Set before the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Peter Minuit Plaza, The New Amsterdam Pavilion invites busy urbanites to slow down, and encourages the use of public transportation and bicycles by providing an exciting piece of supporting infrastructure to New York City’s sustainable transport network. Welcoming over 150,000 daily visitors, Peter Minuit Plaza in Lower Manhattan functions as a primary public node in the daily fabric of New York.
This public space is the entry point to tens of thousands of commuters into Manhattan, chaotic by day and virtually deserted by night. In light of this duality, architect Ben Van Berkel of UNStudio was commissioned to design a welcoming space that could operate in some manner 24 hours a day, activating the plaza permanently. The solution is a sculptural pavilion with a plan reminiscent of a pinwheel, which creates four pockets of public space serviced by two information booths and two snack bars. The plaza subdivisions help disperse some daytime overcrowding at the ferry station, as many who would ordinarily crowd the fast-food booth inside are drawn to the fresh fruit and locally grown gourmet food served at the new structure.
The pavilion’s formal organization belies its functions. At the center, more private, permanent functions take place. The petals of this flowering form hold the information booth and concession stands the majority of the time, though on occasion art exhibits and installations will populate the rooms and surrounding landscape.
According to the design team, “the formal figure of the structure becomes increasingly more fluid and dispersed away from the center as it opens up onto the immediate landscape.” Fluidity pervades as a central theme, as the diagonally divided panes of glass accentuate the concrete shell’s form, launching the viewer’s aye toward the rest of the site. Fritted glass in a pattern of progressively smaller circles creates a visual gradient between the massive white concrete and delicate glass facades. The repeating, radial form never allows the viewer to rest, encapsulating the energy of the plaza, and New York.
At night, when services close and Downtown is vacated, the structure glows by reflecting light from LED strips along its interior surface. The muted illumination helps pedestrian orientation and street safety, and highlights the pavilion’s exquisite shape. At midnight, the lighting cycles through an array of colors in a show honoring Peter Minuit (whose name means “midnight” in French). The tasteful show caught us by surprise, as we initially expected a brasher, more flamboyant experience. But ultimately such a subdued performance is more fitting of this hub in its state of nocturnal rest, and conserves energy over a brighter display. By adapting to the fluid condition of the site through its form, function, and aesthetic presence, the New Amsterdam Plein and Pavilion captures the dynamic creative spirit of Dutch architecture and New York, giving the city a landmark fitting of its never-ending motion.