FROM ITS EARLIEST PROJECTS, SHoP’s reputation grew through an urban intervention-style digital design possessing a captivating visual complexity moderated by a warm material palette. In their early 2000 PS1 Pavilion and 2001 Hangil Book House, the effect would be accomplished with individual cuts of wood articulating torqued screens. In their recently completed Pier 35 park on the Lower East Side—like their 2012 Barclays Center, 2018 American Copper building, and U.S. embassy compound in-progress in Tegucigalpa, Honduras—twisting forms and saturated colors are achieved through metallic surfaces, in this case folded panels of weathered steel welded in a syncopated pattern and anodized aluminum screens gradually being overtaken by vines.
Originally envisioned as part of a 2003 waterfront masterplan by SHoP following the destructive impact of the World Trade Center attacks on Lower Manhattan, the design for Pier 35’s park emerged from meetings with the local community board expressing the desire for more sunlight and open space in this dark stretch of East River waterfront dominated by concrete embankments and the elevated FDR freeway.
“For the esplanade, the majority of it is under the FDR drive, so you don’t get a lot of areas that are open to sun or have a lot of outdoor green space,” says Cathy Jones, design team member and project manager for SHoP. “That was a primary desire that the community have more open green space in this area.”
A Department of Sanitation facility takes up most of the adjacent Pier 36 with a large warehouse, and Pier 35 had previously been used to store snow plows. Through a collaborative design process alongside engineers at ARUP and landscape architects Ken Smith Workshop, SHoP created a visual separation between the park from the storage facility with a shed-like pavilion along a slice of the pier, which unfolds into a dedicated space for planters, benches, grassy lounging areas, and a stepped balcony with swings overlooking the East River and the Manhattan Bridge.”The Department of Sanitation isn’t the most park-like thing to be next to when you’re building a park,” Jones says. “The concept was that we wanted to go up in height to mask that and focus one’s view toward the water, not toward the Department of Sanitation. In doing so we wanted to make it visually stimulating and have a sculptural quality to it.”
Five types of vines of different colors creep up the mesh along the length of the pier. Part of the structure sits on a freshly poured planter bed for the vines. “We were able to take the idea of a wall but turn it into a green wall, so we refer to it as a green billboard back to the city,” says Jones.
At its highest point, the steelframed wall along the old sanitation building is 35 feet above the pier, sloping down at either end. The engineering involved aligning the structure with the pile caps below of the reinforced concrete pier superstructure, transmitting the loads down to wooden piles. Wind loads along the shore were the strongest force to contend with apart from the structure’s weight.
“We didn’t have to do any significant modification or improvement of the pier itself,” says Cliff McMillan, ARUP’s project director for the pier project. “The frames are framed in a north-south direction to give enough overall dimension to them in that direction in order to be able to resist the wind load bending….The geometry was not too difficult to accommodate.”
The fabrication and installation, however, involved complex overlapping geometries: multiple angles and a warping surface had to be fitted onto an angled pier. Anchor bolts had already been installed by a previous contractor, so the foundation had to be 3D-scanned along with the anchor bolts and modeled in 3D to make sure the structural steel lined up with the existing foundation.
“Even our subcontractors we had them use 3D programming because everything is on an
angle and every angle is different,” says Mishel Mako, senior project manager at Hunter Roberts, who managed construction. “2D drawings would not give you—even when the architect would check the submittals sit was done in
3D. It was a beauty the way we orchestrated it.”
The galvanized steel structure—fabricated by STF in Schenectady, New York, and installed by Imperial Ironworks— had to be pre-assembled in the shop and brought on site to be fitted and adjusted before being sent to the galvanizer and brought back for installation. Then the backing frame assembled by Westchester Metals in Yonkers had to perfectly line up with the structural steel bolt holes—between 40 and 80 holes for each piece. Finally, expanded aluminum screen supplied by AMICO, composed of 1,100 pieces of mesh, all of different sizes, had to be fitted onto the armature.
“The big challenge of course is this living wall,” Mako says. “Everything that was installed on site had to be prefabricated. You couldn’t cut or change anything on site, because the materials were either galvanized steel, anodized aluminum, or weathered steel—like the rusty steel. Everything had to be measured ten times and when it came, had to be fit perfectly.”
A row of porch swings hangs from the end of the pavilion, angled toward the Manhattan Bridge. “You have a porch and lookout point at the end with porch swings that sit and look out at the water, because the views are pretty spectacular,” says Jones. “You’re getting really fantastic views of Brooklyn, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and you can even see the Statue of Liberty. Because of the way the island turns at that point, it’s almost as if you’re in the water itself.”
Weathered steel beneath the pavilion’s overhanging rooftop is shipped from facadeTek in Indianapolis, where they sprayed the panels with water to rust the surface. As rain streams through the baffles, parts of it are developing fresh rust, giving it a red-hued glow. “In general, we’re using things like concrete that has a robust lifespan and can also endure public use,” says Jones.
“Galvanized steel and stainless
steel railing as well: they’re all materials that have to be chosen to withstand the waterfront and getting constant spray.”
The collaborative team of SHoP, ARUP, and Ken Smith Workshop also designed the 1.5–mile East River Waterfront Esplanade from the Battery Maritime Building up to Pier 35. The esplanade project painted underside of the FDR light purple to ameliorate the darkness below the heavy structure when passing from neighborhoods to the waterfront. Plantings, biking and walking paths, restaurant pavilions, dog runs, and exercise and seating areas populate the underpass and a marine platform along the water’s edge.
“This part of the [esplanade] project is probably one of my favorites because of the materiality, and it’s something that was designed and is going to change over time,” Jones says. “It’s not like it just stops when the project opens, and it will also keep changing with the people that use it, so I find that to be pretty awesome.”
The Pier 35 landscaping integrates some features of the esplanade, but it also required some special considerations. The plantings are a variety of salt water tolerant dune grasses, trees and bushes that grow wildly in the plant beds and flow over a beveled bridge to the pier.
“The vines are doing really well—there are about five different types so you have a different palette—so you’re going to get different colors as they start to fill in,” Jones says. “A lot of the other plantings are of a waterfront nature: you have a lot of dune grasses, things that are saltwater tolerant.”
Beneath it, a stepped tidal slot cut out of the pier forms a demonstration mussel habitat, funded by a special grant from the State Department. An unreinforced concrete tidal basin with a texture cast into it, topped with rocky surfaces, outcroppings, and crevices, is designed to encourage the growth of algae and marine life. “That was a nice feature that hearkens back to the water and the environment of the water as a part of the narrative of having this outdoor open green space,” Jones says. “There are crevices for little marine critters to get in there.”
Pier 35 does not appear to figure into the East Side Coastal Resiliency planned to remediate storm water surges anticipated along the Manhattan side of the East River, but it’s another thing that will change as the esplanade gets rebuilt in the coming years. For now, Pier 35 is designed to withstand.