By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

Barry Diller’s “Little Island” aka Pier 55, aka Diller’s Island, is scheduled to open next spring 2021, after 7 years of work. Massive PR efforts are being mounted in the effort to gain community support, after completely shutting out the community from its initial planning, and “back room” deals to circumvent community opposition and environmental laws that prohibit such new construction in the river habitat.

They were able to somehow convince public officials that contributing $40 Million of city funds to build two bridges there, and $50 Million of additional state funds for Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT, a joint NY state and local government entity) capital projects, and still have HRPT pay for the expensive maintenance of the pilings sitting in sea water, would be worth subverting environmental laws for the benefit of a new entertainment venue.

And what a venue it will be: sitting on 132 pile mounted pods of preformed concrete, connected by steel plates and concrete subfloors, some of the pilings will rise almost 70 feet above the water, and the south bridge ducks under the pods to enter the playground area, revealing the ugly underbelly of the pods, probably one of the worst ideas ever thrust upon the river-loving public. The designers may think that smooth concrete “mushrooms” will be clean and attractive to look at from below, but anyone can tell you how quickly the streaks of soot and pollution will stain and degrade the appearance of this 2.7-acre pier. Perhaps by taking the north bridge to enter the park-like atmosphere, one can avoid the underpass depression.

According to their website, half of the piles serve as supports for the ‘tulip pot’ modules that comprise the surface structure of the park, with each pot made up of 4-6 concrete ‘petals,’ all sitting on a central column head. All pot and column head components were fabricated in Greenwich, NY, then driven to Ravena, NY, by truck for assembly in fit-up stations, then loaded four at a time onto a barge and floated 130 miles down the Hudson River to Little Island, where each one was erected by a barge-mounted crane onto a concrete pile. Each pot weighs up to 75 tons and no two pots are exactly the same.

Little Island will consist of several undulating edges around a central lawn and play area. Meandering walkways lead off to overlooks, some as high as 65’ above water, to the east, to the south, and to the north. A 700-seat amphitheater along the northwest edge will be reserved for private ticketed events, which will help fund the upkeep of the lush landscaping around the island’s edges. A small stage on the south edge will be for more informal performances. The island will be open to the public, thank you very much, except when special private events are scheduled. Will that be every weekend, or several nights a week in season? Programming rights are with the Little Island organization, not HRPT.

“It’s entirely my fault that this has become so ambitious,” says Barry Diller, the billionaire funder behind the project ($170M originally, now estimated to be $250M), former head of Paramount Pictures and Fox, now chairman of the internet company IAC, headquartered nearby. The Diller/von Furstenberg family foundation, P55Inc., re-branded its Thomas Heatherwick Studio-designed tourist attraction to kick off its promotions of Standard Architects serves as the Architect of Record for this project, responsible for overall design coordination. Engineering firm Arup developed the geometries, Hunter Roberts Construction Group is Construction Manager, overseeing all subcontractors and onsite work, with Gardiner & Theobald supporting project management and oversight. 

This diagrammatic plan, with South at the bottom, shows Little Island entered by two bridges (from the HRPT esplanade to the right), and divided into segments to provide: a small stage and an overlook at the south edges, the highest point of another overlook at the left corner, the 700-seat amphitheater above that, another overlook above that in the upper corner, and a central lawn and playground for family fun. It is scheduled to open in Spring 2021. Image credit: Hudson River Park website.

A Community Council has been formed of community members who serve as mentors for “Little Island interns,” leading them on excursions to cultural institutions and meeting with them for professional development luncheons throughout the year. Founding Members of the Community Council are Miguel Acevedo, Fulton Houses/NYCHA, Jane Carey, The Whitney Museum, George Cominskie, Westbeth Artists Residents Council, Naima Freitas, City-As-School, Jacqui Getz, 75 Morton School, Lowell Kern, Community Board 4

Zazel Loven, Chelsea Waterside Park Association, Terrell McLean, Little Island Intern Alum, Daisy Mendoza, Hudson Guild, Daniel Miller, Community Board 2, Tanaka Norman, Little Island Intern Alum, and Robin Rothstein, Community Board 2.

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