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The Little Island is one of the newest gems in the New York City public park scene. Located at the division between the Chelsea and Meatpacking District neighborhoods at 13th St, the park is constructed on top of the old Pier 54 which had fallen into disrepair in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The supports for the island are constructed from 280 concrete pillars. Atop the pillars are 132 uniquely shaped concrete “tulips” which essentially act as planting pots. The tulips are filled with dirt and then grass, flowers and trees are planted on top. The park spans 2.4 acres and juts into the Hudson River, connected to land by two gangplanks.

The construction of Little Island began in the spring of 2018 and was completed in the spring of 2021. Funding for the project came from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Trust in the form of a $260 million donation and the family has pledged another $120 million for future park maintenance.

Innovative Concept

The design for the park is inspired by a leaf floating on water which explains the Little Island’s unique shape and appearance. Some may be disappointed to find that the park does not actually float, it is anchored to the floor of the Hudson River via the tulip-shaped concrete pillars.

However as the water level in the river fluctuates, the Little Island does appear to be floating.

This conceptual choice is part of what sets the park apart because it gives the Island a more ethereal appearance. This feeling of ethereality is further exacerbated once you are on the island, the gently rolling hills and separation from the shore simulate the sensation of floating on a cloud – a giant concrete cloud.

The ingenuity of the Little Island allows it to stand out from the other piers at Hudson River Park, it is a well-manicured, carefully-constructed green oasis.

Astounding Design

Thomas Heatherwick, a London-based designer, was charged with designing the Little Island. Heatherwick recently completed the Vessel, a magnificent hive-shaped structure that opened in Hudson Yards and thus was familiar with the area. For this project, the designer wanted to focus on manipulating topography to create a park experience that was entirely unique from the other piers in the Hudson River Park.

The Vessel designed by Thomas Heatherwick, Image Source

In doing so, the varied points of elevation in the park offer innumerable unique vantage points from which to enjoy the ambiance of the city. This design choice creates a more dynamic range in elevation and thus a more dynamic experience. Though the rolling hills aren’t the only feature worth mentioning.

The landscape of Little Island was planned by Signe Nielsen of MNLA. It is incredibly lush, featuring over 350 species of trees, flowers, and shrubs. The ambiance changes with the seasons as the plantings are staggered, from fall foliage to winter evergreens, to spring flowers. One of the island’s entrances takes visitors underneath two of the concrete tulips and into the center of the park, this design choice allows for guests to feel like they are entering another world, removed from the city.

There is an air of whimsy on the Little Island, from the unique shape and structure of the park itself to the flowing, curvy pathways that carve out pathways on the hills and around the perimeter.

When you are on the island, it is easy to understand the designer’s creative intentions, everything flows and blends together into this delightfully unique experience that borders on magical.

The Hudson River Park Gardens and Trees, Gallery Source

Plethora of Content

Aside from the surreal nature of design, there is a broad array of activities one can enjoy when visiting the Little Island. There are countless vantage points and overlooks to explore that survey the Hudson River and New York skyline which provides a variety of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.

If performances or music is your thing, Little Island has two stages with frequent programming. The larger of the two, aptly named “The Amph”, can seat up to 687 people, it is built West-facing so visitors can enjoy a magnificent view of the sunset during performances. The smaller stage faces a lawn and provides a more intimate performance atmosphere. The types of performances include music, dance, theater, and educational programming. Past performances have featured Broadway artists and dancers from the American Ballet Theatre.

The central plaza, dubbed “The Playground” features a rotating selection of local food and beverage vendors as well as ample seating. But if you would rather sit and enjoy your food picnic-style then the lawn referred to as “The Glade” is perfect for you. There is very little ambiance better for a picnic than on the Glade, surrounded by flowers, facing New York’s impressive skyline.

The Wetlab - A Hudson River

Marine Science

Live music

Dancing With Virtual
Bollywood & Bhangra

Events at the Hudson River Park, Gallery Source

No matter what activities suit your fancy, your experience on the Little Island will be unforgettable. It is an innovation of park design in the 21st century, it redefines what a park can look and feel like and is paving the way for the future of creative landscape design.