The Wandering Architect: Brooklyn Bridge Park
Author: M. Lee
Some of the 355 crew raided this year's AIA Conference. A longtime friend of mine was nice enough to put me up in his Brooklyn apartment during the first leg of my stay and my commute from his place to the Conference brought about delightful discoveries.
The development at Brooklyn Bridge Park can he hailed as an invaluable amenity to for the public. In recent years, piers have been converted to parks ranging from turf sports fields and paved courts to dense urban nature-scape and the pathway along the water stretching from Atlantic Ave to Dumbo has an immaculately sharp character. The artificial turf fields at Pier 5 were alive with activity when I walked by one weekday morning - pickup soccer and impromptu games of ultimate Frisbee hovered above the East River, nestled between Governors Island and the Manhattan skyline beyond. These events seemed to be open - as in no permit required. For an investment of this quality and financial commitment to be left open to the public and not monetized for financial return is huge! That's really saying something about the humanistic values of the design and planning entities that helped see this through.
Along the path are charcoal grilles and picnic tables complete with umbrellas. Walking and biking trails weave sinuously through green-scape. In a couple of locations, ramps provide access down to the water - which again says something about values here, as most water's edge urban conditions tend to view access to as a liability. Here it is celebrated as a valid amenity. Paddle boarders and Kayakers mingle among old pilings and newly refurbished piers. Pier 3 was under construction but I could see lots and lots of vegetation on it which contrasted the concrete jungles of Brooklyn Heights up the hill and Lower Manhattan over the water. Pier 2 was absolutely bustling with activity! Here is every kind of court you need, tennis basketball, squash etc.. There were so many kids! The park obviously appeals to a diversified demographic - which, once again says something about humanistic values.
The most delightful architectural discoveries occurred at the new mixed use and residential development toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Here the façades are punctuated by portals lined with wood slats. The cold concrete and taught glass façades are punctured by the warm and intimate materiality of wood that creating a modern corridor that brings a visitor from the Park through the footprint of the building to the street beyond.
What I geeked out most about was the bridge that takes you up to Squibb Park from the waterfront. The procession brings you up, slipping asymmetrically between two contemporary mid-rises and over Furman Street atop a heavy timber and steel cable space frame. The duality of the thick, warm timbers among the thin, cool cable was absolutely delicious to behold. The bridge makes a meandering dance toward Squibb Park, an urban hardscape that felt like it was roofed over by a tree canopy above. It lies on a sheer cliff that drops some 25+ feet to the street below just as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway retreats into the cliff-side and behind the park. This moment provides a panoramic overlook toward Manhattan - a grandiose gesture which is matched equally by the intimate visual contrast of the sheer stone retain wall opposite the modern exterior clad buildings and verdant surroundings of the park far below and trees just above. As the expressway has dived into the cliff the sound is, by contrast, less violent and more ambient as one can find calm in the wind of the trees and boat traffic in the distance.
As I walked back toward my temporary home away from home late at night, the park was just as active as it was during the day. The park seemed a beacon on the water - an activated but not overwhelming composition of spaces that I found absolutely alluring.
This unplanned urban experience was a deeply pleasant find.