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Dramatic Pavilion Planned in Brooklyn

Exterior rendering of an elegant, sweeping pavilion in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Construction will begin in spring 2014 on an elegant, sweeping pavilion designed by the architecture firm BIG for Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is being developed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. Courtesy of BIG

The popular Brooklyn Bridge Park will soon by graced by a flowing pavilion providing sweeping views of Manhattan.

October 15, 2013—Construction will begin in spring 2014 on an elegant, sweeping pavilion at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park that evokes a triangle of carpet lifted gently from the pier’s concrete surface by a strong wind.

The design emanated from the New York offices of the architecture firm BIG, which developed the pavilion to fit into a larger landscape architecture master plan project developed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. (MVVA), with offices in Brooklyn and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The project dramatically transforms the former site of industrial warehouses into a lush, green park with spectacular views of Manhattan.

What is now Brooklyn Bridge Park was once part of the largest private freight terminal in the world, owned by the New York Dock Company. The port was a bustling hub of commerce well into the 1950s, when container shipping made such older, smaller ports largely obsolete.

The 85-acre park was created in 2002 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and George Pataki, then the governor of the State of New York. The 1.3 mi long, narrow park comprises six piers and several plazas. Completed sections feature sand volleyball courts, children’s playground areas, a giant sandbox, and a dog run.

Pier 5 features five acres of artificial turf that can accommodate a variety of sports, including lacrosse, soccer, and rugby. A completed portion of Pier 6, which serves as one of the gateways to the park, features amenities designed to engage children. Installations of elaborate swings, slides, and climbing structures were designed by experts in childhood activities.

Pavilion rendering, offering park visitors sweeping, uninterrupted views of Manhattan

The pavilion, which will be universally accessible thanks to its
gentle slope, will offer park visitors sweeping, uninterrupted views
of Manhattan. Courtesy of BIG

“The [pavilion] project is one of the last pieces of Brooklyn Bridge Park,” explains Thomas Christoffersen, a partner of BIG. The site “has these amazing views over the harbor. You actually are south of the southern tip of Manhattan. So you have a view all the way across the harbor to New Jersey. You also have a beautiful view up through the bridges—the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the Manhattan Bridge.” 

Christoffersen says the expansive views, accessibility issues, and a desire for a pavilion with an open, airy atmosphere led the team to the seamless design. The park and the pavilion will be built atop the concrete slabs of the pier; Christoffersen likens it to a 2 ft thick carpet that stops approximately 25 ft short of the water’s edge.

“In the beginning, we did something that was very simple,” Christoffersen recalls. “Because the park is built on top of an existing concrete slab, we basically created the pavilion as if you are lifting up the landscape. So what we are doing is peeling up the corner and pulling the corner toward the corner of the pier.” The pavilion roof will be nearly 18 ft high at the tallest point, providing visitors with a panoramic viewpoint.

This simple, elegant idea brought a great many benefits to the project. The gentle slopes created by the solution solve any concerns about accessibility. The seamless transition from landscape to pavilion makes the enclosure more easily accessible by visitors seeking shade or shelter from the rain. It also resulted in a doubling of the usable space under the roof.

Night rendering of the pavilion with its platform lifted up, offering visitors a  'Titanic moment'

By lifting the viewing platform upward and bringing it to a point, the
architects offer visitors a “Titanic moment,” while also providing
space below for recreation. Courtesy of BIG

“We thought if you lift people up ever so slightly you would have a much better view over the harbor. We formed it into a peak to create a Titanic moment when you have the view in solitude,” Christoffersen says. 

The pavilion will be constructed primarily from glue-laminated timber and cross-laminated timber. The team chose the wood materials for their light weight, durability, sustainability, and fire resistance. But the choice created a structural engineering challenge.

“Structurally we have some challenges with weight,” Christoffersen says. “The existing pier is standing on wooden piles and it cannot take much more load than what it is taking now. Because of the accessibility of the roof of the pavilion, we are doubling the live load of that corner. And then, adding the structure itself.”

So although the pier’s concrete slabs are already supported by large wooden piles, the pavilion will be supported by columns founded on new, 24 in. diameter, steel pipe piles with wall thicknesses of 1/2 in. The piles will be placed between the existing wooden piles with a vibro-hammer and then driven with a diesel hammer through the final approximately 20 ft. The New York office of Knippers Helbig is providing structural engineering on the project. CH2M HILL, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, is providing marine engineering.

The structural engineering is a balancing act, working to minimize the number of columns needed, and thus the expense of boring piles—yet also minimizing the spans and cantilevers, Christoffersen says. 

Exterior rendering of the pavilion being supported by columns

The pavilion will be supported by columns founded on new, 24 in.
diameter, steel pipe piles that will be placed between the pier’s
existing wooden piles. Courtesy of BIG

“Knippers Helbig always tries to work with and amplify the architectural concept,” said Hauke Jungjohann, a director in the firm’s New York City office, in written responses to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “For this project BIG wanted to create a uniform, ‘floating’ wooden structure. The structural system derives entirely from this goal: steel beams required for longer spans are concealed, lateral bracing is hidden in the lowest portion of the platform, columns are pin-connected to maximize their slenderness, and ultimately, solid laminated wood panels are used for the platform structure.”

The laminated wood is used as a load-bearing element, Jungjohann explained. “This type of structure is advantageous because the details are not maintenance intensive and the material has a sustainable quality,” he said. “Solid wood structures store massive amounts of carbon dioxide. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide stored in such structures often exceeds the amount used for their fabrication and installation. This makes solid wood structures very appealing compared to steel or concrete structures. In a global context, taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it effectively is one the most pressing challenges of mankind. The use of a renewable resource like wood in construction is a very elegant and efficient way to contribute to the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

The dramatic views from the pavilion and its openness create flexibility for it to be used as a performance space, Christoffersen notes. The pavilion roof could serve either as a stage or as audience seating for a performance in the park.

“There are differing possibilities of utilizing the pavilion for different types of events,” Christoffersen says. “It’s not designed for a specific use, but it opens a lot of different opportunities.”

The design and construction team for the project includes Tilotson Design Associates, New York City, lighting design; AltieriSeborWieber LLC Consulting Engineers, Norwalk, Connecticut, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design; Pantocraft, Inc., New York City, expediter; and Formactiv, Brooklyn, code consultant. The schedule calls for groundbreaking this spring and completion in early 2015.



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