Nearly a decade ago, landscape architect Adriaan Geuze and the team at West 8 won the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation’s competition to "transform the Island and integrate its two halves." This week, nearly a year ahead of schedule, they debuted the results: The Hills, a series of four mounds rising 25 to 70 feet above the 172-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor.
The four main elements of the design program are the hills that give the project its name: Outlook, Grassy, Slide, and Discovery. Each element is designed to give visitors a different experience, ranging from the 70-foot-high, universally accessible Outlook, with a feature called the Scramble, constructed from reclaimed granite blocks from the seawall, to the gently sloping Grassy Hill, which reaches 26 feet tall.
"Sculpted topography works in concert with winding pathways and trees to create ‘conceal and reveal’ vistas, choreographing the park experience," says West 8 design director Adriaan Geuze. "It maximizes the sense of anticipation, pulling a visitor through the park or signaling a place to sit and stay just a bit longer."
The island site presented the firm with a number of challenges. Trees were specifically selected for their ability to stand up to the salt air and the slope, which itself provided some engineering problems. To create a secure surface that would not place too much weight on the island—the southern tip of which is made from material excavated during construction of the Lexington Avenue subway a century ago—West 8 used a mix of recycled material from buildings and parking lots demolished on the site, with lightweight pumice added to the largest hill, Outlook, to further limit the load that would be placed on the island's seawall. Geotechnical reinforcements provide added support.
There's more to the park than dirt and trees, however. It's an important element in protecting the island's resiliency, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, especially during storms. It also features a few high-tech touches, including Red Dot Award–winning Urban Star street lamps designed by West 8 in collaboration with Phillips. Now that's one smart park.
"The Hills are a triumph of imagination, state-of-the-art engineering, and smart design that will ensure access to beautiful green space, the waterfront, and incomparable views of the Harbor for years to come." —Leslie Koch, President of the Trust for Governors Island
Governors Island will be open for the season through September 25, 2016.
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