9.5-acre Pier One Turns Brooklyn Bridge Park Plans into Reality

Pier One, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s new 9.5-acre pier park, the largest of a set of six planned for the Brooklyn waterfront, has just opened. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the new park is built on the original landfill-based pier infrastructure, and features sustainable design elements that enable the site to take care of 70 percent of its own water needs. Instead of requiring significant amounts of external water to be pumped in for lawn irrigation, it’s almost self-sufficient. 

While the other five pier parks in development will rely on pile-supported pier infrastructure, Pier One is set on a mass of landfill that was trucked in and added to the river. This solid base make the new large landforms possible. A representative from Michael Van Valkenburg Associates explains: “For the original construction of Pier One, soil was dumped into the East River in order to create the pier itself – you can almost think of it as a little peninsula. For the other piers at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the ground plane is a concrete slab supported by wooden piles. Because Pier One was on ‘land,’ so-to-speak, it could support the weight of the new large landforms.”

Throughout the new pier park, there is a focus on efficiently managing water on site. Excess water is collected from building roofs, paved areas, and lawns, and then reused. The system is described in some detail on the park Web site: “As the water passes through each segment of the water garden, pollutants and sediment are removed. When the water reaches the lowest section at the southern end of Pier one, it is drained back into the underground tank and ultimately used as irrigation for the entire Pier one landscape.  This runoff collection system in conjunction with a decrease of impervious surfaces on the site, will represent an improvement over the previous site system which, in large storm events, diverted untreated surface runoff directly into the East River.”

Pier One features two large lawns, a waterfront promenade, and playground. Over 500 mature trees were also planted. Later in summer 2010, a new salt marsh at the southern edge of the pier will open. The salt marsh will be planted with native plants set within a salvaged granite seating area. The marsh is designed to enable people to experience the tidal river close-up and provide access for non-motorized watercraft.

When completed, the entire pier park system will integrate salvaged materials, new wildlife habitat, green roofs, and energy conservation technologies. However, perhaps the most sustainable component is the preserved pier infrastructure, which has been reused by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Brooklyn Bridge Park writes: “A major sustainability objective of Brooklyn Bridge Park is to re-use as much of the site structures as possible, to preserve the cultural legacy of the site and reduce the resources expended in its transformation. The programming layout for the park is based on the structural capacity of marine infrastructure, dictating that heavier, infrastructure-dependent program elements be located on land, while programming for the pile-supported piers is guided by what the existing structures were capable of supporting.” 

The New York Times’ architectural critic, Nicholai Ouroussoff, gave the park system a rave review, arguing that the park successfully meets environmental and social needs, and offers a unique mix of open spaces and recreational facilities. “Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s design engages all those aspects of contemporary life with a care and balance that make the park one of the most positive statements about our culture we’ve seen in years. It is a key and very promising early step in a larger project that includes the greening of the East River waterfront in Manhattan and a park for Governors Island, and which may well turn out to be Michael R. Bloomberg’s most important legacy as mayor of New York.”

Read more, see an interactive map laying out features and future phases, watch a video tour of the new Pier One park by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, or skim through a slideshow from The New York Times.

Also, learn about the overall park system concepts that won a 2009 ASLA Honor Award for Analysis & Planning.

Image credit: Brooklyn Bridge Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

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