2019 Honor Award

General Design

First Avenue Water Plaza

New York, NY

Landscape Architect:



Project Team:

JDS Development Group
SHoP Architects
Pine and Swallow
Photography by Ty Cole

About the Project:

Steps from the East River, the First Avenue Water Plaza serves as both an active civic space and a functional water filtration system. The plaza, located over a parking structure at the American Copper Buildings, is activated by a layered water-collection system that responds to multiple types of inundation. The plaza design was crafted around dueling desires to create both a relaxing central gathering space buffered from the noise of the FDR, and to enable easy circulation and access to the water. To reconcile these needs, strong diagonals were incorporated into the design, creating paths upland to access the 34th street Ferry stop, while also protecting the site and building from both coastal and stormwater flood damage. 

Special Factors

First Avenue Water Plaza was designed to offer visitors a varied experience of water while seamlessly integrating the project’s robust technical and aesthetic demands. The plaza illustrates our team’s commitment to building sustainable, accessible, and innovative public spaces within the New York metro area. 

Around the perimeter, a series of rock-lined swales collect storm water runoff from the plaza. Plantings in these swales are lush, with a vertical canopy and a broadleaf evergreen understory to create a sense of enclosure and buffer the plaza from the noise of the FDR. Planting beds are sloped, with plants tolerant to salt water inundation, such as bald cypress, at low areas to ensuring the long-term landscape is resilient to periodic coastal flooding over time. 

The plaza responds to multiple types of inundation—storm surge from the East River and stormwater runoff from the building and site. In a heavy rain event, the swales are coupled with an underground retention system located between the plaza and the parking structure that captures and holds water before gradually diverting it to the East River. In the event of a flood, the water-plaza landscape combines with a deployable floodwall to protect the new building from inundation. 

A scrim fountain centers the design, creating a shimmering plane of water that mitigates the noise of the FDR highway and cools the space. The fountain is engaging, drawing people, particularly children, into the space with its interactive features and stepping stones, allowing people to get out into and over the water. The diagonal path from the fountain to the 34th street Ferry stop emphasizes the relationship of the site to the shoreline.