Shortlisted in Public Landscape 2022:

Waterline Square by

2022 Public Landscape / New York / USA / Built in 2021 /

The landscape design of 2.6 acre Waterline Square in New York City was developed by MNLA to be an inclusive neighborhood park. Landscape and buildings work in harmony to sculpt a dynamic public space that leverages topography, massing, and vegetation to create an inviting and livable neighborhood green. The development brings together five building architects, whose distinctive yet complimentary towers are united by a landscape that appears to be carved from the same natural forces as the structural design. 

A long-vanished pre-settlement stream course became the park’s inspirational transect. In the heart of the project, choreographed fountain jets delight. Water is then transformed into a channelized stream bed that glides past an expansive event lawn. As the site spills towards the Hudson River, riparian waterfalls cascade beneath the boardwalk and the once-linear water channel begins to meander and carve space. This transformation creates several program opportunities and numerous ways for users to experience and interact with water.

The site’s history of subsurface contamination required remediation which prepared a safe slate on which to design the open space. It also allowed the creation of underground parking areas and underground amenities to ultimately be shared by all residents of Waterline Square. The design team worked collaboratively to shape these below grade conditions that resulted in a park constructed entirely on structure. 

As a true disruptor to the superblock concept, Waterline Square utilizes an open circulation plan to connect with city sidewalks while maintaining a generous porosity through the site. The broad expanse of 60th Street diffuses into fine-grained pathways as it enters the site. These pathways melt the scale of the superblock into intimate public gardens. As circulation progresses from the urban edge to the river’s edge, broad avenues and open spaces break down into a finer network of paths and gardens that step down towards adjacent waterfront open space. City chaos and energy are left behind as one crosses a wood boardwalk over and across a small meandering stream; an exquisite moment of intimacy within the landscape.

The landscape and architecture appear to be carved from the geologic forces of wind and water and reflect the site’s natural history. This is clearly expressed in the form and materiality of the playground. To playfully engage with the elevational changes across the site, a slide whooshes children into the sunken playground. The inspirational patterns of wind and water on the land present as a series of mounds outfitted with colorful contoured safety surface. They also create terraced seating which offer guardians a view of the grounds and a place to socialize.

While these vertical transitions are significant in their ability to connect into the urban fabric, equally important is the level landscape that presents as an inviting lawn. It becomes a flexible and programmable event space, a place to picnic, or throw a ball while offering views that frame the setting sun. A series of angular, mounded meadows alongside the lawn create a buffer between active and passive areas.

The planting design at Waterline Square brings thousands of plants from the New York region with a high diversity of species. By maximizing water retention and minimizing heat island effect on site, more planting area and soil volume result, reducing hardscape. A series of highly constructed gardens are designed to perform optimally over structure in an urban environment and are orchestrated within a seasonal cycle of botanical events. Research was extensive to ensure pollinator attraction in the perennial and grassland meadow landscape. Climate stressors in relation to planting species was also a criteria in plant selection, specifically in regard to hardiness and adaptability.

At Waterline Square, seasonality was utilized to strengthen a sense of place. As spring takes hold, the banks of the riparian fountain come to life as beds of crocuses poke through the snow. These are soon followed by the soft pinks and whites of eastern redbud and fothergilla. Summer’s ornamental grasses sway gently in soft breezes while drifts of sun-loving perennials such as meadow sage, echinacea, and verbena glow with color within the meadow berms. These grasses and perennials erupt into breath-taking swathes of fall texture that ultimately lend themselves to winter interest and pollinator habitat.  Native conifers create warmth and insulation as they block prevailing winds and noise from adjacent highways and form a lush, evergreen backdrop that contrasts beautifully against winter’s frequent gray skies.

With Waterline Square’s summer 2020 opening directly coinciding with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, events were held to create positive memories for both residents and the surrounding neighborhood while also fostering a sense of community in a year that was defined by isolation yet driven by hope.

Project location: 400 W 61st St, New York, NY 10069

Design year: 2006-2018

Year Built: 2018-2021

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