Aerial view of Little Island. Photo by Michael Grimm

Little Island, Island within Manhattan
‘Little Island’ is like a small city within Manhattan, but also a place that will make you feel like you’ve gone away from the bustling New York. In many ways, Little Island is the new standard for public spaces.
Little Island is a new park situated by the Hudson River in western Manhattan. But it’s more than your average park. It’s such a unique place. For one, it floats on water. Secondly, it’s too square to be called an island, but has too many undulations to be called a park. Thirdly, there are always festive feelings in the air. Would you like to find out more?

Little Island seen from a riverside walking trail. Photo by Michael Grimm

Park Floating on Water
Little Island is situation between Piers 54 and 56 by the Hudson River in western Manhattan, which suffered massive damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For a comp with Manhattan, think of West 13th Street, between the Chelsea Market and Whitney Museum. A billionaire named Barry Diller had this brilliant vision of his behind the island, whose plans were put in place in 2013.
“What was in my mind was to build something for the people of New York and for anyone who visits—a space that on first sight was dazzling, and upon use made people happy.”
Barry Diller

New scenery comes into view after every turn. Photo by Michael Grimm

Diller, chairman of the media group IAC, and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, wanted to show something unique to people visiting New York. Their wishes aligned with plans by Hudson River Park Trust to rework old piers. The wealthy couple shelled out $260 million in their partnership, leading the effort to revive broken-down, dilapidated piers.
Inspired by Old Ruined Piers
Heatherwick Studio, the British architectural firm in charge of Little Island’s design, was particularly taken with the “piles.” That is, the wooden piles that had once supported piers. And they inspired architects who wanted to preserve the identity of the original piers. This led to 280 large, concrete piles. Since the park had to be built on water, construction proved to be challenging. It took three weeks just to measure the depth of bedrock in the river. And putting down these new piles had to be precise, with no room for error. And doing so required 10 months. The old piles from Pier 54 remained in their spots, and the massive habitats for marine life could be preserved, too.

Tulip Pots that help complete the park’s sculptural shape. Photo by Michael Grimm

New York seen from ‘The Glade.’ Photo by Michael Grimm

The white garden, formed along the slope. Photo by Signe Nielsen

There’s so much more to the park. On top of the concrete piles of different heights, tulip-shaped concrete pots, totaling 132, were placed, as the park began to take shape. The ‘Tulip Pot’ literally serves as a pot. It holds soil, and grass and trees were planted, so that people could walk on them. The Tulip Pot had four to six concrete ‘petals’ connected with one another by steel. No two pots have the same shape. Architects also built two bridges between the island and the land, helping make visitors feel like they’re traveling into a whole new place.
“The feeling of going across to an island is something that gives you permission to be different and to feel something different and for different things to happen”
Thomas Heatherwick

The sunset seen from the hill on the southwestern end. Photo by Michael Grimm

The southwestern corner has the highest vantage point in the park. Photo by Michael Grimm

Wonderful and Fascinating World of Oz
Diller, who has long supported ‘public spaces’ that can be enjoyed by many, kept pushing his team of architects to create a place that didn’t exist anywhere else. The Tulip Pots of different heights and shapes give the park dramatic undulations, each new step creating different sensations than the one before. If a regular park with a flat surface can bring you a sense of comfort, a hill at the tail end of an undulating course can act as an observatory deck, with a view to the New York skyline and the Hudson River. And Little Island makes sure you get to enjoy such unique experiences at every corner, with such finely-tuned ridges, walking paths and steps. You may run into people at the most unexpected spots, the kind of fun experience that you may have had as a kid at amusement parks.

Wooden benches that dot the park. Photo by Michael Grimm

‘Green Vase,’ or Zelkova serrata trees. Photo by Michael Grimm

Signe Nielsen, head of the New York-based landscaping firm MNLA, breathed life into Little Island. Nielsen imagined a tree leafs floating on water, and tried to create an environment that could be comfortably enjoyed throughout the year, across all seasons. She picked out native trees and plants that could survive the brutal New York winter, and 114 trees and 66,000 species of bulbous plants were put in place. Towering trees fit so seamlessly into the park, as if they’d been on the island the whole time. Some of them will grow as tall as 18 meters.

Pigpen Theatre Co. performing at The Amph. Photo Courtesy of Little Island

Vibrant World of Performing Arts
There’s another reason behind such distinctive terrains of Little Island. The deeper you go inside, the higher the slopes rise on the two corners. They help block off the wind blowing in off the river, which in turn creates a snug feeling inside. And this is where the large, outdoor theater fits in. The amphitheater can hold about 700 people. It’s simply called ‘The Amph,’ and it reveals yet another side of Little Island’s identity as a staunch patron of performing arts in New York. Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation has pledged to support performing arts programs and to help run the park for the next 20 years. The park hosts performances by New York’s local musicians and performers six days a week, ranging from music concerts to circus to dance and live comedy. Workshop programs for people of all ages are also available. Almost every event is offered free of charge.

Little Island also features ‘The Glade,’ a smaller theater on grass with a capacity of about 200; and Play Ground, which serves special dishes and beverages from small restaurants from New York’s five boroughs.
Admission to the park is free, but we’d recommend making online reservations because it can get crowded. Visit the park’s website for the schedule on upcoming performances.

Hours 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Website Little Island


Where to Stay in New York: LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE
LOTTE NEW YORK PALACE is housed in the late-19th century mansion built by the financier Henry Villard, while also featuring a 55-story modern tower. Having appeared in the popular U.S. TV show and several other films, the hotel has become a must-stop destination in New York. It has 909 rooms, plus a beautiful courtyard inspired by the 15th century Italian cathedral, restaurant Villard, luxury salon Rarities and cocktail bar Trouble’s Trust.

Address 455 Madison Avenue at 50th St., New York
Phone +1-800-804-7035
September 2021 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Writer:Yeah Joon Han-Mann
Cooperation: Little Island

Where to stay?

  • September 2021
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
    Writer: Yeah Joon Han-Mann
  • Cooperation: Little Island
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