2017 Honor Award

Governors Island Phase 2: The Hills

Category: General Design

Landscape Architect:

West 8


Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects


Client: The Trust for Governors Island

Project Team:

Associate Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

Lead Civil Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Local Civil Engineer: AKRF

Geotechnical Engineer: Hart Crowser Inc.

Signage and Wayfinding: Pentagram

Lighting: Tillotson Design Associates

MEP Engineer: Dagher Associates

Soils Consultant: Pine and Swallow

Environmental Irrigation Consultants: Northern Designs

Code Consultants: Code Consulting Inc.

Cost Estimator: Faithful & Gould

Operations and Maintenance: ETM Associates

Surveyors of Record: Langan

About the Project:

The Hills are Phase Two of Governors Island Park and Public Space Master Plan. The sculpted topography, the true animator of this design, emphasizes the Island’s coveted 360-degree view of New York Harbor with an exciting variety of prospect and refuge points along the winding pathways swirled throughout. There are four hills between 25 and 70 feet in elevation, totaling 10 acres. Nature, relaxation, art, play, and sustainability harmonize amongst the 54 native plant species, 2,360 new trees, a permanent art installation and the longest slide in New York City atop Clean and Recycled Fill. The Hills envelope leisure and resilience in a world-class 21st century design; a destination that stands out in a city of destinations.

Project Location:

Governors Island is a 172-acre island in the middle of the New York Harbor, surrounded by Ellis Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn, under the faithful watch of Lady Liberty.

Special Factors

Governors Island was an abandoned military base, a piece of American history lying in the middle of the New York Harbor, begging for reactivation, iconic design features, and reinforcement against inevitable climate change. It presented a unique opportunity to create the ultimate democratic park for New York City: there is no permanent residential development permitted and, being an island, there are no neighbors. Governors Island is truly a park for all five boroughs, for every New Yorker. The client and design team recognized the site’s potential for reinvention and sought a redevelopment effort led by landscape. To realize it, they engaged in an exercise of sustainable, innovative and highly collaborative design.

Technical challenges of building hills on the artificial terrain of Governors Island required an incredible amount of coordination between engineers and designers. Their creative use of technologies resulted in an equally resilient and beautiful park landscape. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Governors Island demonstrates that long term investment in parks and infrastructure must incorporate knowledge of wave action, storm surge and sea level rise. Every element of the design responds to these issues from materials selection and sourcing to planting strategy and topographic manipulation. Governors Island leads the vanguard of park design as a model of sustainability standards for the 21st Century.