At least something’s getting built at the lower tip of Manhattan.
To mark the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival in Manhattan, Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands today unveiled an unfinished pavilion at Battery Park, where the Dutch established the colony of New Amsterdam (though you’re more likely to know the spot as the entrance to the Staten Island ferry terminal.)
The New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion was designed by Ben Van Berkel of UNStudio, an Amsterdam architect who was a finalist in the World Trade Center competition a mile to the north. The unveiling of today’s design must be vindicating, given the quagmire at Ground Zero and the seemingly intractable politics and budget issues delaying the nearby transit hub by Santiago Calatrava.
When it opens in December, the pavilion will stand on a 5,000-square-foot stone platform–or plein, to use the Dutch term– with seating and tables designed by Van Berkel. Walkways will be engraved with maps of New Amsterdam and quotes from “The Island at the Center of the World,” a history of New Amsterdam by Russell Shorto. At the center will stand a pavilion of fiberglass-covered wood and fritted-glass where visitors can buy snacks and consult a map. The structure is shaped like a windmill or the petals of a tulip, though Van Berkel denies having any Dutch imagery in mind. “My only intention was to create a crossing point for 70,000 daily commuters,” he said, “and to link this location to its past and its future. I wanted it to be uplifting–a park that would look to the future.”
It’s a likable little landmark, but does New York really need yet another visitor’s center? A more fitting homage to the city’s Dutch heritage already lies all along the Battery where the Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf has over the past five years transformed a downtrodden park with London plane trees and swaths of prairie and woodland perennials.