Gansevoort Peninsula: A 5-acre Unfinished Segment of Hudson River Park, NY, NY

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. HRP consists of a continuous water\’s edge esplanade and bike trail as well as a series of pier parks – many built on structure.

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.

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. 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.

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. Rosetta Sarah Elkin 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.

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.