'The Hills' Opening Soon

Headlines, 30. June 2016
By: John Hill

All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

World-Architects got a sneak peek of The Hills, the second phase of West 8's design for Governors Island Park in New York City, which is opening to the public on 19 July 2016.

West 8 design director Adriaan Geuze and Trust for Governors Island president Leslie Koch gave a tour to some members of the press earlier this week, on the one gray day amongst summer days that otherwise have been nice and sunny. Nevertheless the impact of The Hills was not lost in the low cloud cover.

Looking toward Outlook Hill and the skyline of Lower Manhattan from Discovery Hill

The first phase of West 8's Governors Island Park, which is immediately north of The Hills, opened in 2014. Although the island was, in the words of Geuze, as flat as a pancake before work on the park was done, the first phase introduced some gentle undulations in its large planted areas and winding paths, in effect readying visitors for the four hills.

The Hills consists of four hills built atop fill created partially from buildings demolished on the island. The Hills range in height from 30 to 70 feet (9.1 to 21.3 meters) above sea level: Grassy Hill (30' / 9.1m) has a gentle slope for relaxing; Slide Hill (38' / 11.5m) has four slides nestled in shady trees; Discovery Hill (45' / 13.7m) is home to site-specific art and a view of the Statue of Liberty; and Outlook Hill (70' / 21.3m) provides a 360-degree panorama of New York Harbor.

The view toward Lower Manhattan from Outlook Hill with part of the park's first phase visible in the foreground

The new park includes a rebuilt seawall, so the old seawall's granite blocks were recycled as steps leading up to Outlook Hill.

The 150-acre (60.7-hectare) Governors Island is split into roughly two halves: the northern end, which serves as the Governors Island National Monument and is home to military forts and other structures; and the southern end, which consists of the multi-phase park. New York took ownership of the park in 2003 and held a design competition three years later to reimagine the southern end. West 8 won the competition with a design that provides a one-of-a-kind vantage point of New York Harbor while also addressing 21st-century ecological concerns, such as rising waters.

The most striking images from West 8's competition-winning design were views of the Statue of Liberty partially hiding behind The Hills. As built, the effect is intact, since the shape and placement of the hills works with the paths to obstruct and reveal the statue, pulling visitors closer to the tallest of the four hills and its panoramic view. At 70 feet, the height is hardly arbitrary; it was determined by Geuze and Koch when they ventured up in a cherry picker to see at what elevation all is revealed. A platform at 60 feet above sea level (visible in the second photo) hides certain features (the road bed of the Brooklyn Bridge, the sea beyond the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, etc.) which are then revealed 10 feet higher.

The view of the Statue of Liberty from atop Slide Hill

Given that getting to Governors Island requires a ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn, there's an evident need to have an attraction strong enough to draw people to the island. The Hills serves that purpose in numerous ways: the four slides will be a magnet for kids; the views of the Status of Liberty will entice; installations such as Rachel Whiteread's "Cabin" will draw art lovers; and of course the views from atop Outlook Hill will be hard for anybody to resist.

Rachel Whiteread's "Cabin" sits near the top of Discovery Hill.

The longest of the four slides on Slide Hill measures 58 feet (17.6 meters) long.

Adriaan Geuze gazing toward Lower Manhattan from the top of Discovery Hill.

New York CityWest 8landscape-architectureGovernors-Island