A surrealistic new park that appears to float on pilings over the Hudson River opened to the public Friday just off the Manhattan shoreline.
The new park, named Little Island, was constructed with $260 million from Barry Diller’s foundation, the former 20th Century Fox CEO, and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.
Little Island joins a line of piers along Manhattan’s west side that have been renovated for leisure activities over the past 20 years, but its unique scenery sets it apart.
The park’s greenery and stage areas sit on 132 concrete pots or tulip pots as the park’s designers call them. The pots are supported by beams of different heights, allowing pathways to snake through the 2.4-acre park at a smooth, rolling grade.
The design was developed by Thomas Heatherwick, who also designed the Hudson Yards climbing structure known as the Vessel, which is located about 20 blocks north of Little Island.
Barry Diller has described Little Island as an enchanted forest or a trip to Oz.
“All of it is an oasis of everything fun, whimsical, playful that we can conjure,” he says in a video on the park’s website.
The idea of the project, which is part of the state-run Hudson River Park, was unveiled in 2014, but several lawsuits were filed claiming that the park was built without public consultation and could endanger underwater ecosystems. Douglas Durst, a real estate developer who had been forced out of his job as chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park fundraiser group a few years before, was discovered to have funded the litigation brought by the non-profit City Club of New York.
In September 2017 Diller said that he was pulling the plug due to growing legal costs. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal, he restarted the project next month.
“We are pleased the project helped get Hudson River Park finished,” Durst said through a spokesperson Wednesday.
According to the spokesperson, Durst supported the lawsuit because the project of the park had not gone through the relevant legislative procedure.
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Little Island will be open every day from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., with timed entry from noon to 8 p.m. at least until September, executive director Trish Santini said.
She mentioned that entertainment such as musical concerts, theatre, and dance would launch in mid-June.
The park’s 687-seat amphitheater will host a combination of free and ticketed concerts. Additional performances may take place on a smaller stage in an area called the Glade.
Little Island was built piece by piece. The concrete tulips that support the park were manufactured and pieced together in upstate New York before being floated down the Hudson by barge, four at a time, Santini said.
Planting began after the giant tulips were installed at the end of 2019. Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects formulated the park’s landscaping to resemble a leaf floating on water. It has 65 shrub species, 35 tree species, 290 grasses, vines, and perennials.
The park’s cleverly engineered topography makes it feel like its own little world, with views of the Hudson on one side and the city on the other.
“I think it’s going to represent for New York a place to come to rest and restore but also ignite their imaginations and remind us all that we’re creative,” Santini said. “My hope is that people come back time and time again because they realize every time they come there’s always something new and fun to do.”
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