By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
News outlets are atwitter with excitement for the “first public beach” in Manhattan, and it’s going to be right here in the West Village! There is reason to be excited for what’s coming in 2023, for the new Gansevoort Peninsula will be 5.5 acres of the largest new uninterrupted active and passive recreation green space in Hudson River Park. The $70 million project will provide a lighted ball field, a pine grove, a dog run, river seating on three sides of the peninsula, and river access to kayakers and other small boaters, as well as a place for lounging and river views there, but definitely not for swimming.
Also on the southern edge of the Peninsula, an important public art installation is now under construction, donated to Hudson River Park by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Entitled Day’s End by New York artist David Hammons, the sculpture will be an outline of the former Pier 52 once located here, made out of tubular stainless steel members resting on concrete pilings, both in the water and at the landside. It derives its inspiration and name from Gordon Matta-Clark’s short-lived 1975 artwork made from the old pier shed.
Mr. Hammons himself proposed the project to the Whitney, and according to Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, “It will not impose on any uses of the Gansevoort Peninsula—you can still have baseball fields, you can still have park…..There are essentially no shadows; it’s completely open to the light, to the air…”
During the early design stages for Gansevoort Peninsula, James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), the lead firm for the consultants, stated that the goal is “to access the water, design for resiliency and reinforce the …Estuarine Sanctuary as well as provide recreational amenities that are missing elsewhere” in the Park. Since a “Sandy-type” flood surge would inundate this beautiful park, JCFO stated that they elected to choose resilient materials throughout that would survive an inundation with little damage.
But after studying various ways to provide a beach and water access, and realizing that no artificial sand beach could be created to remain at the tidal water’s edge, Gansevoort will provide an accessible sandbox and ramp on the south side, immediately under the Hammons sculpture. Shown with stone rip-rap slopes along the ramps, this water’s edge has been criticized as being the most unfriendly surface imaginable; but JCFO defended the rip-rap as necessary to withstand the strong wave action and tide surges.
Gansevoort Peninsula is parkland built on solid ground, as opposed to a pier above the water, but it is not a naturally occurring body of land, as it was formed from landfill out into the river, just like most of Manhattan’s shoreline. Under a 2005 settlement with Friends of Hudson River Park, the City Department of Sanitation had until 2013 to move over 150 sanitation vehicles and their garage and office buildings off the peninsula at Gansevoort Street; it took a few more years to actually clear the land and to proceed through the design stages. On the north side of the peninsula is Pier 53, the home of NYC Fire Department’s Marine Company One, a functioning boathouse and pier for its fire-fighting vessel. Nearby, the first building for the peninsula’s maintenance uses has been constructed in the park.
So, the “beach” won’t be like a Coney Island boardwalk beach, and it won’t be like the forlorn strip of sandy beach under the Brooklyn Bridge along the South Street esplanade, but JCFO is making the most of a difficult situation. The sandlot is generously sized and incorporates a sandy play area for children, picnic tables for families, and shade trees for lounging—something for everyone, except lapping waves on the sand.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings Committee, and is a journalist, especially on architecture subjects.