New York City is now 10 days away from the unveiling of “Waterfalls,” the much anticipated (and hyped) $15 million public art project by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The project, the biggest public art installation since “The Gates,” the Christo and Jeanne-Claude work in Central Park in 2005, is already being hyped, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg saying the work could evoke the awe that led 16th-century European explorers to compare the New York shoreline to the Garden of Eden. (Seriously.)
Beginning in mid-March, workers have carefully assembled the four giant scaffolds that will support the waterfalls: at Pier 35, just north of the Manhattan Bridge; at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo, Brooklyn; between Piers 4 and 5 near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade; and on the north shore of Governors Island, which is open to the public throughout the summer. Last week, the real estate blog Curbed published images of the waterfall at Pier 35 actually being tested.
The waterfalls will range from 90 to 120 feet; “the two tallest will be roughly as high as the Statue of Liberty from head to toe and three-quarters the height of Niagara Falls,” Mayor Bloomberg noted on Sunday, in his weekly radio address.
All told, the scaffolding used for “Waterfalls” measures 64,000 square feet and weighs 270 tons; the materials will be re-used in future construction projects after the work closes on Oct. 13. The waterfalls will be turned on every day from June 26 to Oct. 13, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will be lighted after sunset. More details are available at the project’s official Web site.
Stacy Bolton, a spokeswoman for the Public Art Fund, a nonprofit group, established in 1977, which is sponsoring “The Waterfalls” in a partnership with the city, said the construction has gone off largely without a hitch.
“During the planning process, the logistics of the plan were very difficult to navigate, and at one point the team considered building the waterfalls on barges in the middle of the river, but that idea was nixed for many practical considerations, including power sources, and environmental concerns,” Ms. Bolton said in an e-mail message.
Ms. Bolton noted that pile-driving on the riverbed would have created significant problems. “Pile-driving at the Pier 35, Governors Island, and Brooklyn Promenade sites would have had to avoid causing vibrations at the F-train tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery tunnel, and the 2 and 3 trains (respectively),” Ms. Bolton wrote. “The design team came up with an alternate solution (except at Governors Island) to avoid piles.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg used his weekly radio address on Sunday to drum up excitement about the project. The mayor said, in part:
The project promises to make a big splash in our local economy by attracting thousands of sightseers to town, who will then spend money in our restaurants, hotels and stores. And that money will go straight into the pockets of hard-working New Yorkers. In addition, the project’s design takes steps to protect fish and other aquatic life, which means that for the more than three months they’re up, the Waterfalls will have little impact on the environment.
But it is going to have a big impact on our imaginations. One of the great things about the best public art is that it encourages us to re-discover — even just briefly — some of the parts of our city that we often take for granted. Our waterfront is one of the most magical parts of New York; when the first Dutch settlers sailed into the Harbor centuries ago, they looked at the shoreline and compared it to the Garden of Eden. The “Waterfalls” project will help bring that sense of awe back to the Harbor, and get more New Yorkers out to enjoy our wonderful parks and open spaces.
The mayor also put in plugs for Circle Line Downtown, which is providing sightseeing cruises in partnership with the Public Art Fund; the Staten Island Ferry and Governors Island Ferry, which are both free; and, of course, the city’s Web site, which has a map of the waterfalls and a recommended bike route [pdf].
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, as part of its efforts to promote downtown tourism, is contributing $2 million toward the cost of the project.
Ms. Bolton, the spokeswoman for the Public Art Fund, was asked whether any ceremonies or public events were planned for the debut of the artwork on June 26.
“The waterfalls will just be turned on!” she replied, via e-mail.