Brooklyn Bridge Park has plenty going for it already: the waterfront promenades, the little corners where you escape into nature, the playgrounds and soccer fields. But it could use more wide-open green space, places to picnic or throw a Frisbee, the kinds of free-for-all gathering spots synonymous with the exercise of democracy and the flirtations of sunbathers. And another architectural landmark in the city never hurts.
Voilà: A new plan, which should win city approval shortly, would give Pier 6, off Atlantic Avenue, a flowering meadow with seasonal grasses, a sprawling field and a triangular wooden viewing platform. That’s at the southern end of this spectacularly successful 1.3-mile-long Brooklyn park, where there’s already a maze of children’s playgrounds. The meadow and field would add breathing room to the pier and a mini-Great Lawn floating serenely over the East River.
More to the point, the proposal also envisions a new work of public architecture whose distinctive shape its architect describes as a manta ray.
A manta ray or, maybe, a humongous Tostito — in any case, a triangular platform, stepped and undulating, doing for Brooklyn Bridge Park sort of what the Boathouse does for Central Park. Creating a visual anchor for that end of the park as well as for the riverfront, it would become a perch from which to look not just over the harbor but also back at Brooklyn.
The platform is by the Danish whiz kid Bjarke Ingels, who is angling to become the Next Big Thing in architecture. His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, known as BIG, has been grabbing headlines and commissions with designs that seem tailor-made for glossy magazine spreads. Among them is the pyramidal, torquing apartment complex, with a courtyard nearly the size of a football field, now under construction on West 57th Street, at the Hudson River. At 39, Mr. Ingels has his formal tics already, but also a knack for turning architecture into landscape, which, in essence, is the task here.
The brief is to complete the grounds devised for the undeveloped area of Pier 6. Michael Van Valkenburgh, the Brooklyn-based landscape architect whose firm has overseen the design of the whole park, has planned the meadow as a destination point for the walking path from Atlantic Avenue, and the big lawn to work as a single grand space, with the platform at the end of the pier.
Mr. Ingels’s 6,000-square-foot design, which would command drop-dead views of Lower Manhattan, has a Baroque lilt, with twisting steps fanning out from the platform’s north side. Where a corner of the platform coincides with the north corner of the pier, the platform would be raised 17 feet on stilts to produce an effect resembling the prow of a ship. The architect calls this the work’s “ ‘Titanic’ moment” — he means the movie, not the wreck — the point to which one or two people could climb and stand at the railing, gazing out over the city. In essence, the architecture invites us all to come to a spot where we can feel alone.
The design’s waves allude to the water and echo the soft curves of Mr. Van Valkenburgh’s hills and paths. At night, when lights go on along the steps and within the bench below, the platform would become a giant outdoor Dan Flavin sculpture. Should audiences congregate for concerts, it could be a stage, or seating for 300 people.
The structure would cost $8 million, all to be raised privately. Brooklyn Bridge Park exemplifies the sort of public-private venture the Bloomberg administration has championed, with public spaces the priority, but dependent on private money. City authorities just chose Midtown Equities, a Brooklyn developer, to convert the historic Empire Stores, the waterfront warehouses north of the bridge that belong to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The stores will be turned into offices and retail spaces, with restaurants and the Brooklyn Historical Society on the ground floor. In turn, the project will throw off cash to operate the park.
It’s a deal similar to the one for the hotel and residential complex now under construction on Pier 1, which the New York architect Jonathan Marvel has conceived for the developers Toll Brothers and Starwood. Mr. Marvel’s design defers to the park. The park should enhance the complex.
I used to live on Atlantic Avenue, above the Damascus Bakery, and remember the grim walk west, toward the waterfront. That was a trip to nowhere. Now, even on a midweek morning, Pier 6 is buzzing with children, young parents, bikers and volleyball players.
Since the park opened, in 2010, it has transformed the entire neighborhood. The diversity of the people who use it proves that it serves the whole borough. Mr. Ingels’s platform would add to it, as an elegant slab of contoured wood, lighter than concrete, allowing its supporting columns to remain thin. For the space underneath, the platform would provide a seamless, billowing roof, allowing for dozens of people to find some shade and relax at waterside cafe tables. It’s only a pity that the required wheelchair ramp and its railing along the structure’s edge mean that the platform feels partly disconnected from the lawn.
The plan now awaits the Public Design Commission’s go-ahead and a patron for Mr. Ingels’s project.
Brooklyn and the city deserve both.
Please click here to read an online version of this article.