Little Island and C&G

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This past May, New York City opened its newest public park: Little Island. The park’s avant-garde design and prominent location—seeming to float above the Hudson River—has made it the latest “must see” attraction in New York. SEGD member firms C&G Partners (EGD designers) and DCL (fabricators) collaborated with the park’s architects, engineers, and landscape architects to create a program of family friendly signage and graphics for this “oasis of everything fun, whimsical and playful.”

Contributor Franck Mercurio speaks with Jonathan Alger, Managing Partner of C&G, to learn more.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City. Its high-velocity winds devastated hundreds of properties, damaging the city’s infrastructure and killing 44 people. Sandy also destroyed Pier 55, a key component of the Hudson River Park system, which once hosted popular musical performances and dances.

As New York started to recover from the devastation, Barry Diller of the Diller–von Furstenberg Foundation began to imagine a new park experience where Pier 55 once stood.

“If you’re going to rebuild a pier, you’re really building an island,” says Barry about the idea behind the new park. “What is your experience upon leaving the city? What are you seeing? What makes [this park] look a bit like an enchanted forest?”

Nine years after its conception, “Little Island” (complete with enchanted forests and family-friendly spaces and activities) opened to the public on May 21, 2021, providing New Yorkers with a much-needed escape from the current disaster: 16 months of Covid quarantine.

From an aerial perspective, the park appears to be a simple square plot of land situated within the Hudson River and connected to Manhattan by two walkways. But Little Island’s elevational perspective is truly astounding: 280 tulip-shaped reinforced concrete pylons anchor the park into the riverbed while supporting an undulating surface of trees and plantings.

“The vision is of a leaf floating on the water,” says Signe Nielsen, Principal at Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA), one of three firms who collaborated on the park’s design, including Heatherwick Studio (architects) and Arup (engineers).

Aside from its trees and plantings, “the leaf” also provides spaces and activities catering to visitors of all ages, including a 687-seat amphitheater overlooking the Hudson, a central plaza with seating and food service, and an intimate stage and lawn space.

There is a lot to do and see at Little Island, including a rotating program of performances by the park’s artists-in-residence. So, to help visitors find their way and learn about Little Island’s many offerings, SEGD member firm C&G Partners created the park’s wayfinding, branding guidelines and promotional graphic design package.

C&G’s graphic elements include posters, wayfinding signage, park maps, and even graphic “wraps” for the food and beverage trucks—all riffing on fun, colorful, family-friendly design themes derived from nature—which is perhaps not what many visitors might expect in this part of New York where nearby neighbors include the Highline and the Whitney Museum with their sophisticated design programs and cultural offerings.

“I think one of the interesting things about this project is that [Little Island] is a public park, and it’s for all New York,” says Jonathan Alger, Managing Partner of C&G. “So, when you see the quality of design and colors and shapes, it’s meant to be very disarming; it’s meant to be very family friendly; it’s meant to be kid friendly; it’s meant to be colorful, and almost to a certain degree, a little bit sort of intentionally naïve.”

Perhaps more sophisticated are Little Island’s wayfinding signs constructed of corten steel (a.k.a. weathered steel) with laser cut text in Chelsea Market typeface and illuminated from within. The signage—fabricated by SEGD member firm DCL—conveys a simple and straightforward look, yet the rusted surfaces fit well within the surrounding “nature” of the park. It strikes a balance between art and nature, in a similar way to the park’s overall design intentions.

“That’s what Little Island is. It’s somewhere between nature and art,” says Jonathan. “Am I in a park? Or am I actually in an artwork? Am I walking onto a sculpture? The goals that [the architects] had in making something that is somewhere between nature and art, they really did succeed.”

Perhaps Barry Diller sums up these design intentions best:

“I want this park experience to be leaving the city and going to Oz,” says Barry. “All of it is an oasis of everything fun, whimsical and playful.”

And much of that playfulness, whimsy and fun is made possible by C&G’s designs.