From Prison Shoal to Mussel Beach

Among the many features of the Eco-Park that are intended to evoke and advance environmental concerns and a series of sand dunes and lawns.
Downtown’s list of great public spaces has increased by one, with the opening on April 19 of a new “Eco-Park” at Pier 35, on the East River shoreline, in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The 28,000-square-foot facility includes lawns, dunes, and a sloped concrete “urban beach,” designed to replicate the natural breeding habitat of mussels.

The tableau is dominated by corrugated metal screen, 35 feet tall and 300 feet long, which provides a striking visual centerpiece for the park, while also cloaking from view a nearby Department of Sanitation storage facility, and serving as an arbor on which vines will grow in the years ahead. The screen additionally guides both the eyes and the footsteps of park visitors, tracing a graceful arc as it leans forward and stretches toward the water, where it becomes a shade barrier that also supports swings — creating an enclosure that resembles a porch, overlooking the river and framing views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

The elegant, sloping metal screen that forms the visual focal point for the park at Pier 35, illuminated at night.
Designed by SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Workshop, the project was overseen by the City’s Economic Development Corporation, and funded (in part) by the New York State Division of Coastal Resources, which supported the mussel breeding facility as an experimental prototype that can help guide efforts to restore once-plentiful local species (like mussels) elsewhere in New York Harbor.

For decades, Pier 35 has been regarded as both an underutilized eyesore and a venue with almost unlimited potential for reconnecting Lower Manhattan residents to the waterfront. Its last significant use was as a mooring spot for a prison barge, part of a short-lived penal experiment launched in the early 1990s by the administration of then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The Eco-Park and urban beach at Pier 35 are part of the broader East River Esplanade project, which aims to create two contiguous miles of open space and public recreation facilities on the shoreline, between the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges.
Matthew Fenton

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