The Battery Playscape is located at the tip of Manhattan where land meets sea, locals meet tourists, and the bustle of the city yields to the presence of nature. Ecologically, the site is a dynamic confluence of water and land. Conceived after Hurricane Sandy, the 1.5-acre Playscape responds to the site’s past and future flooding by telling the story of resilience, interwoven with play. It is the last piece of the Battery Conservancy’s masterplan which envisioned a verdant future for the then-dilapidated park. The Playscape realizes that vision through accessible, full body play immersed in planting, natural landforms, and visible water management. It is built to flood and recover, part of the embedded climate change narrative.
The extreme damage caused by Hurricane Sandy underscored both the urgency and opportunity to defend against rising sea levels and to educate a new generation about climate change. The client was interested in incorporating world-class horticulture into the Playscape, allowing for a rare integration of plant life into urban play. The goal was to create an innovative playground with built in resilient measures that would serve as a model for coastline design. The team envisioned a heavily landscaped environment to support the resilient objectives, while providing a space of beauty and respite near the busy financial district, adjacent ferry terminal and active waterfront. The design invites children to see, and therefore value, nature, while encouraging discovery, risk taking and creativity.
In response to the unexpected impact of superstorm Sandy, the Playscape is a benchmark for public space designed for change. The inevitable extreme weather expected requires that landscapes, especially at the waterfront, have inherent resiliency, the ability to recover, and to operate with minimal interruption. The Playscape is designed to work with rather than against the elements. Perennial plantings are inspired by the ecologies of New York State. Salt-water and flood tolerant trees and shrubs were selected. Materials were chosen for their durability and resiliency. The demonstrable water conservation message, along with functional flood mitigation tools including bioswales, and a water holding tank, comprise the most impactful aspects of the Playscape.
Instilling a sense of place and environmental stewardship underpins the design of the Battery Playscape. The horticulture of The Battery and its ecological and cultural history set the scene for each of five play zones, subtly dividing the playground by activity rather than age group, fostering intergenerational and full family play. Ninety percent of the Playscape is fully accessible and encourages multi-sensory and collaborative play that engages children of all abilities and interests. The five zones are each designed around a landscape typology from the Hudson River Valley. Aptly named Bluff, Riverbed, Marsh, Dune and Meadow, each area has distinct play options and unique native planting. Perennial plantings are inspired by the ecologies of New York State. The muted palette allows the plantings to take center stage, showcasing their seasonal change. The demonstrable water conservation message, along with functional flood mitigation tools comprise the most impactful aspects of the Playscape. The Battery is New York City's oldest continually used public space. Visited by 15 million people each year, the landscape design protects the natural environment while meeting the needs of a growing residential population, crowds of bustling commuters, and the millions of visitors who visit. The playscape has become a place of performance, and of gathering, as much as a destination and neighborhood playground.
You cannot underestimate design excellence. This is the first playground in NYC that has a plant culture. Children are playing around outcroppings of plant material on a stone climb, different trees, different gardens, it will be integral to their environment. This is unusual. This is not a hardscape playground. We call it a playscape, in fact. Being unique – never underestimate the power of great design.
BKSK was established in 1985, and is now a six-partner, fifty-person firm headquartered in New York City. As both architects and scholars of the built environment that surrounds us, we believe that great design has meaning and consequence, and what we build, how we build it, and how it is used, matters. Together with our clients and consultants, we create meaningful, thoughtful, and beautiful works of architecture.
More generally, we are specialists in socially engaging, contextually appropriate and environmentally conscious design. We have developed our expertise by truly listening to, and learning from, our clients and each other. Our projects include residential, cultural, community, and educational institutions, at every scale. Our practice has taught us that in the civic realm, we play an important role—not only as an architect but as an advocate for buildings that contribute to the spirit of a place.