Where New York’s newly opened Little Island attraction can be experienced today, only the remains of Pier 54 were visible a few years ago. But the piece of sea from which Little Island now rises once played a central role in the history of the Hudson River and the surrounding communities – and will continue to do so in the future. And so every visit to Little Island is not only a varied experience but also a reminder of the dynamic development of the New York waterfront.
The Hudson River Park land on which Little Island is located was once home to the Lenape tribe during the early colonisation of America. The Lenape used the parkland as a seasonal camp for hunting and fishing, in addition to trading along the Hudson River.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Hudson River waterfront was transformed into a busy port of entry. Between 1910 and 1935, Pier 54 served the British Cunard-White Star line as a departure and return point for transatlantic ocean liner voyages. In 1912, survivors of the Titanic disaster aboard the rescue ship RMS Carpathia made their way to safety at Pier 54.
In 2013, Barry Diller of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, in collaboration with the leadership of the Hudson River Park Trust, was presented with a unique opportunity to find a solution to repair and reactivate Pier 54, which had previously been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Diller chose to design an entirely new kind of public space for New York, one that would create an immersive experience with nature and art.
Heatherwick Studio designs a new artificial island with Little Island
Heatherwick Studio, the architectural firm also responsible for the construction of New York’s famous Vessel, explored the idea of designing a new pier that could draw from the remaining wooden piles of Pier 54.
“My studio and I became interested in the remains of the old piers on the west side of Manhattan, whose topsides had long since disappeared, leaving only hundreds of old structural wooden piles sticking out of the river,” writes Thomas Heatherwick, founder of Heatherwick Studio on the new attraction’s website.
Heatherwick Studio describes the project on their website as follows: “Raising the new piece of park to the heights could not only counteract the windswept quality of the large adjacent street, but also work well with the need for outdoor theatre and performance spaces, as the sloped seating could be shaped into the landscape to give the audience a better view. The resulting design evolved as a system of repeating poles, each forming an oversized planter at its top. Each planter then connects in a mosaic pattern at different heights to form a single manipulated piece of landscape. More than a hundred different species of native trees and plants adapted to the harsh extremes of New York’s climate have been planted in the thousands of tons of new soil in this landscape.”
Life is now returning to the new “little island”.
The new small island is to be enlivened by a series of events and activities.
Little Island’s inaugural season presents a selection of live arts performances on the Amph stage. From festivals celebrating a unifying theme throughout the park to more intimate performances with the Hudson River as a backdrop, come and experience the range of arts presentations. Most performances in Little Island are free and do not require reservations.
As part of the Artists Series, New York’s local artists fill Little Island with music, dance, rhythm and more every day of the week. Find your new favourite artist and enjoy live art on the Hudson during these free, recurring events. Programmes begin in mid-June.
Little Island hosts art activities and workshops that are free and open to families and visitors of all ages. These recurring events take place at The Glade and offer educational entertainment for those looking for something refreshing.
Little Island’s Artists-in-Residence are a diverse group of artists who bring the park to life through performance and exhibitions. These New York-based artists participate in a three-year residency: performing and/or directing, curating events and festivals, collaborating with our community partners, and serving as evaluators for the Perform in the Park program.
Already, the first group of Perform in the Park artists and entertainers has been identified for the 2021 season! The artists, selected through an open application process, will bring a variety of entertainment styles to Little Island’s stages and plazas to capture the exuberant energy of New York and bring it to life on the new island.