Friday, September 24, 2010

West Harlem Piers Park/W Landscape Architecture

West Harlem Pier Park is located in Harlem, New York and instigated by the New York City Economic Corporation in order to develop the public space along the riverside with the long term goal of improving the economic development of the Harem area. The park was designed by W Landscape + Architecture, completed in 2009 and includes 2 new piers supporting boating, fishing and ecological study as well as cycle and pedestrian connections and performance space.

Urban Context

The West Harlem Pier Park was formerly a car park located within the industrial area along the Hudson River front and after much community activism and master planning by various agencies was transformed into a waterside recreation area which was the last piece of the puzzle in creating a continuous bike and pedestrian path from Battery Park along the Hudson River.
The park is a linear strip of land bounded by 135th and 125th street, separated from the main city by a major roadway that defines the city edge of the park which is accessible via an underpass. The other linear boundary of the park is formed by the Hudson River.
The park was part of a greater masterplan that sought to develop the neighbourhood of West Harlem with the dual purpose of creating better public space and improving the economic climate of the area.

Natural Context

Layout and formation of the park is related significantly to the natural landforms of the park prior to it being a car park. Even the built structures are intended to mimic natural forms with the piers projecting out like sand bars rather than the more common perpendicular industrial piers.
The programme of the site also encourages public interaction with the nature of the site, in particular, one of the piers is dedicated to the study of the ecology of the river. Subtle layers are introduced into the site by way of topography and platforms in order to reference the various ecological layers that any site possesses.

Movement and Connections

The major bicycle and access pathway is kept on the urban side of the park, running parallel to the roadway above. Secondary paths lead off from this roadway down to the waterfront, with the main of these cutting across the main diagonal of the park. Two other secondaries connect two of the main urban streets, through the park and out over the water to the piers. Another secondary path runs alongside the water front. At points of intersection of these paths, plaza's are formed where public activities can take place, performance art for example.

Order and Object

Within the park, the site furniture is has been intentionally scattered within the parkland reminiscent of driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam which is characteristic of a tidal marine environment. This site furniture includes granite benches, timber platforms, steel planters.

Public art is incorporated into the space by way of three large sculptures that encapsulate the fishing history of the site, and actually identify with local fisherman of the area. Also incorporated is a platform and a subtle natural amphitheatre in the landforms that can be(and has been) utilised for performance art.

Plane Manipulation

The ground plane has been modified to be similar to the pre car park, valley land form. Several layers are articulated with platforms, sloping lawn, paving and piers indicative of the layering of various ecological and cultural systems inherent in the parkland.

The scale of the ground plane is quite subtle which is sensible in response to the size of the site, the major road above and emphasis on the physical interaction between the public and the water.


Light. Colour, Texture

The park is completely open and exposed to the natural light elements, which forms a contrast with the major road running parallel to the park, the underpasses of which are constantly in shadow. This contributes to the idea of the park being light, open and airy, welcoming contrast to the high-rise living of New York City.

Materials used within the site a subtle, largely natural landscaping colours, with granite, timber, steel and concrete, in order to emphasise the view of the river, as well as reference the industrial path of the area. Specifically the granite benches and cobblestone pavings are recycled from previous uses in the city.

Water Connections

Two piers just out into the water, carrying the visitors out into the Marine environment that previously they were purely spectators of. In particular these wharfs are intended to be used for activities that create even more of a relationship with the water such as fishing, ecological boat tours and kayak use.

The path along the river is in fact a timber deck suspended over the water, with the water visible through the surface of the deck, increasing awareness of the proximity to the water underfoot.

The tidal movements of the river have also been brought into the site, much of the site furniture being scatted around the site as if deposited by the tide, conveying that the river environment does not stop at the water's edge, but has impacts upon the land as well.

Relevance to Bank Street Boat Park

Both the location and the intentions of the West Harlem Pier Park, are very similar to the conditions of Bank Street Boat Park. The park is located along an urban river with significant urban infrastructure being part of the immediate context. Also the intentions of the park to draw and connect the visitors and residents to the water is significantly the same as the intentions for Bank Street.

Some of the things that West Harlem makes clear that may be useful for Bank Street is the subtlety of the interventions, allowing the contrast with the urban city to communicate and advertise the benefits of the park and the users to determine how they wish to use the park. What West Harlem attempts to do (and it is hard to say if this is successful without visiting) is being the movement of the marine environment to bear on the urban parkland, and this is definitely an idea worthy of consideration. Not simply having the land form next to the water and leading people down to the water, but also bringing elements of water and it's character into the site itself, whether physically or figuratively.

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