Governors Island Phase 1

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Location: New York / New York City / USA / Type: Parks / Built: 2014 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on January 21, 2015

Governors Island offers a world apart from New York City, an extraordinary vantage point on New York Harbor, its icons, treasured historic landscape, and the chance to experience the sounds and smells of a green island surrounded by water. The first phase of Governors Island’s new park and public space project was opened to the public in May 2014. Developed from the 2006 international design competition winning entry, and the 2010 Park and Public Spaces Masterplan, Phase 1 creates 30 acres of new park and public space throughout the island and adds key visitor amenities to the historic North Island. Phase 1 encompasses Liggett Terrace, Hammock Grove, the Play Lawns, the Red Garden, and historic areas on the North Island; Soissons Landing, the Parade Ground, and South Battery. In addition to gardens, woodlands, and bikeways, West 8 has developed custom lighting, seating and signage that enhances the connection between the new public spaces stretching across the island. Visitors to the island will be treated to a variety of new open spaces experiences including: the ability to swing with their friends on clusters of custom hammocks, have a picnic lunch on new gently sloping greens, ride bikes around gently meandering pathways, and play softball on brand new fields capturing exquisite views of the Statue of Liberty.

The City of New York committed to investing over $250 million in the redesign and upgrade of Governors Island’s park and public spaces and infrastructure as part of a multi‐phase project begun in May of 2012. Closed for 15 years the reopening of the Island in 2005 to 8000 visitors, catalyzed the rediscovery of the Island by the people of New York, in 2013 it welcomed more than 399,000 visitors. Now a hot seasonal destination Governors Island, the epitome of public space, open 7 days a week and accessible by ferry (for the price of a $2 round trip). It has emerged as a major festival and event space, a weekend destination (85% of visitors live in the 5 boroughs) and a tourist draw within the New York region. For West 8, the transformation of this abandoned military base and unique, windblown island into an idyllic destination, a green broccoli in the water, has constituted an incredibly rewarding journey. “We designed the park to take advantage of Governors Island’s amazing assets. We couldn’t be happier to see people enjoying the park and making it their own”, says West 8 New York’s Principal, Jamie Maslyn Larson.


West 8’s design of Governors Island Park and Public Spaces builds on the public’s new found delight for the island’s open spaces and historic assets, and establishes a strong foundation for the island’s future growth. Upon arrival by ferry at Soissons Landing, the visitor enters the world of Governors Island under a canopy of shade trees and over a welcoming ‘carpet’ of mosaic paving. The visitor may decide to explore the Historic District, relax and play in the Park or rent a bike to experience the Island and the New York Harbor. The Historic District is a 92‐acre district and a nationally and locally designated historic district which seeks to protect it’s architectural and landscape features through preservation and design standards. South Battery has been transformed into a wonderful resting spot along the eastern edge of the Great Promenade with new seating and planting of trees, shrubs and lawns. Walking through the arch of Liggett Hall, the visitor enters Liggett Terrace, a lively four‐acre outdoor ‘room’ that is wrapped on three sides by historical architecture, and serves as the lively entry into the southern portion of the island. The terrace is full of activity, punctuated with seasonal plantings, water features, children’s play and artfully crafted mosaic paving that provide places to sit, relax and enjoy a drink or meal.

Moving south, the cool shade and enclosure of Hammock Grove form a nice contrast to the sunny, more structured open space of Liggett Terrace. More than 1500 new trees will be planted of 55 different species to create a new type of botanical forest. The filtered light through the canopy will create different moods in different weather and the individual placement of hammocks will allow the visitor to find their own peaceful escape. From Hammock Grove, you emerge into the Play Lawn, an 11‐acre open area where adults and children alike can play sports or enjoy a nice relaxing day with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. The Play Lawn has two regulation‐sized ball fields surrounded by sculpted, rolling mounds offering more intimate spaces for play.


