In June 2018, the Ronald Reagan Library released the master tapes of the Mikhail Gorbachev’s famed 1988 New York Trip: his last meeting with outgoing US president Ronald Reagan. The meeting took place on Governors Island just before Gorbachev announced unilateral arms cuts at the United Nations, effectively ending the Cold War. Accompanied by the laughter of the big crowd of photojournalists, Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush, and Gorbachev struggle to read the marks on the paving at Governors Island telling them who should stand in which place for the iconic photo shoot with the Statue of Liberty as backdrop. That scene is the only moment during the whole of the recorded 73 minutes and 50 seconds the island itself is dealt with. It is the moment in which the protagonists must adapt to the island and not just use it as a commodity.
Over the last 500+ years, inhabitants and users have left their imprint on the Governors Island: not only extracting natural resources and constructing piers, buildings, and fortifications, but by literally modifying the ground and form of the Island itself. As use of the Island has changed over time, it has been implicated in an ever-evolving set of extended relationships with its context. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Lenni-Lenape tribe used the island as a fishing ground. After a short use by the Dutch West India Company, the Island was dedicated for the “benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors,“ who used it as a game reserve and later rented it to farmers. Following the Revolutionary War, the Island became the property of the US Government, which made it a key part of the national military defense system of the United States, providing a location for recruitment barracks and depots, a Confederate war prison, and U.S. Army headquarters. Excavations from the Lexington Avenue Subway were used as landfill and added 106 Acres to the Island beginning in 1901. In 1966, the Island became a Coast Guard installation. For most of this history, the Island was a mystery to ordinary New Yorkers— visible in the distance but inaccessible to all but a few.
It was only in 2006 that Governors Island finally became a part of the public space network of New York. The Trust for Governors Island, a non-profit organization created by the City of New York was set up to shepherd the planning and ongoing redevelopment of the Island. For the first time, New Yorkers were given access to the spectacular shifting views of Manhattan, New Jersey, Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island offered from the Island, as the Trust established ferry service from Maritime Pier, creating the first regular public connection between the Island and Manhattan. Following an international design competition, a new park landscape designed by West 8 in the southern part of the Island was completed in 2014, further signifying the shifting role of the Island in New York’s public life.
But Governors Island is far from being a stable spatial condition—it is still very much in the making. Characterized today by a mixture of unused military and industrial zones, National Historic Monuments, formal and informal landscapes, maritime piers, temporary and permanent amusements and concessions, it still has the sense of an open composition—one which has yet to fulfill its potential and is still filled with opportunities—something quite rare in a city like New York.
The advanced design studio …And More will begin with this simple provocation, focusing on Governors Island itself as a physical object. Individual architectural explorations will consider the island as a place and as an urban condition with a distinct public use(s) within the urban fabric of New York. Rather than deploying standard formulas of urban development, or focusing on the picturesque qualities of the island, we will instead explore the infrastructures that can connect the island with its surroundings, and describe how discreet architectural projects can change the way the island functions within its City and region.
We will begin the studio by spending a day and night on the Island, exploring its conditions and potentials at various times of day and observing the rhythms of the Island. Early in the semester we will develop a detailed atlas of the Island as a collaborative studio effort, and will broaden our horizon of thoughts related to islands through short and intense individual research work.
During travel week, the studio will visit North American islands with similar conditions and meet with the people and institutions in charge of programming, planning and operating the islands. We start with Toronto Island, a series of 15 islands composed or recreational areas and a major new redevelopment led by Google at Quayside on the Toronto waterfront, then continue to Granville Island—a 38-acre former salt flat in the center of fast-growing Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. In California, the studio will have the unique opportunity to visit two major redevelopment projects at varying stages of their development; first the Presidio, a 1500 acre former U.S. military base at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, and end by visiting some of the small artificial infrastructural islands in Los Angeles.
The studio will be led by Simon Hartmann, Principal of HHF Architects in Switzerland and Bishop Visiting Professor of Architectural Design, in close collaboration with Micheal M. Samuelian, President and CEO of the Trust of Governors Island, and Bass Visiting Fellow 2018 at Yale School of Architecture. Andrei Harwell will assist as a Studio Critic for the semester.