Thomas Heatherwick Reveals the Inspiration Behind Pier 55 Floating Park

Posted On Tue, November 25, 2014 By

Posted On Tue, November 25, 2014 By In Landscape Architecture, Meatpacking District, Urban Design

Last week, news broke that billionaire media mogul Barry Diller had been working with the Hudson River Park Trust for the past two years on an idea for an offshore park and performance space in the Hudson River. And though it seemed far-fetched at first, the fact that Diller had personally committed $130 million to the project and that detailed renderings had been created made it see much more plausible.

And now Thomas Heatherwick, the British designer behind the Pier 55 floating park, is opening up about how the decrepit West Side piers inspired his vision for the undulating, landscaped “aquatic High Line.”

Pier 55, Hudson River Park Trust, Barry Diller

Heatherwick, famous for designing the Olympic cauldron for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, was selected over three other firms by Diller and his team through an informal design competition. Heatherwick Studio is known for its creative, unexpected approach to projects, from a new design for London’s double-decker bus to a bridge over the Thames River to a massive art piece for New York’s Hudson Yards. But Pier 55 is sure to put Heatherwick and his studio on the map in an even bigger way.

Pier 55, Hudson River Park Trust, Barry Diller

The Pier 55 park, which is not really a pier at all, will replace the existing, crumbling Pier 54. It’s a parallelogram-shaped platform that will sit atop 300 mushroom-shaped concrete columns ranging in height from 70 to 15 feet above the water. Heatherwick likens the columns to the wooden piles– the old infrastructural supports for the piers–which still remain in the water as an intrinsic part of the Hudson River landscape. He decided to make his columns “the heroes of the project,” rather than hiding them underneath.

Heatherwick chose the shape of the park because the traditional pier design spreads people out, whereas his organic shape encourages mingling and community. And by having the surface shaped like a bowl, visitors can see each other from different levels, and the performance spaces have ideal sightlines. It’s also perpendicular to the street grid, so if you look west on 14th or 15th Streets, the park is square to you, but when viewed from Hudson River Park, it twists slightly, becoming more dynamic.

Pier 55, Hudson River Park Trust, Barry Diller

When asked about his approach to park design, Heatherwick said, “We try not to have a single mode of thinking. But I think there’s maybe a big deference to the nature, really, and a sense that our role is to try to hold up that nature, and then get out of the way. So [in the Pier55 design] there aren’t columns and cables sticking up above the trees and bushes and plants. All the structure is done from below.”

[Related: Barry Diller Pledges $130M for Futuristic Offshore Park on the West Side]

[Via Fast Co. Design]

Renderings via Heatherwick Studio

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Neighborhoods : Meatpacking District

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