GSD Course Bulletin - Spring 2012

01407: Gansevoort Peninsula: A 5-acre Unfinished Segment of Hudson River Park, NY, NY (STU 0140700)

Landscape Architecture
Option Studio - 8 credits - Limited enrollment
Thursday Friday 2:00 - 6:00  

Course Tools for this course (Canvas)

Michael Van Valkenburgh, Rosetta Elkin

Course Description

The tremendous expansion of parkland in New York City in the last 15 years has its closest parallel in Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’ building campaign that started in the 1930s. Although Hudson River Park (HRP) has not received the same level of attention as the High Line, Governor's Island or Brooklyn Bridge Park, it is, in some ways, as remarkable in its own right. HRP is a 550-acre waterfront park at the west margin of Manhattan. It is also an estuarine sanctuary that connects the northern end of Battery Park City at Chambers Street with the southern end of Riverside Park South at 59th street. Divided into several segments and involving the work of multiple design firms over 15 years, HRP consists of a continuous water's edge esplanade and bike trail as well as a series of pier parks – many built on structure. Remarkably, HRP has been funded almost exclusively with public money from the City and State of New York.

The studio will focus on the Gansevoort Peninsula, a 5-acre parcel of filled land situated between Gansevoort Street and Little West 12th Street and jutting into the Hudson River. Although it is a peninsula today, Gansevoort is actually a remnant of a much wider Manhattan that extended as far west as 13th Avenue and further into the Hudson. When large-scale ocean liners dominated the shipping trade, city engineers cut back the filled shoreline, so as to attract new commerce without interfering with Hudson River navigation. On terra firma, rather than wooden piles, Gansevoort is the sole remnant of the 19th Century-constructed Manhattan shoreline.

In 2001, MVVA was awarded the design contract for Segment 5 of Hudson River Park, the northern portion of which opened in 2010. Gansevoort Peninsula was master planned  as part of the original MVVA concept planning for Segment 5, but completion has been postponed indefinitely until a new location is found for Gansevoort’s current function as a waste transfer point for the New York City Department of Sanitation. The Peninsula is a long walk away from the Chelsea Piers' commercial recreation facility and MVVA’s Chelsea Cove, both to the north, but it is close to a popular children’s pier to the south, the southern end of the High Line and the future expansion of the Whitney Museum, just one block away in the West Village. In summer, HRP throbs from the density of its usage. In the last decade this neighborhood has become the showcase of many of the city's more exciting new works of architecture and design. In that way, and with so much of Hudson River Park now completed, the Gansevoort peninsula has become a potentially fecund landscape-making opportunity. That is the essence of what the studio asks students to imagine and create.

In order to reach Gansevoort from the West Village, park users will have to cross the multilane high-speed West Side Highway (route 9-A). Others will encounter Gansevoort as part of the connected linear parks along Manhattan's west side. Most of Hudson River Park is built on new marine structure designed by landscape architects working in consultation with marine engineers. The fact that the Gansevoort  Peninsula has a fundamentally different underpinning presents a design opportunity to qualify the condition of the new park edge and the degree of water access it might offer as compared with the rest of the park; it also allows exploration of refiguring the edge and changing the shape of the land parcel. Abundant excavation from numerous subway projects in the city also means that extra and cheap fill is available to allow the "unleveling of the site," to borrow a term from Matt Urbanski. These physical variables all can become powerful design tools for re-imagining this urban landscape as a nexus with HRP as as a threshold to the west side. The existing buildings on the Gansevoort site also have potential for transformation, although the fireboat pier, and land access to it, will need to remain a design constant.

In actual practice, alterations to the peninsula's shoreline or repurposing of existing structures would require complex structural and environmental analyses and permitting. For the purposes of the studio, students will be free to develop a scheme(s) that explores the landscape potential of these approaches, setting aside the stringent environmental reviews that might, in real life, be significant hurdles.

The studio is organized and taught by Michael Van Valkenburgh, Charles Eliot Professor in Practice, and head of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA),<>. Rosetta Sarah Elkin, founding principal of RSE Landscape and Design in Amsterdam, and a visiting Lecturer in Landscape Architecture for Spring of 2012, will also be teaching in the studio. As the term progresses, a series of guest instructors will be brought in to work in brief stints with students on specific aspects of their plans. These include eminent structural engineer Ted Zoli of HNTP, a MacArthur Fellowship winner, hydrologist Eric Rothstein of eDesign Dynamics, planting design specialist and landscape designer Diana Drake who teaches at Columbia, and two landform grading experts from MVVA’s Cambridge office, Associate Chris Donohue and Senior Project Manager Matt Girard.

While issues of urban connectivity to the larger context would be central to the project's success, the size of the project is meant to be manageable as part of the design studio – one that focuses on physical design – and one in which students will define a conceptual approach to the Gansevoort Peninsula in this evolving and dynamic neighborhood, and as the last unfinished piece of Hudson River Park. The first module of the studio will be run as an ideas competition of sorts, with students using the assignment as a culmination of their landscape studies to date. This seems particularly relevant given how much this urban neighborhood has evolved in the decade since the MVVA master plan was completed. The review at the end of the first module will be a silent review – students not talking and jurors reviewing the work – much as would be the case in a competition entry. The second module of the studio will focus on the physical development of the conceptual plan from the first module. Physicality of the landscape and its design expression will be the focus of the second module's work, integ