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Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park

New York, New York 1992-1996

Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park occupies a unique site, characterized by its relatively small area located at the center of colossal surroundings. This spectacular site is dedicated to public recreation. The main function of this public place — and the reason for its existence — is the privileged viewing of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor. Two points, one at the center of the Statue of Liberty’s base and a second at the intersection of two rectilinear coastal edges at the site's tip, determine a line that becomes the park’s geometric and structuring axis.

The design of the park comprises three main components: a pair of allées that brings pedestrians towards the main park entrance, extending the sidewalks of Battery Place coming from the north and of Battery Park from the south; a pair of pavilions connected by a bridge constituting the main building; and a lawn terrace framed by continuous paths and benches. This "Y" shaped architectural ensemble is the backbone of the park, resting in gardens and fields of grass that connect to the Battery Park City Esplanade and to Battery Park.

The building is conceived as a large, over-scaled, massive masonry wall split in the center, framing the view to the Statue. This wall appears as a remnant or an exposed foundation of a colossal structure, its "crumbling" towards the city alluding to a ruinous condition. This "lithic" formation is used to develop a pair of large public steps that seemingly prolong the allées and bring the public up to a balcony overlooking the lawn and harbor. On the wall’s surfaces, a variety of brick patterns are displayed following a precise figurative symbolic strategy.

The upper level, eighteen feet above the ground, is the truly significant public situation on the park, since the ground level houses restrooms, a café, and maintenance spaces. This pair of balconies — furnished with tall-backed wooden benches and portable tables and chairs — is the ideal ground for contemplation, lunching, and general relaxation. The character of each balcony is quite different from the other: the northern balcony offers a view of the river framed by a large arch, while on the south, the experience of the view is more open and unprotected. From the center of the bridge connecting these two, the viewer's direct relation to the Statue of Liberty is "face to face."

1998 Honor Award for Urban Design National Association of the American Institute of Architects

Noted Quotes

[Machado and Silvetti] have done something great.... The design [for Wagner Park] is perfectly pitched. It avoids the twin perils to which many recent park designs have fallen prey. Neither a pushover for public demands for "something Olmstead" nor an artwork so distinguished that the public is afraid to touch it, Wagner Park promises to be the most confidently urbane of Battery Park City's public spaces.... It is architecture of a creative intelligence not seen before at Battery Park City and too seldom seen anywhere in New York.

Herbert Muschamp
Architecture Critic
The New York Times