Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park, 1.3 miles long and more than 20 years in the making, has transformed an abandoned waterfront into a public landscape visited by 5 million people a year. MVVA has been involved in the project since its inception in 1999 through hundreds of public meetings, multiple master plans, and ultimately the design and construction of the park in several phases starting in 2008. The park was completed, with the dedication of Emily Roebling Plaza under the Brooklyn Bridge, in December 2021.
The park sets a benchmark for waterfront projects globally that both reconnect cities to their shorelines and provide storm buffers in the face of climate change. Design features key to the park’s success include a massive sound-deflecting landform sheltering the site from highway noise; reuse of found materials for everything from furniture to stone terraces; thriving and diverse ecologies; nature-based play and other innovative play spaces; an exceptional range of active recreational programs; and a self-sustaining economic model that has become a new standard for ambitious public space projects.
Over 22 years and more than 400 public meetings, Brooklynites shaped the park. The idea for Brooklyn Bridge Park came from the public in response to a proposed plan to build apartment towers at the water’s edge. Through advocacy and community engagement, the vision of an accessible, continuous riverfront park became a reality.
Transforming the Waterfront
Understanding the complexity of the site and the vastness of its setting was the origin point for our approach to designing the park. We wanted to keep many of the elements that made the site unique—the tangible history of a working port and the vast borrowed landscape of the harbor.
Immense and Intimate
The park balances the monumental scale of its surroundings with places of intimacy. At moments, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the Manhattan skyline, and the boundless East River and New York Harbor present themselves in a single panoramic view; other times they are glimpsed across a field or through a sheltering canopy of leaves.
When MVVA started work on the park, numerous urban design challenges kept the existing site isolated and cut off from the city. In response, we stretched the park, lengthening the site to the north and south to connect to more neighborhoods. We created new entries at site extensions that tied the park to major transportation hubs and invited diverse users from across the city. We envisioned new ways of getting to the park through expanded bus stops, water taxis, Citi Bikes, parking, and subway connections.
These “urban junctions” were constructed first, drawing users to the unfinished park and creating excitement for the opening of each subsequent section. They were connected to play areas, concessions, and other programs with immediate use and appeal, giving families easy access and quickly making the park a part of daily life. Knitting the junctions together from end to end is a 30-foot-wide promenade, which was also prioritized in the schedule so users could experience the full extent of the park even during construction.
Oversized piers and varied structural conditions created opportunities for highly diverse programming across the site. In upland areas and where the existing piers could support the weight, new landforms expand the range of views, experiences, and landscape conditions compared to the relentlessly flat port.
Taming the BQE
MVVA transformed the noisy and oppressive east edge of the site into a lushly planted landform. A feat of engineering that doubles as a beloved landscape setting, the sound berm significantly reduces the noise generated by the multilayered Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
The Water’s Edge
A key move was replacing the failing seawalls with a flood-tolerant stone rip-rap shoreline. The variety of newly constructed and naturalized shoreline edges supports a host of experiences connecting users to the water.
Varying the composition and character of planting across the park enables even frequent users to discover something new with each visit. Meticulously cultivated plant habitats, including salt and freshwater wetlands, miniature forests, meadows, and gardens provide an ever-changing human-scale experience. At the same time, the collage-like layering of different plant communities and the framing of long views with planted forms make a relatively narrow band of parkland feel as expansive as the surrounding East River and New York Harbor.
Everyday materials make the park feel welcoming. Adapting the aesthetic language of the former marine terminal helped forge a unique identity and connect the site to its industrial past.
Material reuse is seen throughout the park in various design elements, from reclaimed granite to milled long-leaf yellow pine used on park benches. Many of the raw materials in the park are reclaimed from historic New York City infrastructure, such as the stone salvaged from the reconstruction of the Roosevelt Island Bridge.
With five million visitors annually, the park offers something for everybody. It has become a vital part of Brooklyn, beloved by residents and tourists alike.
Brooklyn Bridge Park recieves the Rosa Barba International Landscape Architecture Prize at the 11th International Landscape Architecture Biennial in Barcelona