By Sarah Trefethen
When the new hotel and residential complex scheduled for completion at Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2015 opens its doors, residents and guests will have as their backyard and playground 85 acres of reclaimed waterfront that its builders and designers hail as a model of sustainable, eco-friendly design.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by the landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, has been under construction in phases since 2010.
Its forward-thinking and award-winning design was crafted to pay tribute to the history of the waterfront, including the reintroduction of native waterfront plants and the reuse of building materials in the park infrastructure.
The project has also turned a hot, uninviting stretch of asphalt into an oasis of green.
“On a day like today you could not stand on that parking lot for more than five or ten minutes without being overwhelmed by that heat,” Andy Schroder of Skanska USA, the project manager oversaw construction on Pier 1, Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Plaza and Fulton Ferry Park, said during last week’s heat wave. “Now you could stay all day.”
On less sunny days, rain that falls on the park is collected in large, underground cisterns and then reused to water plants and grass. The cistern at Pier 6 holds approximately 135,000 gallons of water, while Fulton Ferry Park can take 90,000 gallons at a time and the Pier 1 cistern can hold 90,000 gallons.
Not only is this water kept out of the city’s overtaxed sewer system, the park saves the money it would otherwise spend on a water bill to keep the greenery green. The buyback period on the cisterns could be a little as five years, according to Schroder.
“When you think of the park being a continuous thing that’s going to be there for 100 years it makes phenomenal sense,” he said.
Among the aging industrial infrastructure that formerly dominated the park’s stretch of waterfront was a trio of cold storage buildings from the 1800s which, when demolished, yielded a million board feet of now-rare Longleaf Yellow Pine. The wood was used to construct benches in the park, and as the wooden cladding from some of the structures.
Re-using the wood was not a cost-saving measure, Schroder said, as the wood could have been sold and less durable wood purchased to construct the benches. But the chosen approach yielded a higher-quality product and avoided the harvesting of additional trees.
“From an ecological standpoint or an environmental standpoint it was a huge benefit,” Schroder said.
Other materials reused in the park included granite recovered from work on the Willis Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue Bridges. The stone can be found in the steps on Pier 1 and in the seating area near a newly established tidal marsh – planted with smooth cord grass and intended as a home to marine and aquatic bird life.
Other ecosystems have been preserved though the decision to use existing piers in the creation of the park, Schroder said. Leaving the piers in place means the wildlife that has made its home there is not disturbed.
“You have birds nesting on the piles and fish that can spawn and get the food they need,” he said. “There’s a symbiosis between the historical relic sense and an ecological green positive, if you will.”
Work on a picnic area on Pier 5 is underway, and it is scheduled to open this year. Pier 2 and the upland area of Pier 3 should open in 2013, and additional, as-yet unfunded plans exist for developing Pier 3 and the upland area above Pier 5, according to the park website.
Last week the park’s board of directors chose a joint venture between Toll Brothers City Living and Starwood Capital Group as the developer of an approximately 550,000-square-foot complex that will include a 200-room luxury hotel and 159 residential units upland of Pier 1.
The ten-story hotel and residential complex and five-story residential building, designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, will “feature a stepped façade of stone and metal, sculpted to embrace the unparalleled views of the New York harbor and the park,” according to a press release from Mayor Michael Bloomburg’s office.