ASLA Online ASLA Online ASLA Onine American Society of Landscape Architects
ASLA Online ASLA Online ASLA Online What's New Contact Us Site Map Search

Honor Award - DESIGN

right click to download print version
right click to download print version
right click to download print version

Gantry Plaza State Park
Long Island City, NY

Thomas Balsley Associates with Sowinski Sullivan Architects and Lee Weintraub

Thomas Balsley, ASLA
Principal, Thomas Balsley Associates
31 West 27th Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY10001
Tel: 212-684-9230;
Fax 212-684-9232

Project Purpose

Gantry Plaza State Park is the first phase of a twelve-block long system of parks on Long Island City's East River shoreline and is intended to serve the residents of the new development and its neighboring community as well as the entire region. The trilogy of spaces-Gantry Plaza, interpretive garden, and lawn promontory with their four distinctive piers and follies, have been carefully programmed and conceived to serve this broad constituency with a unique sequence of waterfront experiences. In doing so, the park provides a common ground on which to build community bonds and pride. The richness and variety of its spatial experiences and design elements is inspired by the diversity of its shoreline and adjoining neighborhood. The designers have explored and intentionally focused on a new urban waterfront park paradigm where the past meets the present; where restored railroad gantries and rugged split faced granite blocks reflecting the site's history and blue collar community are in harmony with stainless steel elements and follies that reach for the Manhattan skyline and the 21st century.

Role of Landscape Architect

The project client was the Queens West Development Corporation, representing a very complex consortium of three public agencies which later included New York State Parks, who is responsible for maintenance. The joint venture between landscape architecture and architecture firms led a large team of sub-consultants which, due to the complex nature of a post-industrial urban waterfront, included marine, structural and civil engineers, environmental lawyers, surveyors, lighting designers, graphic designers, and cost estimating and code consultants. The landscape architects led the effort, which included extensive community outreach, public design reviews and client collaboration.

Special Factors

Underlying all design thinking for the park was the search for balance. Intimacy can be found within the immensity of this waterfront setting and its gantry towers; a dialogue between the future and the site's past railroad history is always present. Framed by crescent stairs, Gantry Plaza is designed as a grand civic space where one enjoys views of the Manhattan skyline and a gantry structure that celebrates the site's rich history.

The plaza serves as a vestibule to two distinctive piers-one with a serpentine bench that will soon serve ferry commuters and the other with a cafe shade structure that includes a unique counter and bar stool experience on the river. An indentation in the natural shoreline is enhanced with spartina grasses and crossed by a crescent metal walkway which leads the visitor into a contemplative garden setting of native plantings and gravel paths. From this garden, where the railroad's past is more literally expressed with embedded rails and interpretive signage, huge split-faced granite blocks step down the river embankment, giving the public a rare direct access to the edge of an urban waterfront. Two more pier follies poke into the river. The first is furnished with distinctive chaise lounges for star gazing and sunbathing; the second features a wave bench and fishing table that elevate fishing to a social sport of family and community participation.


Worthy of mention are the awards the park has received from two prestigious international organizations: the 2001 Places/EDRA Design Award and the Waterfront Center's Excellence on the Waterfront Grand Award for all categories. Architectural Record and L'Arca magazines have featured the project and its designers. In a full page glowing review, New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, who rarely writes on landscape architecture, proclaimed "The curse has lifted." The ultimate testimony to the project's significance came in 1998 with the formation of the Friends of Gantry Plaza State Park, a community based organization comprised of new residents and existing neighbors, many of whom had originally opposed the new development. Their stated goal is to protect the design from the inevitable forces of urban life and to make sure future phases follow this precedent. Until this park was completed, the public and clients pointed to the parks at Battery Park City as the model for New York City's public open space waterfront. Gantry Plaza State Park has become a 21st century model of what our parks can and should be. Evolved from a meaningful public process, the park is an environmentally appropriate and artistic response to the site's history, cultural diversity and a natural shoreline. Here landscape architects have shown the public and their peers that they are up to the task. In doing so, they are inspiring others to follow.


2001 Award Winners
Press Release
Copyright  1995-2000 by The American Society of Landscape Architects