A new park surrounding the IKEA store in Red Hook, site of the former Todd Shipyard, was a requirement stipulated by New York City’s Planning Commission.
The design intent was twofold. First, the park needed to remind visitors of the historical significance of the site, once a thriving shipyard where ships from all over the globe were repaired and where hundreds of workers from the neighboring communities were employed. Second, it needed to identify major access points leading to the location, orient visitors within the seven-acre park, and effectively guide them to their intended destinations…..or not. The design also encourages visitors to wander around, take in, and enjoy the waterside scene.
Working in close collaboration, Russell Design and Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture strove to preserve a sense of New York’s declining maritime tradition. While it was not possible to retain many of the remnants of the former shipyard (for example, the former dry dock, one of the largest on the East Coast, is now the IKEA parking lot), the essence of the site’s former use comes alive when visitors experience the remnants the design team did manage to save.
Real artifacts, such as giant cranes, bollards, winches, and dry dock gates, were salvaged and their function and history are explained concisely for visitors. For example, the chocks used to prop up ships while in dry dock were used to mount a series of names, a memorial to all the ships repaired there over the years.
The design team worked with local historians and former shipyard workers to research and document information about the site and the Erie Basin. Supplemental written information interprets the artifacts only briefly, and only when necessary. In general, non-text techniques were used to convey information to visitors of varying social and ethnic backgrounds.
A somewhat restrictive budget was overcome by using simple, robust materials such as stainless steel and digital high-pressure laminate for interpretive panels, as well as by reusing existing materials and refurbished artifacts. A sculptural, painted-steel totem sign identifies the park, and interpretive panels were affixed to the running rail encircling the site. The materials and techniques were chosen to remind visitors of the past, but will hopefully last long into the future.
Overall, the result is a memorable experience that informs visitors of the shipyard’s history and at the same time invites them to explore the great diversity of the surrounding community.
Anthony Russell (principal/creative director), Trish Solsaa (project director), Harriet Spear (associate designer)
Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture (landscape architecture), Fisher Marantz Stone (lighting design), Weidlinger Associates International (structural engineers)
MSD Visual (exhibits, interpretive panels)