Little Island, USA

Creating an
urban oasis

Joe Solway, Acoustic Consultant

Michael Parrella, Theatre Consultant

Vincent Lee, Global Water Skill Leader

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Celebrating arts and culture with an incomparable park and performance space for the people.

A wonder on the water

Manhattan is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, where the potential for new public green space can seem almost inconceivable. It’s also a city that is no stranger to ambition so, when the idea of a tree-filled open-air park and performance space built on the Hudson River was first suggested, we knew it had the potential to be a true one of a kind.

Little Island opened in May 2021, the result of years of collaboration with world-renowned architects Heatherwick Studio and MNLA, Hudson River Park Trust and The Diller-von Furstenburg Family Foundation.

Play audio

The listener experiences the visitor journey, from the West Side Highway and with the structural shape of this park on the Hudson River interpreted as notes of an instrument on the journey west.

Audio experience
Cairo pentagon pattern

Many patterns were explored, the final arrangement of the pots was based on the tessellating ‘Cairo pentagon tiling pattern’ common in Middle Eastern art

Organic by design

The pattern gives the deck an organic, undulating appearance, perfect for creating different spaces, and yet it’s regularity meant manufacture could be simplified

A gift to New York

“It’s like nothing people have ever seen before. It’s amazing to walk through," says Vincent Lee, a New York local and our Global Water Skill Leader. Funded in large part by the foundation – whose $260m donation is said to be the largest to a public park in the city’s history – Little Island rises up from the remains of Pier 54 but couldn’t be more different from it.

A transformation

Little Island is positioned above the remnants of the piles for Pier 54, which had lain derelict for years, before its transformation

Invisible infrastructure, incredible views

Little Island feels alive even when there are no programmed events. Our theatre venue consultants had to find ways to accommodate the infrastructure required to support a range of events, from one-person shows to theatrical performances, large rock concerts and park-wide art installations, all within a 2.4 acre site. When the infrastructure – including audio and visual equipment – isn’t in use, it’s largely hidden from sight to preserve the beauty of the space.

Another challenge was posed by stormwater. We knew that erecting such a unique structure on the river would demand inventive solutions to handle it and this is why the whole of Little Island is designed to act like a sponge, returning filtered water back to the river.

Echoing nature

The pot design echoes the natural world, each is around 4.6m tall. In total 132 pots were manufactured and craned into site.

Formed from
sculpted precast
concrete elements
called ‘petals’

Nurturing nature above and below

Heatherwick Studio and landscape architecture firm MNLA designed Little Island to include three performance spaces surrounded by hundreds of species of flowers, trees and shrubs. Our design engineers collaborated closely with their architectural partners, constantly sharing advanced 3D modelling and encouraging creativity at every stage.

A critical part of the project was the design of 132 sculpted precast concrete structures that rise up from the river to create the park’s undulating surface. In-water construction work paused for months to avoid disturbing annual fish migration and the final design ensures sunlight reaches the marine life below. It’s a restorative, immersive space where everyone can enjoy fresh air and nature in the heart of the city, whatever the season.

Accessible to all

Little Island is free to visit and open to everyone. Specialists carefully considered wheelchair access for the unorthodox site. Ingeniously hidden utilities help to allow everyone to experience this sanctuary over the water.

The park’s programming, education and community relations teams are committed to programming an inclusive range of events, which includes American Sign Language and audio-described offerings. We used our Soundlab technology to ensure performances at Little Island sound as good as possible, simulating soundscapes for pre-construction analysis and making design interventions to minimise noise from Manhattan’s traffic.

A social sensation

The community and visitors have shown their appreciation of Little Island, the space and the experience, with tens of thousands of social media posts

From the

@alissagordeeva @singforhope was created to make the world a better place, give hope and heal. The piano suddenly appears in a crowded place and a miracle begins. We got the lovely Gloria from the Metropolitan Opera today

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@Austinmoser17 I don’t cook, I don’t clean, but let me tell you how I got this ring...

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@sebastian_myendlessrace My holidays are over! I love to have fun with my family and even more when we find completely accessible places like Little Island, a park which I was able to walk with them without obstacles.

Setting the stage for the future

At a time when green space and open-air venues in crowded cities have never been more important for public health and wellbeing, Little Island demonstrates what is possible. As Vincent Lee says, when it comes to challenging convention and doing the seemingly impossible in engineering, this is a new high-water mark that future projects will be aiming for.

It’s visually stunning. I used to commute past every day, and it was amazing to see the pots sprouting up."

Vincent Lee
Global Water Skill Leader

© Liz Ligon