We reported over the summer about the unveiling of the East River Waterfront Esplanade and mentioned plans to further extend it in coming years. Only six months later, Pier 15 just south of South Street Seaport, is now open. Designed by SHoP Architects, with help from Ken Smith Landscape Architect, the new two-story section features sharp angles, a colorful red roof, native flora, and a design that expands upon the existing esplanade. While winter is not the easiest month to get people to celebrate the newest addition at the breezy waterfront, you may find the solitude relaxing and perfect for enjoying the design without interruption.
The new pier is snuggled between the elevated FDR Drive, huge ships that are docked at South Street Seaport, and the open waters of the East River. Following the hexagonal paving along the existing esplanade, visitors will immediately notice the slick red line that distinguishes Pier 15 from its surroundings. What first appears to be a line is actually a series of slatted, red plastic boards that line the ceiling of the lower level. SHoP specifically designed them to bow, creating the illusion of looking at the hull of a ship in homage to the zone’s nautical past.
Facing the pier, visitors can choose between three options for entering the space. A staircase leads up the left side of the park to the upper level, and there is also wheelchair accessible ramp. For those who prefer to start on the lower level, a pathway leads through the bottom level, passing by what currently appear to be two empty, enclosed glass galleries. Plans are in place to bring a restaurant and maritime museum to these vacant spaces, but for now visitors will have to pack their own lunch to enjoy on one of the many benches in the open air.
Benches can be found along the sides of the pier making for a great place to take in views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to the north, Brooklyn waterfront to the east, or Pier 11, originally designed by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, to the south. The benches are similar in design to those found along the rest of the esplanade. Sharp edges define the ipe wood benches that are reminiscent of old shipping crates.
Native plants also play an important role in enlivening and greening the space situated between the two glass galleries. The eastern most gallery provides relative protection from the wind and the south-facing garden receives excellent light throughout the day. Unlike the lower level, the upper level has no overhead covering or red slats and feels similar to the High Line. Two rectangular bowed areas of grass give the impression of a wave and provide a break from the wood flooring. They are enclosed by cement blocks that run length-wise along the outside edges, providing an additional option for seating or play.
Overall, Pier 15 fits well with the rest of the esplanade but also stands on its own. On the lower level, two sections feature wide, descending stairs that allow visitors to get a little closer to the water as can be found along other parts of the riverfront design and many materials are the same as those used on other parts. However, what truly marks the pier is the interplay of shadow, line, color, levels and materials that SHoP and Ken Smith have established throughout the design.
All images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat