From Wasteland to Highlight

New York’s East River separates the spectacular skyline of Manhattan from Long Island City, the westernmost neighbourhood of the New York City borough of Queens. Until recently, Long Island City’s rather uninviting waterfront was an abandoned industrial area. Today, the picture is different. Eleven acres of former wasteland have now become the recently completed “Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park” – New York City’s newest model for waterfront resiliency.

Designed by SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI in collaboration with ARUP, “Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park” achieves two things – it transforms an abandoned industrial land into a resilient infrastructure and, at the same time, provides a contemplative retreat for the neighbourhood. The park directly adjoins a currently ongoing mixed-use and affordable housing development project, the city’s largest since the 1970s.

Connection of nature, human and urbanity

The park’s design combines infrastructure, landscape, architecture and art in order to achieve a maximum benefit for the public. Visitors enter the area with its dreamlike character via a narrow bridge. Just one glimpse later, they spot “Luminescence” – a land art installation by New York-based artist Nobuho Nagasawa. Almost two meters tall glowing sculptures depict the different phases of the moon. In her work, the artist manifests the spatial relationship between nature, the built environment and human beings. This is also the park’s overarching theme.

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Narrow paths lead through sculpted grassland. Picnic promontories and wooden platforms offer space for relaxing moments. Three fitness terraces adopt the dramatic gradient of the site as a design theme. A generously designed promenade leads the visitor towards a spectacular overlook. What looks like a tremendous sculpture from a distance turns out to be a nearly ten meters tall, cantilevered platform with a unique view of Manhattan’s skyline and the East River. The overlook’s steel-clad formwork relates to the site’s industrial legacy and integrates it into the architectural design. Not only the choice of material refers to the site’s historical heritage and its unique characteristics. The use of salt-mesh as main vegetation and the multi-layered spatial arrangement of design elements anticipate the inevitable rising water levels of the East River and potential patterns of flooding.

Integration of the past

What used to be a neglected wasteland in the past is now a dynamic public space that also offers room for deceleration. A space that doesn’t deny its past, but sensitively integrates it into its design. Especially in the context of increasingly dense urban areas such as New York, the targeted activation and densification of unused spaces is more relevant than ever. “Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park” seems to be an answer to the question on which spatial concepts offer a new design model for urban ecology and a prototype for innovative sustainable design.