Brooklyn Bridge Park, 1.3 miles long and more than 20 years in the making, has transformed an abandoned waterfront into a public landscape visited by 5 million people a year. MVVA has been involved in the project since its inception in 1999 through hundreds of public meetings, multiple master plans, and ultimately the design and construction of the park in several phases starting in 2008. The park was completed, with the dedication of Emily Roebling Plaza under the Brooklyn Bridge, in December 2021.

The park sets a benchmark for waterfront projects globally that both reconnect cities to their shorelines and provide storm buffers in the face of climate change. Design features key to the park’s success include a massive sound-deflecting landform sheltering the site from highway noise; reuse of found materials for everything from furniture to stone terraces; thriving and diverse ecologies; nature-based play and other innovative play spaces; an exceptional range of active recreational programs; and a self-sustaining economic model that has become a new standard for ambitious public space projects.

Over 22 years and more than 400 public meetings, Brooklynites shaped the park. The idea for Brooklyn Bridge Park came from the public in response to a proposed plan to build apartment towers at the water’s edge. Through advocacy and community engagement, the vision of an accessible, continuous riverfront park became a reality.

Transforming the Waterfront

Understanding the complexity of the site and the vastness of its setting was the origin point for our approach to designing the park. We wanted to keep many of the elements that made the site unique—the tangible history of a working port and the vast borrowed landscape of the harbor.

Immense and Intimate

The park balances the monumental scale of its surroundings with places of intimacy. At moments, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the Manhattan skyline, and the boundless East River and New York Harbor present themselves in a single panoramic view; other times they are glimpsed across a field or through a sheltering canopy of leaves.

Urban Junctions

When MVVA started work on the park, numerous urban design challenges kept the existing site isolated and cut off from the city. In response, we stretched the park, lengthening the site to the north and south to connect to more neighborhoods. We created new entries at site extensions that tied the park to major transportation hubs and invited diverse users from across the city. We envisioned new ways of getting to the park through expanded bus stops, water taxis, Citi Bikes, parking, and subway connections.

These “urban junctions” were constructed first, drawing users to the unfinished park and creating excitement for the opening of each subsequent section. They were connected to play areas, concessions, and other programs with immediate use and appeal, giving families easy access and quickly making the park a part of daily life. Knitting the junctions together from end to end is a 30-foot-wide promenade, which was also prioritized in the schedule so users could experience the full extent of the park even during construction.

The Piers

Oversized piers and varied structural conditions created opportunities for highly diverse programming across the site. In upland areas and where the existing piers could support the weight, new landforms expand the range of views, experiences, and landscape conditions compared to the relentlessly flat port.

Taming the BQE

MVVA transformed the noisy and oppressive east edge of the site into a lushly planted landform. A feat of engineering that doubles as a beloved landscape setting, the sound berm significantly reduces the noise generated by the multilayered Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

The Water’s Edge

A key move was replacing the failing seawalls with a flood-tolerant stone rip-rap shoreline. The variety of newly constructed and naturalized shoreline edges supports a host of experiences connecting users to the water.

Planting

Varying the composition and character of planting across the park enables even frequent users to discover something new with each visit. Meticulously cultivated plant habitats, including salt and freshwater wetlands, miniature forests, meadows, and gardens provide an ever-changing human-scale experience. At the same time, the collage-like layering of different plant communities and the framing of long views with planted forms make a relatively narrow band of parkland feel as expansive as the surrounding East River and New York Harbor.

Material Language

Everyday materials make the park feel welcoming. Adapting the aesthetic language of the former marine terminal helped forge a unique identity and connect the site to its industrial past.

Material reuse is seen throughout the park in various design elements, from reclaimed granite to milled long-leaf yellow pine used on park benches. Many of the raw materials in the park are reclaimed from historic New York City infrastructure, such as the stone salvaged from the reconstruction of the Roosevelt Island Bridge.

Experience

With five million visitors annually, the park offers something for everybody. It has become a vital part of Brooklyn, beloved by residents and tourists alike.

Project Data

Landscape Architecture

LOCATION Brooklyn, New York
YEAR 1999-present
SIZE 85 acres
CLIENT Brooklyn Bridge Park

COLLABORATORS

Accu-Cost Construction Consultants (Cost Estimating)
AECOM (Civil, Marine and MEP Engineering)
Altieri Sebor Wieber (MEP Engineering)
AltPower/RELAB (Renewable Energy Consultants)
Architecture Research Office (Architecture)
Battle McCarthy (Environmental Engineers*)
Cerami Associates (Acoustical Engineering)
Clark Wolf (Food and Restaurant Consultants*)
Constructive Strategies (Government and Community Relations*)
Cooper Robertson (Urban Design*)
Domingo Gonzalez Associates (Lighting Design)
Ducibella Venter & Santore (Risk and Protection*)
Eng-Wong Taub & Associates (Transportation Planning)
F2 Environmental Design (Soil Scientist)
Fluidity (Fountain Consultant)
Gensler (Architecture and Conditions Surveying*)
Great Eastern Ecology (Ecology)
Greenberg Consultants (Urban Design*)
Henry Bardsley, RFR (Infrastructure Engineers)
HR&A Advisors (Economic Consultants)
James Carpenter Design Associates (Architecture*)
Kenny & Kahn (Code Consultants)
Lodging Investments Advisors (Hotel Consultants*)
Margie Ruddick Landscape (Ecological Landscape Planning)
Maryann Thompson Architects (Architecture)
Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (Landscape Maintenance and Cost Analysis)
Nitsch Engineering (Stormwater Reuse)
Northern Designs (Irrigation Design)
OPEN (Graphic Design)
Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor (Architecture)
Pentagram Design (Graphic Design*)
Pine and Swallow Associates (Soil Scientists)
RELAB (Renewable Energy Consultants)
Richmond So Engineers (Structural Engineering)
R.J. Van Seters Company (Fountain Consultant)
Sam Schwartz Engineering (Transportation Planning)
Sherwood Design Engineers (Civil Engineering)
Steven Handel (Ecology*)
Susan Fine (Economic Consultant*)
Urban Strategies (Urban Design*)
Ysrael A. Seinuk (Structural Engineering)
Weisz + Yoes Architecture (Park Maintenance Planning*)
*Master Plan phase only

AWARDS

2021 Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize
2018 ASLA Design Award of Excellence
2014 The American Planning Association’s National Planning Excellence Award for Urban Design
2014 Municipal Art Society of New York MASterworks Award for the Best Urban Landscape
2014 ASLA New York Design Merit Award, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5
2013 ASLA New York Honor Award, Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1
2011 Municipal Art Society of New York Brendan Gill Prize, Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan
2011 AIANY Urban Design Honor Award, Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan
2011 Rudy Bruner Award Silver Medal, Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan
2010 National Park Service “Designing the Parks” Honor Award
2009 ASLA Analysis and Planning Honor Award, Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan
2009 Waterfront Plan Honor Award, the Waterfront Center’s Excellence on the Waterfront Awards

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