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Catching Up

East River Waterfront Esplanade from Architect's Newspaper on Vimeo.


With all eyes fixed on everything coming up roses on the West Side’s High Line, City Planning has been concentrating on the East. The long-term goal of connecting the lushly-landscaped promenades and bike paths of the West Side to the heavily trafficked spaghetti of the East Side moved a step closer with the opening on July 14 of the section from Pier 11 at Wall Street to Pier 15 at South Street Seaport. “After 9/11 we said that the most important thing for lower Manhattan is rebuilding and the transformation of the East River,” said City Planning commissioner Amanda Burden. The plans for the park are being developed with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and will ultimately extend up to Pier 35 just north of Manhattan Bridge.

With much of the park sitting beneath the FDR Drive, the Esplanade will likely draw comparisons to the High Line for its embrace of infrastructure, though it’s literally the flipside. Here, it’s about being beneath, not above. “Embracing the FDR seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t so obvious then,” said Burden. “It provides important shade and it’s an organizing principle for all of the programming.”

While the overall look —a collaboration between SHoP Architects and landscape architect Ken Smith—is quite different from the High Line, it establishes its own signature designs. So-called Get-Downs, bleacher-like stairways that drop down to water level and give visitors a chance to get their feet wet and feel the river spray, occur at several key spots, one directly across Wall Street, and allow uninterrupted sightlines. “We thought an important way to connect was that you could see the water all the way back into the city,” said SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli. “The railing drops so that the view corridors from the city are unobstructed.”

A line of barstools sit up against ipe wooden rails providing another unimpeded perch. The rail is wide enough to support lunch or a book. The designers also used ipe for slats in two patterns for bench seating, inspired by shipping crates and pallets. At Burden’s insistence, seating is arranged in multiple groups of two or four, around chess tables, and, for the more harried New Yorker, alone.

Landscape architect Ken Smith sporadically arranged multi-hued grey hexagon pavers riffing on a highly pixilated photo of the water. He also designed a series of planting beds or “dunes” rising from six inches to about two feet high. The effect creates several berms at various angles that morph on one side into “seat walls” made of ductile concrete, edged in skateboard-proof stainless steel. “There’s an emphasis on native plants, while the modulated seating and dunes create a meandering walkway,” said Smith. In the dog run, Smith got to break out his pop art with a giant bone, towering tree stump, and bear-sized squirrel all made of concrete.

This fall, the bi-level Pier 15 also by SHoP will be finished. The 517-foot-long upper pier features an extended lawn and small “forest,”while a maritime museum and café sit below. Next summer, at Maiden Lane a pavilion café, run by the same operator as the Pier 15 café, will open. The final phases of the project from Broad Street to Old Slip and from Pike and Allen Streets up to Pier 35 are expected to be completed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

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