As New York City rebuilds itself in the aftermath of a year long pandemic, Pratt students are partnering with the local community in Brooklyn and beyond to support a better, fairer future with innovative solutions. In the Making a Difference series, Pratt’s news page highlights the ways students and faculty have worked for positive change in areas such as sustainability, climate change, social justice, engagement civic and public health. This article is the fourth in the series.
In recent months, outdoor spaces where people can safely gather and enjoy nature have been crucial in cities. Little Island, which opened in May on the former site of Manhattan’s Pier 54 on the Hudson River, offers a new experience for New Yorkers to explore trails through trees and plantations overlooking the water as well as take advantage of leisure and performance spaces. The design is a collaboration between UK-based Heatherwick Studio and New York-based landscape architecture firm MNLA, led by Signe Nielsen, assistant professor of undergraduate architecture.
Nielsen recently joined Pratt Presents for a panel discussion on Little Island Design – a conversation that can be watched online – and will teach in the Masters of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program launched in January 2022. She responded to a few. questions about the importance for the School of Architecture of now launching a landscape architecture program, its work on Little Island and other landscape projects, and the need to consider the impact of climate change on nature in public space.
Little Island opens up to a changing time for the city where outdoor space is more crucial than ever. What is he offering New Yorkers right now?
Little Island offers 2.5 acres of new waterfront parkland in the Hudson River Park. For a neighborhood with no open space – I don’t think the High Line, as beautiful and popular as it is for tourists and some New Yorkers, is considered a neighborhood park – it is a perfect blend of nature and culture in rare forms to be found in most public spaces.
Why is now an important time to start a landscape architecture program?
Now has never been a better time to start a new landscape architecture program. The field of landscape architecture is vast, which is what is needed right now to research strategies and ideas to advance climate positive design. Landscape architects are trained to think of systems rather than objects, and it is these environmental and human systems that must be viewed as integrated if we are to make substantial and rapid progress towards tackling the acute impacts of climate change. .
Working within the creative and innovative suite of world-class graduate programs at Pratt, the Landscape Architecture Masters program joins this renowned company. Located in New York City, the program will build on this urban fabric like a laboratory, rich in both opportunities and challenges.
Are there any design ideas reflected in the Little Island landscape that you want to share with students through this program?
Little Island is the result of a unique set of circumstances related to a particular location which is not easily replicated. That said, there are certain notions of the design of public space, the response of environmental forces including climate change, and the reshaping of the relationship between nature and art that provide fodder for scholarly and creative pursuits. There are also issues of environmental justice and equity that also emerge from Little Island that present opportunities for speech as well.
How does Little Island view the ecological changes associated with climate change?
Little Island is the first completed waterfront park that is significantly elevated above the predicted sea level rise and storm surge in 2100. In addition, plants, especially trees, have been selected for adapt to rising temperatures. The soils, slopes and drainage strategy were all designed for greater frequency and intensity of precipitation and were shown to be effective during Hurricane Ida in September.
Do you plan more landscapes in the future to be designed for unconventional spaces?
New York City, like many dense urban areas, is essentially short of readily available land waiting to be parked. This has been true for at least two decades, hence the need to research abandoned, neglected, underused or contaminated sites, and imagine how they can be reused, redesigned, cleaned up (decontaminated) and designed for a resilient future. for the environment and people. Many of these sites lie along our waterfronts – former industrial, manufacturing or warehousing areas – and others are closely tied to surface and underground infrastructure.
Is there something that Little Island’s design is rethinking in terms of landscapes for parks and public space?
An important aspect of Little Island is that the design of the park asks you as a visitor to choose how to experience the place. Unlike most parks that offer playgrounds, sports fields, fitness equipment, etc., Little Island does not have such designated activities. Granted, there are scheduled and impromptu cultural events in the amphitheater and clearing (a grassy slope facing a performance area), but these don’t last all year or all day.
I am very supportive of public spaces that challenge and inspire the visitor to create their own experience, which I think Little Island does. Whether you want to walk, jog, gain a new perspective on the cityscape and river, or enjoy an immersive landscape with perhaps musical accompaniment – say, a rehearsal day – or a night out with friends around of a drink, then the flexibility and inclusiveness of Little Island is the attraction.
Read more articles from the Pratt Making a Difference series: Putting the Community First in Planning for a Brooklyn Neighborhood’s Future, School of Architecture Advocates for Climate Education with Pavilions & Projects on Governors Island, and Architecture Students Explore How Aquaculture could Transform Industrial Brooklyn with Oysters and algae.