Zooming in on the Center of the World

Recently, there has been much discussion about the future of Governors Island. As the date approaches for one of the five finalist teams to be selected to develop the island, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) has been soliciting opinions from the public. After visiting the island, viewing the current exhibition at the Center for Architecture (See On View At the Center for Architecture), attending a panel discussion at the Center with various governing officials involved in the decision process (See the AIANY online calendar), and interviewing Leslie Koch, President of GIPEC (See Conversation published 05.30.07), I have decided which of the five entries I prefer.

What I like about the West 8/Rogers Marvel Architects/Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Quennell Rothschild and Partners/SMWM entry is that it explores a range of ideas to satisfy visitors of all ages without relying on historic precedent. The proposal provides 3,000 free bicycles and lounge chairs to be used throughout the island. The north end of the island will retain its existing historic identity, largely untouched, and the south end will develop naturally as a marsh. Demolition debris will be used to create a “vertical landscape.” Eventually, the south and north ends of the island will be separated by a 40-foot-wide channel along the original boundary of the island (the southern end was created from subway construction infill).

Sustainability is taken into account in a variety of ways, from wind turbines to hydroelectric and solar energy generators. Time passage is incorporated into the tree layout; in principle, the essence of the scheme will be preserved even if 40% of the trees remain after 20 years. The vertical landscape is organized to reflect veins in an insect wing strategically placed to frame views of the water and Statue of Liberty.

One of the most successful aspects of the proposal, in my opinion, is that it respects Governors Island as it is and does not try to over-develop too quickly. The first phase hardly changes the island’s existing conditions, only adding a few amenities to entice visitors. Phase 2 integrates the simpler design aspects of the proposal, and the third phase is reserved only if enthusiasm and funds are available. With this strategy, the population can ease into the more radical ideas put forth, and GIPEC can gauge whether or not it is reasonable to develop further.

Although “a team not a scheme” will be selected, and the design and development will change as reality sets in, I think this scheme reflects an intelligent, feasible strategy worth exploring further. To view all five teams’ submissions, read firm bios, scroll through public feedback, and give your own opinions, check out The Park at the Center of the World website.