Rather than withdrawing in the face of the advancing waters, West 8 designed a park that allows people to enjoy the connection to the salt winds, swirling waters and expansive views of the harbor while ensuring that trees planted in 2013 will grow into a great forest over the next few generations. Our overarching sustainability strategy focuses on transformation through topography and resilience in the face of flooding and violent storms, West 8’s design:
– Lifts majority of the island out of the flood zone. Some areas of Phase 1 have been raised by as much as 15 feet above existing grade.
– Diminishes the impact of the wave attack
– Increases resilience in the face of flooding by; designing a perimeter that can withstand flooding and using lawn at the perimeter; planting salt tolerant trees at low elevations, topsoil is placed above predicted sea level rise, thereby protecting their roots and ensuring healthy trees for future generations..
– Increases resilience in the face of violent storms by; designing for high winds, heavy rain and changing the limits of projected flood zone
– Park amenities able to withstand storm surges and flooding have been selected in order to minimize damage and ensure park safety after a storm.

Hurricane Sandy put some of these already‐implemented design elements and site specific strategies to the test. Despite the fact that Sandy’s storm surge exceeded the projected 100‐year flood in the year 2100 by about a foot, Governors Island made it through the storm relatively unscathed. The storm reemphasized the importance that elevation and flood‐proofing have on the durability of the project. As joint custodian’s of the Island, making this new park publicly accessible to millions was intrinsic to West 8’s vision and addresses larger goals for the long‐term livability and sustainability of cities. In the physical design of the Phase 1, it was important to do more than simply turn asphalt into lawn. New topography, superior soils and a thriving tree canopy create a robust park with longevity as the ultimate ambition. Our design employs site‐specific strategies that consider the unique micro‐climate, topographical enhancement, groundwater, storm water collection and reuse, flooding, air quality, ecological habitats and urban heat‐island effects.

For instance the trees of Hammock Grove will develop over the next decade through a “survival of the fittest” planting strategy, requiring minimal maintenance and allowing nature to do most of the gardening. This dense canopy will slowly mature as larger trees, surrounded by smaller, sacrificial trees compete with one another, encouraging vertical growth of the larger trees. At the same time, an understory of meadow plants will encourage vertical growth of the smaller sacrificial material. As root systems develop sacrificial plants will be removed to control competition and ensure healthy growth. Eventually the trees of Hammock Grove will stand tall and the meadow plants will be replaced with grass, allowing park visitors to walk through a lush, botanically rich forest and gently swing in tree‐hung hammocks.


Visitors to the Island can also see the next phase of park under construction‐the Hills. The Hills are the culminating feature of the Governors Island Park and Public Space Master Plan and the newly opened Phase 1 which includes 30 acres of park space and amenities..A new beacon in the harbor, the Hills will provide visitors with the feeling of being immersed in a green oasis culminating at the top of Outlook Hill with an extraordinary 360 degree experience of water and sky.
Drawing from the precedent of Frederick Law Olmsted’s creation of manmade topography in Central Park, The Hills pay homage to the lush, hilly landscapes of pre‐colonial Manhattan, and fortify the Island’s resiliency in the face of rising sea levels. Made of recycled fill materials, the Hills will rise 30 to 80 feet above the Island, offering visitors breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and all 5 boroughs.

Location: New York, USA
Client: The Trust for Governors Island
Design: 2007-2013
Realization: Phase 1, 2014
Size: 30 acres

Project Credits, Ph.1:

Lead Designer/Prime Consultant: West 8 urban design & landscape architecture p.c.
Associate Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C.
Lead Civil Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Local Civil Engineer: AKRF
Geotechnical Engineer: Hart Crowser Inc.
Signage and Wayfinding: Pentagram
Lighting: Tillotson Design Associates
MEP Engineer: Dagher Associates
Soils Consultant: Pine and Swallow
Environmental Irrigation Consultants: Northern Designs
Code Consultants: Code Consulting Inc.
Cost Estimator: Faithful & Gould
Operations and Maintenance: ETM Associates
Surveyors of Record: Langan
Water Feature Designers: Fluidity Design
Archaeological Consultants: Linda Stone,
RPA Specification Consultants: Construction Specifications, Inc.

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