said. “We couldn’t have a better location. Now it’s up to us to do it.”
The design, commissioned by the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, calls for transforming much of the flat, sober island, which is roughly a half-mile from Lower Manhattan, into green space. That includes a two-mile promenade at the water’s edge, a new park on the southern flat expanse of landfill — where abandoned Coast Guard buildings are to be demolished — and an improved park in the island’s northern historic district. The architects proposed using the detritus from the buildings that are to be destroyed to form hills that would exploit the island’s views, which include the Statue of Liberty.
“We have to create a completely new and original experience,” Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said yesterday. “We’ve always seen the parks as the catalyst to the development of the rest of the island.”
Jerry van Eyck, one of the West 8 partners, said in an interview that the architects hoped to set a standard of quality design on the island so “we don’t end up with Disney or casinos.”
Financed by the city and state, the park project is expected to cost about $400 million and to be completed by 2012.
Isolated and vaguely mysterious to many New Yorkers, Governors Island served as the site of American military installations since 1794. In 2003 the federal government sold it to the state and city for $1 under a general understanding that it would be developed into park space and a cultural destination, among other uses.
The National Park Service continues to own and operate 22 of the 172 acres, including Castle Williams and Fort Jay, two early 19th-century Army forts that are protected by landmark status.
The architects were asked to set aside space for new buildings that Mr. Doctoroff said could ultimately include cultural or academic institutions. “Part of the plan was to leave areas that can be allocated as developers come in,” said Ricardo Scofidio, one of the architects. “You kind of set the stage with the park.”
A jury of city and state officials and design professionals picked the architects over four other teams: Hargreaves Associates and Michael Maltzan Architecture; Field Operations and Wilkinson Eyre; REX/MDP; and WRT and Urban Strategies.
The winning design “was really the scheme that best addressed the issues of phasing,” said Frederic M. Bell, the executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who served on the corporation’s advisory committee. “If money is going to be the problem, how do you create something at the outset that can grow and change over time?”
In the main, however, the architects were charged with imagining a park that was compelling enough to prompt visitors to get on the ferry — to design a destination that would “justify the journey,” said Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation.
The notion was, “What can you do in this park that you can’t do anywhere else?” Ms. Koch added.
For West 8, that includes providing a fleet of bicycles on the island that can be used at no charge; the architects even designed a wooden prototype bicycle for that purpose.
For now the island’s environmental conditions are harsh and windy, said Adriaan Geuze, one of West 8’s partners. So the architects aimed to create a landscape where people would feel shielded from the elements. “We believe we have to change that into a more intimate, human-scale green island where you’re protected,” he said.
Jonathan Marvel, one of the architects, said: “We tried to establish different ecological zones with the park. Topography, shoreline, freshwater places for migratory birds to land because they use the Hudson River as their compass.”
The firms involved in the winning proposal met several times to brainstorm and map out the project. “In a way it started as a think tank,” Mr. Scofidio said.
The city has been studying the possibility of building a gondola designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that could transport people to and from the island. “Based on what we’ve seen so far, it is definitely very feasible,” Mr. Doctoroff said.
Avi Schick, president of the Empire State Development Corporation, was named chairman of the Governors Island corporation yesterday; he replaces Mr. Doctoroff, who is leaving the city administration in February to become president of Bloomberg L.P. but will remain a member of the corporation’s board.
At the news conferernce Governor Spitzer played up the symbolism of enlisting a Dutch architecture team to design on an island where the Dutch were the first European settlers in the early 17th century.
Asked whether he was gratified by his involvement in the high-profile project, his first in New York, Mr. van Eyck said, “Look at my face” — and then smiled.
HIGH ON GOVS I.
SKYWAY TO NEW TOURIST MECCA LOOKS LIKE A GO
By RICH CALDER
December 20, 2007
An ambitious plan to build a $125 million aerial gondola system connecting Governors Island to Manhattan and Brooklyn looks ready to fly, a top city official said yesterday.
While on hand to help announce that a Dutch design team was chosen to create 90 acres of new parkland on the long-dormant island, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said prospects of getting the once pie-in-the-sky gondola plan off the ground also look good.
"Based on what we've seen so far, it is definitely feasible," he said.
The gondola proposal, first reported by The Post in January 2006, would connect the historic 172-acre island to Pier 6 off Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and to the Battery Marine Terminal in lower Manhattan. It would also give New Yorkers a more scenic option of commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The city-state Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. is about a month away from getting long-awaited results of a technical and financial feasibility study of the futuristic-looking gondola plan to be designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, and the results will ultimately determine the project's fate.
Currently, the only way to Governors Island is by ferry and water taxi.
Doctoroff was joined yesterday at the White hall Ferry Ter minal by Gov. Spitzer, Mayor Bloomberg and other top officials in announcing that a team led by Netherlands-based West 8 was selected to transform the former military base into one of the world's greatest open spaces.
The $200 million city-state project will include a 40-acre park on the south end, a 2.2-mile promenade encircling the island and smaller parks in the historic north end.
West 8 group's unique plan includes letting the public use 3,000 wooden bikes that they could ride along a looping pathway to experience breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor.
They also want to create an amphitheater overlooking the Statue of Liberty, a botanical forest with magnificent sculptures, plant new 3,000 trees on the island, and use recycled materials to create artificial hills for the one-of-a-kind panoramic views.
The materials will come from former military buildings on the south end that will be demolished next year to make way for the park, which is expected to be complete in 2013.
Adriaan Geuze, founder of West 8, said the company's Dutch background made including bicycles in the plan a no-brainer.
"I am from Holland, where bicycles are an important part of street life, and everybody bikes," he said. "You could never walk the entire island, but the bikes will help get people to experience more of the island and go anywhere they want to."
Bloomberg said he was particularly impressed by the bike theme, joking "it's a great idea; you don't have to worry about them being stolen" because "you can't take them anyplace" off the island.
Spitzer called the project "a once-in-a-century opportunity" to tap the island's enormous potential.