Pier 26 at Hudson River Park

Estuaries, where freshwater rivers meet and mix with tidal inflows from the sea, are among the world’s most biologically rich environments. Myriad species thrive within the estuary and on the surrounding lands. People have been attracted to these landscapes since the dawn of civilization, but as indigenous communities ceded to colonial settlements and then modern cities, human activity has consumed and drastically altered these vital ecosystems. Now looking back in time before the dawn of the Anthropocene, we struggle to recall what was…before we tipped the scale.

Pier 26, one of many disused maritime docking points along the Hudson River, had been identified by the Hudson River Park Trust as an opportunity to create a didactic ecological experience. This was an especially resonant approach, because it was once the mooring point for the sloop Clearwater on which musician, folklorist, and environmentalist Pete Seeger invited Manhattan school groups to sail with his crew along the Hudson to learn about the estuary and become stewards in its preservation.

The design team envisioned the park as a transect through the indigenous ecologies of the Manhattan shoreline and Hudson River estuary. These eco-zones—the Woodland Forest, the Coastal Grassland, the Maritime Scrub, the Rocky Tidal Zone, and the estuary—recall the shoreline conditions which would have been found along Manhattan Island prior to colonization. The Woodland Forest is densely populated with dozens of indigenous tree, shrub, and groundcover species, all welcoming habitat for pollinators. The breezy, open Coastal Grassland accommodates much of the park’s active programming, including the multi-use Sport Court, available for both organized athletics and informal play. The Maritime Scrub is a ruggedly beautiful landscape, its sandy soil mix populated with hardy shrubs and conifers. Past the pier’s edge lies the Tide Deck, a steel walkway hovering just eight feet above the water, and the Rocky Tidal Zone, a field of more than 1,300 granite boulders interspersed with switchgrass, built more than 700 feet from shore. Circular depressions carved into the boulders catch ebbing tidewater, providing a haven for algae, plant, and animal life, with myriad species sighted within the constructed riverscape just days after it was completed.

The park’s most iconic feature is the Social Deck, a single, 850-foot-long piece of furniture built on top of and stretching beyond the reaches of the original pier. Made of Kebony, the deck begins as a walkway ascending into the Woodland Forest canopy before expanding into a windbreak and amphitheater-style steps framing the Sport Court. Seating elements of all shapes and sizes can be found along the Social Deck, from bar-height stools to custom chaise-style chairs. At the end of the pier, the Social Deck reascends to form the Viewing Deck, reaching 850 feet from shore and up to 13 feet above the river’s surface. From this vantage point visitors have a 360-degree panoramic view up and downriver, framed by Lower Manhattan and downtown Hoboken.

The social program of Pier 26 is carefully woven through these landscapes. Two key features slated for future completion are an educational playscape and an estuarium, a research facility dedicated to studying and restoring the Hudson River Estuary. The future playscape will be home to two massive wooden sturgeons, each modeled after protected indigenous species, where kids can explore from the top, bottom, inside, and out, and climb aquatic grass nets designed to mimic the reeds and grasses found along the riverbed. The 11,000 square-foot Great Lawn accommodates events of up to 900 people. Shady pathways through the Woodland Forest welcome families pushing strollers, crowds of friends, and joggers. The Sport Court bursts energetically into view near the midpoint of the pier, its surface and surrounding netting specified in eye-catching shades of marine blue. In the Maritime Scrub zone, two rectangular sheds each house a pair of wide, welcoming porch swings oriented toward the water. Each shed features its own materiality—one made of wooden slats, the other of punctured steel plates—allowing dappled light and breezes to filter through.

Education and research shaped the project’s vision since its inception. Each eco-zone offers visitors a safe, immersive ecological experience and supports the mission of the future estuarium. Beyond professional study of the estuary, the park hosts numerous educational programs. Free guided tours of the Tide Deck and Rocky Tidal Zone are led by park staff, and local schools also frequent the park for educational field trips.

The design of Pier 26 seeks to evoke a sense of wonder and exhilaration—perhaps the thrill of adventure felt by an early sailor or a kid on a field trip aboard the Clearwater—ensuring that these new memories will endure and shape a future stewardship of our precious environment.

Client: Hudson River Park Trust

Landscape Architect / Lead Designer: OLIN

Lucinda Sanders, Partner-in-Charge

Trevor Lee, Design Associate

Demetrios Staurinos, Associate / Project Manager

Jamee Kominsky, Senior Landscape Architect

Judy Venonsky, Associate / Living Systems Specialist

Yadan Luo, Landscape Designer

Structural Engineer: Silman

Marine Engineer: MRCE

Ecologist: Biohabitats

Lighting Designer: Tillett Lighting Design Associates

MEP Engineer: Wesler-Cohen

Irrigation: Northern Designs, Inc.

Surveyor: GSESP, Inc.

Environmental Graphics: Pentagram

Playground Design: MONSTRUM

Construction Manager: Gilbane Building Company

Contractor: Trevcon Construction

Contractor: Steven Dubner Landscaping

Contractor: E-J Electric Installation Co.

Project location: 233 West St, New York, NY 10013

Design year: commissioned 2015

Year Built: construction completed 2020

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