The West Harlem Piers Park

designed by /

Location: New York / New York City / USA / Type: Bridges and Piers / Parks / Water features / Built: 2008 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on December 2, 2014

W-Architecture: The West Harlem Piers Park is a dramatic transformation of space that had been lost to the community for many years. Our design leadership over a nine year period terminated a 30 year struggle by the community to regain their waterfront and renew their connection to the river. A narrow 69,000 sf parking lot has been expanded through creative planning into a 105,526 sf park that re-imagines the threshold between the city and the Hudson in a sustainable and meaningful way.

The site, no wider than a tennis court between 129th and 133rd Streets along the Hudson River, had been cut off from the neighborhood by the adjacent traffic and highway above. This point of access to the river, historically a natural cove between adjacent bluffs, and more recently an industrial port, had become a paved and fenced parking lot. The project intent was to create a gathering place on the Hudson to reconnect the residents to the water. Working closely with a strong group of community activists, our design team held a series of public meetings that resulted in a master plan for the adjacent 40 block area. The first phase of the plan was the creation of West Harlem Piers Park which included transforming the adjacent road to promote pedestrian access, new community piers, and the total re-envisioning of the parking lot.

The park design is based on the idea of the cove form as a place collection of the forces working on the site. The form is a result of both the forces from the city as well as the water. Elements of the park are scattered and sorted by size as if left by waves. The elements include granite benches (reusing granite blocks from the bulkhead), segments of lawn, and triangular planters. The pavement reiterates this wavelike motion in its pattern. The piers themselves follow land formation patterns as well, rather than historic pier configurations. The piers provide various water-related activities including fishing, excursion boating, ecological awareness, and general recreation. The plant material creates two ecologies: a woodland with mixed deciduous trees, low understory and perennial ground cover, and the cove which features colorful 300 foot long seaside perennial beds at either end of the park and a sloped lawn for multiple activities.

The park involved phased construction, to narrow the existing adjacent highway without disrupting traffic flow. Piers and roadway were the first phase, while upland improvements completed the park as phase two. Approvals were required from the City Parks, from the State Department of the Environment, and from the Army Corps of Engineers. Mitigation for the piers involved the installation of reef balls on the floor of the river to provide for fish habitat.

Master Plan:
Prime firm in charge of master plan design and community participation; coordinating all consultants, including economic, transportation and marine; creation of master plan document.

Phase I – Waterfront Park:
Prime firm and Landscape Architect; coordinating all approvals, engineers, art commission, artists, etc.; create design documents and supervise construction.

Key Personnel: Barbara Wilks
Completion Dates:
Community Master Plan Issued: December ‘02
Waterfront Park Schematic Approval: March ‘03
Construction Drawings: March ‘04
Construction Complete: Fall 2008
Final Construction Cost: $13 Million
Total Project Fee: $1.3 Million

2010-MASterwork Neighborhood Catalyst Award
2009-ASLA New York State Honor Award
2009-The Waterfront Center Honor Award
2006-AIA New York State Citation
2005-AIA National Institute Honor Award
for Regional & Urban Design
2004-ASLA National Merit Planning
& Analysis Award

Ulam, Alex. “Down by the (Urban) Riverside” Landscape Architecture Vol. 99 , Sept. 2009:128-140.
“Expanding the Long and Linear Open Space” Landscape Architect China, May 20, 2009: 08-17
Son, Seok Beom “West Harlem Piers Park” ELA: Environment, & Landscape Architecture of Korea 253, 2009: May 58-67
“The Landscape for Urban Reclamation” by Linda Pollack,Lotus 128, Summer 2007: 36-45
“AIA 2005 National Honor Awards in Urban Design: West Harlem Waterfront Park,” by Jane F. Kolleeny, Architectural Record, McGraw Hill, New York: May 2005, pg 151.
“2004 American Society of Landscape Architects National Design Awards: West Harlem Master Plan & Waterfront Park,” Landscape Design, Dalian University Press, China: January 20, 2005, No. 1, pg 14.
“Harlem on the Hudson River: Community, Communication, and Design” Raymond W. Gastil,
Beyond the Edge: New York’s New Waterfront, Princeton Architectural Press, New York: 2002.

Thresholds: 2008 Juried presentation sponsored by the Architectural League, New York City
2005 City College Exhibit, Changing Streetscapes: New Architecture and Open Space in Harlem

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