Little Island, a New $260 Million Charmer, Opens on the Hudson


CRITIC’s Notebook

Little Island, developed by Barry Diller, with an amphitheater and dramatic views, opens on Hudson River Park. Opponents battled it for years.

Rising from the Hudson River, Little Island preens atop a bouquet of tulip-shaped columns, begging to be posted on Instagram. Outside, it’s eye sweet. Inside, a charmer, with killer views.

Mega-mogul Barry Diller’s $260 million, 2.Four-acre pet challenge and civic mitzvah, close to 13th Street in Hudson River Park, is the architectural equal of a kitchen sink sundae, with a little little bit of every part. Who is aware of what it would really feel like when crowds arrive this weekend. I think they are going to be monumental.

Because nothing in New York will get constructed with out a battle, opponents battled for years in courtroom to cease Little Island. The park-within-the-park was conceived practically a decade in the past to switch Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side. In 1912, the R.M.S. Carpathia introduced survivors of the Titanic to Pier 54. It had turn into a venue for outside live shows in recent times however began to crumble and needed to be closed. Park officers approached Diller — his headquarters are in the neighborhood — and in flip Diller enlisted Thomas Heatherwick, the English designer and billionaire whisperer. New Yorkers might recall Heatherwick devised the Vessel at Hudson Yards.

I won’t dawdle over the mess that followed the island’s announcement. A real estate titan who had bones to pick with the Hudson River Park Trust supported a series of legal challenges. At one point, seeing no end in sight to the court fights, Diller backed out. A deal brokered by New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, ultimately rescued the project and also delivered public commitments to enhance protections for wildlife habitats and improve other parts of the four-mile-long, 550-acre Hudson River Park.

So, credit the complainers, I suppose — and Diller, obviously, for not giving up. A win-win for New York.

The city works in strange ways sometimes.

The concept Heatherwick sold to Diller and the Hudson River Park Trust looks largely unchanged since it was unveiled in 2014: an undulating platform, extravagantly planted with beautiful trees, flowers and grass, detached at a jaunty angle from the bulkhead and organized around performance spaces, including a spectacular 687-seat amphitheater overlooking the water, custom-made for watching the sunset while sipping Bellinis.

The engineering firm Arup figured out how to balance the whole thing on the columns. Signe Nielsen, a co-founder of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, designed everything green and flowering that visitors will see, smell, lay a blanket on and walk past.

When you’re on the island you focus mostly on her plantings, the water and skyline. I had spied a mother duck on an earlier visit, brooding a clutch of eggs near the crow’s nest. She was roosting in the nook of a weathered steel retaining wall just below the top of the hill. The island’s warm palette of materials provides a subdued backdrop for the trees and flowers, and it helped camouflage the duck.

Now bourgeois central, the West Side used to be the busiest port in the Americas, a clangorous maelstrom of swinging cables and breaking booms, bulging warehouses and stevedores’ bars. A titan’s comb of piers stretched from the Battery as far north as the eye could see, the air choked with particles of grain and bone dust when “skyscraper” was a word that still referred to the topsail of a clipper ship. Decline started after the Second World War, as air travel made ocean liners obsolete. Industry fled the city. Huge new containerized ships were too big for New York’s docks. By the 1960s, a district where the R.M.S. Lusitania berthed before its fateful voyage became a shamble of auto salvage shops, tow pounds, S&M bars and taxi garages.

Communities of artists and L.G.B.T.Q. residents colonized some of the crumbling wharves. But when a section of the elevated West Side Highway collapsed in 1973 (beneath a dump truck that was carrying asphalt to repair a different part of the road), the political impetus to “clean up” the West Side gathered momentum in the form of an urban reclamation plan called Westway.

But I recall Westway for another reason. Probably the most ambitious city renewal plan of the postwar era, it envisioned replacing the crumbling West Side Highway with an interstate tunneled below the Hudson River. Hordes of cars and trucks would be removed from streets, disused warehouses and piers torn down, and the waterfront redeveloped and extended into the river on hundreds of new acres of landfill, creating a vast green esplanade with bike lanes and parks all the way from Chambers Street up to 59th Street.

The architecture firm Venturi, Scott Brown was enlisted to design the esplanade. The Reagan administration agreed to pay to move the highway. New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted Westway would do for the city during the 20th century what Central Park had done in the 19th. A series of New York governors and mayors throughout the ’70s and ’80s (not to mention the architecture critic of The New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable) also sang Westway’s praises.

But this was the dawn of the environmental movement and of community activism in reaction to the Powers That Be and the highhanded tactics that had been employed by the city’s former planning czar, Robert Moses. Westway galvanized a coalition of neighborhood organizers, architectural preservationists, public transit riders and wildlife advocates. They manned the barricades to protest rapacious development, creeping privatization and money going for highways not subways.

Whether their ultimate victory was a loss for the city is debatable, in retrospect. But it paved the way for, among other things, the Hudson River Park Trust, created in 1998 by New York authorities to accomplish what Westway didn’t — namely, redeveloping and pacifying Manhattan’s West Side waterfront. Money to operate the park was to be raised through the commercial leasing of refurbished piers like Pier 57 and via private donations.

Which gets us back to Diller’s island.

In the end, Diller didn’t have total free rein, having to work with the trust and public agencies. But should a billionaire decide what is built on public land?

Huddled against a sunny morning gale, the mother duck was tending her eggs.

The ducklings, I learned, just hatched this week. They’ve started paddling in the river.

Maps by Scott Reinhard. Produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben and Tala Safie.



Source link Nytimes.com

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