We’ve heard of Shakespeare in the park, but Shakespeare on the pier? If British designer Thomas Heatherwick gets his way, this fantasy will almost certainly become reality.
Reportedly, media mogul Barry Diller and his fashion designer girlfriend Diane von Furstenberg have pledged $113 million of their own personal fortune toward constructing Heatherwick’s fantastical proposal for Manhattan—a floating island oasis park over the Hudson River between Pier 55 off West 13th Street and the decaying Pier 54.
Diller and von Furstenberg’s donation is the largest ever for a public park in New York City’s history. If all goes according to plan, New York State and New York City’s biggest advocates (Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio) will be onboard for the public park venture. It’s amazing how a $113 million donation can bring public, private, and government in line. No bureaucracy or red tape this time.
The park’s design is complete, and is projected to cost $130 million overall. City and state funding will fill the estimated $17- to $18-million gap, as well as further plans to enhance and widen the West 14th Street esplanade area 50 more feet over the water, near Treasure Island’s proposed location. Hudson River Park boasts 13 newly-built piers of which Treasure Island will be the latest, when approval by the Hudson River Park Trust is finalized in early 2015. Perhaps Chelsea Piers (with its golf driving range pier) and even the Chelsea neighborhood’s elevated High Line section showed New York City what was possible when space is at a premium.
The 2.7-acre oasis will showcase 108,000 square feet of undulating topography (rising from 15 feet to 71 feet above the water) upon 341 mushroom-like concrete pile foundations. The park will boast lushly-landscaped gardens, groves, open grass, and idyllic spots for lounging. Most spectacularly, the island will offer unexpected spaces seemingly reserved for Alice in Wonderland and a 700-seat amphitheater for music, dance, theater and public art performances.
Treasure Island will play host to free or low-cost entertainment programmed by some of Hollywood’s top talent, including Academy Award-winning (The Social Network) and Tony-Award-winning (The Book of Mormon) producer Scott Rudin, vice chair of the nonprofit Pier55 Inc., which will fund day-to-day operations under a 20-year lease with the park trust, according to reports.
Designer Heatherwick is collaborating with landscape architect Mathews Nielsen to create Treasure Island which will flourish 184 feet offshore and connect (via two pedestrian bridge ramps) to Hudson River Park–a four-mile-long stretch that extends from Battery Park City to 59th Street. Nielsen also designed the Tribeca section of the Hudson River. According to the New York Post, the island park will replace much of Pier 54, where the steamship Carpathia safely returned survivors of the sunken Titanic in 1912.
Heatherwick, head of Heatherwick Studio, is also developing a Garden Bridge that spans London’s River Thames between the South Bank and Covent Garden. Since bridges over the Hudson are a no-no, the Treasure Island “Manhattan project” will grant the public park access only from the West 13th Street side (sorry New Jersey, you’ll be allowed to visit it via Manhattan).
“When I was little I used to come to Manhattan to visit my great aunt who lived here and never forgot being driven down the West Side Highway and seeing the fields of disused pile heads sticking out of the river,” said Heatherwick, quoted in de Zeen Magazine. “All these years later, my studio and I are [honored] to now be growing another set of river piles in the midst of these historic ones to hold up a new phenomenal public park with special spaces for performances,” he said.
Heatherwick is famous for his enormous imagination and creativity. He designed the Olympic cauldron for the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. His cauldron, the stadium centerpiece, featured 204 individual copper sculpture stems topped by flame which converged from the ground (surging skyward like a radiating flower petal) to form the giant kinetic cauldron that represented the Olympic spirit of unity. Heatherwick’s imagination knows no bounds, routinely pulling off what others would think is impossible—if they could imagine that far. Treasure Island is the latest example of this.
Even the “The Bard” (William Shakespeare) himself couldn’t have imagined performances of King Lear over the Hudson River (or the River Thames)—despite repeated references to nature’s “shadowy forests,” “plenteous rivers,” and “wide-skirted meads” (meadows). Shakespeare could have been describing Manhattan’s Treasure Island.
The only remaining question: how safe will this island be considering past damage to Manhattan’s shoreline following big storms like Hurricane Sandy? We’re sure Barry, Diane, Thomas and Mathews (who have so much invested in Treasure Island’s future success), as well as New York City and New York State, will ensure the oasis is more than structurally sound for New York City residents, tourists and Shakespearean actors alike. But just in case, we hope Othello, Lady McBeth, Falstaff and Shylock are good swimmers. The only Shakespearean tragedies we expect to unfold on Treasure Island will be on stage at the amphitheater.