Design & Construction
In 2013, Barry Diller, in partnership with Hudson River Park Trust leadership, embarked on the unique opportunity to envision a solution for the repair and reactivation of Pier 54, recently damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Diller chose to reimagine an entirely new type of public space for New York, one that would create an immersive experience with nature and art.
Diller called on the expertise of industry leaders in the arts—Scott Rudin, Stephen Daldry, George C. Wolfe, and Kate Horton—to explore the vast possibilities of creating a new public park with the arts as an integrated component. This team, together with Hudson River Park, selected the design firms of Heatherwick Studio and MNLA to realize this vision. The two firms combined architectural innovation with a captivating landscape to provide visitors with an oasis from urban life where they could play, relax, imagine, and restore.
Little Island is an initiative of The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation (DVFFF), with support from the City of New York. The DVFFF’s considerable philanthropic history extends to several other New York City parks and arts organizations including The High Line, The Statue of Liberty Museum, Signature Theatre, Carnegie Hall Society, and the Central Park Conservancy.
Born from a collaboration of the UK-based Heatherwick Studio and the New York-based landscape architecture firm MNLA, led by Signe Nielsen, the park’s imaginative design offers all New Yorkers and visitors a new public space that is whimsical, captivating, and restorative.
Heatherwick Studio explored the idea of designing a new pier that could draw from the remaining wooden piles from Pier 54.
MNLA’s landscape design was conceived as a leaf floating on water – a space that could be both visually surprising and inspiring for New York City.
Little Island was built by New Yorkers for New York. The project brought together a robust collaboration of local fabricators and contractors, who helped to make the park vision a reality. A team of engineers, artisans, and tradespeople drawing from almost exclusively New York State-based companies worked together to transform the park from design concept to physical reality—making Little Island a true New York story.
Structural, Civil, MEP Engineer
Signage & Wayfinding
Theatre Design Consultant
GARDINER & THEOBALD
HUNTER ROBERTS CONSTRUCTION GROUP
Designer/fabricator, timber seating
Architect of Record
Balcony & Accessways
Marine Contractor (Main Pier)
The Glade Theater Design
The construction story behind Little Island began with the challenge of translating the unique sculptural design from Heatherwick Studio and the imaginative landscaping vision of MNLA into an executable engineering project. Celine Armstrong served as Little Island Executive Project Manager, overseeing the more than 16 construction, engineering, and design teams who made this project a reality. Engineering firm Arup developed the geometries for the park’s unique pot structures using 3D parametric scripts, generating digital models and deliverables that fed directly into guiding the project’s fabrication and manufacturing processes.
Standard Architects served as our Architect of Record for this project, responsible for overall design coordination. Hunter Roberts Construction Group was our Construction Manager, overseeing all subcontractors and on-site work, with Gardiner & Theobald supporting project management and oversight.
Little Island’s supporting structure is made up of concrete piles rising up from the Hudson River, emerging from in between the leftover wood piles of Pier 54 and Pier 56, which were largely preserved to maintain habitats for aquatic life.
Marine contractor Weeks Marine underwent a three-week long probing phase to determine the depths at which the concrete piles could be driven into the bedrock. Geotechnical engineering firm Mueser Rutledge designed the concrete piles, which were then fabricated by Coastal Precast in Chesapeake, VA, where they were transported on barges from the Elizabeth River to the Hudson River.
With only a three-inch margin of error allowed for placement of each pile, Weeks Marine led an incredibly precise pile driving undertaking to install the foundational support columns—piles—of the park. They installed 267 pre-cast concrete piles over the course of ten months, with a five-month break in between to allow for fish migration seasons.
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 by the concrete manufacturing Fort Miller Company based in Greenwich, NY, whose projects typically include bridges, retaining walls, and highway products.
The magnitude of the Little Island project presented the Fort Miller group with both a new research challenge as well as a rare opportunity to combine the efforts of its sister companies, steel fabricator FAB3 and foam formwork fabricator Scott System, for one united effort. FAB3 produced the steel plates used to connect the pots together, while Scott System designed and fabricated the 220 unique foam forms and 45 column head molds for the pots.
After all parts were fabricated, concrete and steel pot components were driven to Port of Coeymans in Ravena, NY by truck for assembly in fit-up stations, where Weeks Marine erected and welded the precast elements together to form the pots. Assembled pots were then loaded onto a barge four at a time and brought 130 miles down the Hudson River to Little Island, where each one was rigged and erected by a floating crane onto a concrete pile.
The installation of each pot took a few hours, with a total of 132 pots installed on the site. Each pot weighs up to 75 tons and no two pots are exactly the same.