«previous pageANALYSIS & PLANNING CATEGORY
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Brooklyn, NY
client: Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation
The 2005 Master Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park proposes a framework for bringing sociological diversity, programmatic flexibility, and psychological range to a beautiful but environmentally hostile abandoned cargo shipping facility in Brooklyn. Fluently integrating multiple project goals of experiential complexity, environmental sustainability, economic efficiency, urban connectivity, and social vibrancy, the project significantly expanded the scope of responsibilities of the landscape architect in the design of urban environments.
How Do You Build Brooklyn Bridge Park?
The 2005 Master Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park is a landscape-architect led effort that sets forth an integrated design methodology for transforming a derelict industrial waterfront into a socially and ecologically active urban park. Firmly grounded in an understanding of the metrics of the site's challenges (contamination, structural limitations, isolation, extreme noise pollution, harsh winds, and blistering sun), the Master Plan lays the groundwork to create a new civic space in one of New York City's most astoundingly beautiful locations: an 85-acre site which occupies 1.3 miles of Brooklyn waterfront, passes underneath two major bridges, and includes a series of mammoth industrial piers, each 5 acres in area. The Master Plan was the first phase in the design team's commission to plan, design, detail, and build Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The goal of the community interest groups, state and city officials, and designers involved in the development of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan was ambitious but fairly straightforward: to allow the site's emotional power and intensity to resonate in a new ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable park setting. The authors of the Master Plan recognized that the park's greatest experiential asset was its location at a highly dynamic edge where three different but co-dependent ecosystems — river, harbor, and city — merge. The existing site was largely flat and paved but it was also located within the context of some of the city's most powerful historic and natural landmarks, including sweeping views to lower Manhattan, just across the East River. The various microclimatic challenges identified through extensive environmental analysis included uncomfortably high decibel noise pollution generated from the elevated highway, strong winter winds from the harbor, and extreme sun exposure due to the lack of shade; fundamental environmental transformations would be necessary before this location could provide the physical conditions that would support enough human comfort to ensure a successful park program.
Site analysis demonstrated that the biggest social challenge was the task of bringing a diverse range of people into the park — the long, narrow site had historically been isolated by virtue of its industrial use and due to the presence of a multi-level elevated highway that bounds much of the site to the east and severs the closest adjacent neighborhood from any park access. Street-level entry from the adjacent neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, DUMBO, and Brooklyn Heights was possible in just three locations: at Atlantic Avenue, Fulton Ferry Landing, and John Street. To combat this isolation, strategic programming was proposed to establish a strong city-park relationship at each entrance and to implement a group of ideas that were described under the title "urban junctions." The entries would be important moments of interchange where the city would usher people into the park. Urban promenades, dog runs, neighborhood scale playgrounds and generous public spaces were proposed at these park entries, while organized sports, a private marina for small boats, and event-scale spaces for the city at large were located further into the depth of the park where pedestrian access was less immediate. A broad selection of water-oriented programs, including fishing piers, water taxi access, the marina, a boat launch, a calm-water zone for kayaking, and a beach were proposed as a means of emphasizing the unique location of the park.
The planning and design team also had an unusual opportunity to shape the city side of the urban junction. Rather than operate within city or state park maintenance budgets, the economic engine for funding park operations, maintenance, and repairs was to be developed as part of the park. The original legislation creating the park stipulated that up to 20% of the 85-acre project site could be designated as development areas rather than public open space. The design team was dedicated to the idea that the development would be as small as possible while still producing adequate revenues, and that its program, form, and location would serve the interests of the park, rather than the other way around. Extensive research and analysis were undertaken by the planning team to predict the annual maintenance costs of the proposed park as well as the income stream from the proposed park edge development. A heuristic design process in which the type, size, and location of the development, the massing of the buildings, the interface with the park, the design of the park with respect to the need for ongoing maintenance, and the relationship with adjacent neighborhoods became the variables that could be adjusted in search of a bottom line that would match park revenue with projected maintenance and operations budget needs, allowing a more precise economic model that limited the commercial development to just 9% of the project site, less than half of what it might have been.
An essential first step in planning for sustainable construction was to identify opportunities for "structural economy," a term that was applied to numerous site-planning strategies. To start with, the Master Plan recommends preserving and reusing as much of the existing marine structure as possible. Different areas of the park were better suited to particular kinds of use; for instance, the upland areas and Pier 1 (which is more of a peninsula than a pier) could support deeper soils and hence more tree cover. The big cargo-shipping piers had less structural capacity and could support lighter, shallower program without extensive reinforcing. This principle of resourcefulness also inspired the reuse of portions of the large pier sheds as well as the extensive reuse of materials that were salvaged from demolished buildings and structures, some onsite, others from elsewhere in New York City.
With respect to site ecology, the park planners explored a number of initiatives grouped under the term of "post-industrial nature" that were aimed at re-establishing a series of functioning ecosystems on the currently lifeless site. The combined planting and stormwater treatment strategy for Brooklyn Bridge Park is founded on four guiding principles: to create many different natural areas that serve individually as gardens but work together to establish a new site ecology; to treat as much stormwater as possible onsite; to maximize area of shade and cover from the wind, and to preserve open space. Natural habitats being reintroduced to the site include coastal shrublands, freshwater wetlands, coastal forest, a wildflower meadow, a marsh, and shallow water habitats.
Microclimate and Human Comfort
Natural plantings also have the potential to make the site more hospitable as human habitat. The dispersal of planting that is suggested throughout the site will be coordinated with solar orientation and wind protection to maximize human comfort. Depending on the season, or the particular site-related issue, different needs are accommodated through different park elements: a nearly continuous meander and hedgerow of trees running north-south will provide shade and relief from the intense summer afternoon sun that reflects off the water; the topography and buildings provide protected sun exposure in the winter and shelter from the wind in different ways and from different directions; and tall hills absorb the tremendous noise generated by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, making the park quieter and more pleasant while also providing new elevated views to the harbor.
The 2005 Brooklyn Bridge Park Master Plan synthesizes the many variables of the park existing conditions and future aspirations and gives them all a voice. A landscape-based understanding of the powerful experience of the vast openness of the harbor and views to the Manhattan skyline are combined with a resourceful approach to the pragmatics of construction, ecology, and economics to establish a profound experiential framework for the new park. Unique by virtue of the complexity of the site and the extraordinary urban design tools put at the disposal of the landscape architect, the Master Plan offers a model for integrated design and transformative change inspired by the found qualities of the site.
Architecture Research Office
James Carpenter Design Associates
Maryann Thompson Architects
Henry Bardsley, RFR
Government & Community Relations
Cooper, Robertson & Partners
Marine, Civil and MEP Engineers
DMJM + Harris
Risk and Protection
Ducibella Venter & Santore
Eng-Wong Taub & Associates
Architecture and Conditions Surveyors
Domingo Gonzalez Associates, Inc.
Lodging Investments Advisors, LLC
Mathew Nielsen Landscape Architects
OPEN and Pentagram Design
Ecological Landscape Planning
Margie Ruddick Landscape
Ysrael A. Seinuk, PC
"Inventive, amazingly clear, and concise. This project is quite significant to the public realm, natural resources, and environmental planning. It uses a wide range of tools to solve urban problems and does a great job of communicating the ecological and social components to the public. "
— 2009 Professional Awards Jury