Saturday, October 27, 2012

Open House New York, Part I: Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5

A few weeks ago, Maura and I took advantage of a couple of Open House New York events, both in Brooklyn. For those who don't know, OHNY sponsors a weekend every October in which sites throughout the city--parks, museums, shops, studios, other buildings of architectural and historical interest--open up their doors to the public.  Regular followers of the blog (all six of you) are no doubt aware of my acute interest in the progress of construction at Brooklyn Bridge Park (see here, here and here). So it should come as no surprise that Maura and I jumped at the chance to take a tour of the construction site at Pier 5, due to open in November.

Satellite view of Pier 5 (Google Maps underlay)

For months and months, there appeared to be no progress at Pier 5. But as our (extremely knowledgeable) tour guide pointed out, much of the work has been happening underwater. Most of the park is developing on man-made structure, built on around 12,000 timber piles. Many of those piles have required major repairs, involving the encasement of the timber in concrete. If you're feeling nerdy, take a look at the technical specifications for this procedure at Pier 6. Otherwise, the concrete-wrapped piles are visible in the photo below.

Pier 5 from the southeast. Lower Manhattan is in the background.

Now, the public face of the pier is really starting to take shape. While we were there, workers were installing the subsurface of soccer fields (there will be three on the pier), mocking up potential locations for barbecue grills (there will be 25, available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis) and sweeping a newly-poured concrete bridge. 

Polystyrene substrate for shock absorption beneath athletic fields, perforated to allow drainage to gravel

Installed playground equipment and mocked-up site furnishings on the "picnic peninsula" 
Bridge connecting picnic peninsula to mainland

In the photo above, you can see that the "Picnic Peninsula"--or as I think I'll start calling it, the Barbecue Boardwalk--is separated from the mainland. In fact, the pier was cut away from the mainland. It now forms a buffer for a marsh much like that at Pier 1. As I said earlier, while it still looks like this section of the park is far from completion, there are signs that it will rapidly spring to life. In no time, the wetland grass will be overgrown (if Pier 1 is any indication), and the seeded areas (like in the photo below right) will turn to grass.

L-R: Wetland habitat; future grassy area

Elsewhere on the pier, a week's time is enough to witness a complete metamorphosis. In the upper righthand photo below, you can see galvanized steel girders resting quietly on grade. Only days after our tour, a prefabricated concrete concession stand had been installed on top of them.

Clockwise from left: expansion joint connecting two sections of the peninsula, galvanized steel girders awaiting a pre-fabricated concrete concession stand (since installed), and a base detail of one of the lights for the athletic field.

And a week after our visit, the workers had begun to hang the fabric sunshades that will line the perimeter of the playing fields, above built-in concrete seating. Renderings on the park's website illustrate what the completed field should look like. As much as possible, the design team sought to refurbish and repurpose elements of the piers and buildings that had inhabited the site. In this case, the light blue superstructure and concrete footings and foundations were retained from the warehouse that previously stood here. Similar buildings still stand just south of Pier 6, across Atlantic Avenue. Throughout the site, timber beams were reclaimed from the warehouses, and now serve as park benches.

Refurbished steel structure and fabric sunshade

Beyond the building structure, the concrete deck surrounding it was also retained. Approximately 20' wide for most of its length, it will allow circulation around the soccer fields and access to the waterfront. At the western end, jutting out into the east river, it offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island.

L-R: west end of Pier 5; gated section of fence on south side of Pier 5 (to allow access to and from boats), with Governors Island in the background

Circling to the north side of the pier, we caught a glimpse at what may come. The most unassuming of the six piers sits in repose just up the river. Pier 4 consists of a former railroad float transfer bridge that served the warehouses and Brooklyn. Today it is sinking into the river. Eventually, it will become a protected habitat.

View of Pier 4 and Lower Manhattan

Expect another update on Pier 5 in the near future. In addition to the interim progress I've noted above, the barbecues have been set, tether ball courts have been rigged, and the synthetic turf has been rolled out. Stay tuned!

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