ULI Heritage Award Winner: Battery Park City

In a city of continual and often disconcerting change, Battery Park City is that rare New York hybrid: a pioneering urban experiment that has stood the test of time. In recognition of this fact, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently bestowed its prestigious Heritage Award on Battery Park City, citing its influence on the field of architecture and urban design. In the three decades since the Battery Park City Master Plan was first created, Battery Park City has evolved into a fully-fledged, mature community – part and parcel of its surroundings. Further proof of its resilience can be seen in how Battery Park City has managed to accommodate many changes in the fabric of Lower Manhattan over the last thirty years. In particular, Battery Park City has been integral to Lower Manhattan’s ongoing evolution from a business district to a mixed-use residential neighborhood of choice, replete with cultural and educational institutions, and waterfront and neighborhood open spaces.

At a time when gloomy pessimism about New York’s future as a livable city prevailed, the 1979 Master Plan for Battery Park City represented a bold statement of confidence about the enduring value of urban life. The Plan envisioned Battery Park City as an extension of the Downtown street grid, organizing the neighborhood around classic New York public space typologies. The first phase of the Master Plan, Rector Place, established ten apartment buildings arranged around Rector Park – a small and highly focused example of what was to come. The Plan also established a unique set of design guidelines for the Battery Park City Authority to encourage and ensure the architectural variety and quality found in many of New York’s older neighborhoods. While Rector Place was completed in the 1980s, it has taken over twenty more years to build out the rest of the Battery Park City Master Plan, a plan that mapped out 92 acres including a commercial and retail district, two residential districts, marinas, and a generous amount parks, open space, and public streets. The last two sites in Battery Park City, two “green” residential towers designed by EE&K Architects, are currently under construction. They round out what has become a living, breathing example of mixed-use development – a neighborhood that is both urban and sustainable in its truest sense.

Battery Park City established a new paradigm for large-scale urban design, where buildings were designed to shape public spaces and addresses. The jury for the ULI Heritage Award recognized the influence it has had on large-scale urban developments, moving away from the modernist, approach that favored “object buildings” and automobile-scale convenience over the pedestrian experience. At a time when many architects and urban designers were turning their backs on the vitality of the City’s traditional mixed-use fabric, the Battery Park City Master Plan celebrated it. Its influence can be seen such wide-ranging places as Canary Wharf in London and Queens West in Long Island City, and the New Urbanist movement. Architects and students of urbanism around the world have looked to Battery Park City for inspiration as they try to reinvent and redevelop the fabric of their own cities.

To visit Battery Park City today is to experience a place that celebrates both the urban experience and the site’s unique waterfront setting. Public spaces such as the Esplanade, the South Cove, and Rector Place have matured and become cherished parts of the urban fabric, culture and everyday life of Lower Manhattan. Much credit is due to the Battery Park City Conservancy for the natural beauty, upkeep, and programming of the neighborhood’s 36 acres of open space. The architecture of Battery Park City plays a more subtle – but no less important – role in defining the neighborhood’s gracious urbanity. Designed by the star architects of the time, Battery Park City’s initial buildings were conceived as backgrounds for the public spaces. Both the residential and office buildings have aged gracefully under the watchful eye and stewardship of the Battery Park City Authority. Over the last three decades, they have made sure that the design quality of new construction has hewn closely to the original vision. Built between the early 1980s and 2010, Battery Park City’s buildings work in concert to produce a complex urban whole.

Looking back, it is clear that one of Battery Park City’s most valuable – and least predictable – qualities is its inherent resilience. The neighborhood has been able to accommodate many changes not specifically incorporated in its founding vision including public schools, playgrounds and ball fields, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. By devoting fully one third of the original 92-acre site to open green space, the Master Plan made a strong statement from the beginning about the integral role of parks, waterfront and nature in the urban grid. Additionally, the Battery Park City Authority had the wisdom and vision to nurture the inherent sustainability of the Master Plan, overlaying new sustainability guidelines on the Master Plan. As a result, Battery Park City today is a model not just for students of urban design but for urban environmentalists as well.

More information about ULI’s Awards for Excellence program is at link .

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (www.uli.org) is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has more than 33,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

Urban Land Institute