2015 Honor Award

East River Waterfront Esplanade and Piers

Landscape Architect:

WORKSHOP: Ken Smith Landscape Architect

Project Team:

SHoP Architects

HDR, Inc.


Tillotson Design Associates


Northern Designs

Urban Trees + Soils


About the Project:

A model of resourceful reconstitution of marginalized urban space, Chelsea Cove unites three former commercial piers to create 8.5 acres of continuous open space that give a historic New York neighborhood an active, beautiful, and experientially diverse riverfront backyard.

Project Location

New York, New York

Project Purpose

As part of the Mayor’s Vision for the 21st Century Lower Manhattan, the City launched an extensive study of the East River Waterfront in 2004. The landscape architect worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team on the resulting Concept Plan, which articulated three primary goals: re-connecting the city to the East River, creating continuity through an otherwise broken link in the Manhattan Greenway, and activating the waterfront year-round by providing new cultural, community, commercial and recreational opportunities. For the past eleven years, the Landscape Architect has been working on this two-mile stretch of the East River Waterfront in Lower Manhattan, beginning with the master planning and continuing with full project design and construction services for the public esplanade and open space improvements with a multi-
year phased construction schedule.

Project funding resulted from Federal appropriation designated for the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The $160m project includes marine work, street edge  rebuilding, reconstruction of two piers, continuous bike trail and esplanade features and public spaces along its length. The goal of the project is to provide a continuous public esplanade for bicycles and pedestrians, improve connections to the adjoining neighborhoods and provide needed open space amenities. Programmatic features include two landscaped recreation piers, café and community use pavilions, a dog run, fishing balconies, exercise platforms, basketball and skateboard facilities, swings and overlooks. Environmental features include extensive plantings, two tidal step areas, and an innovative mussel habitat demonstration area, aka “MusselBeach”.

A special focus was placed by the City on designing a site-specific “kit-of-parts” approach for all the sites features including paving, seatwalls, furnishings, railings, lighting and plantings. This approach was intended to create design continuity along the entire length of the project and at the same time provide a system that was adaptable to the many varying conditions that needed to be addressed. This systematic approach promotes a common design language and material continuity. By implementing these components in adaptable ways the design team was able to create varying spatial sequences that respond to view corridors, pedestrian movement and local community needs. The first phase of this ambitious project, “The Pilot Project”, was completed in 2010 and immediately proved successful with public users. The site also proved to be resilient to both Hurricanes Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 with only limited damage. The Pilot Project, which included the waterfront esplanade area alongside the Financial District and South Street Seaport area, included the reconstruction of Pier 15 and was conceived of as a testing ground for the custom design features planned to become standard for the rest of the site. After evaluation and public use following its completion of the Pilot Project, adjustments were made to the design of some features to be constructed in the following phases. Package 2 completed in 2012 includes the criticalsouthern connection to the Battery Maritime Building at the tip of Manhattan and Package 3 is currently under construction running northward to Pier 35 and is scheduled for completion in 2015. Package 4, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, is currently in a design phase.