Public Property: An Ideas Competition for Governors Island
Competition Launch: January 1996
Original Brief: Download PDF
The first competition held by the newly reorganized and renamed Van Alen Institute sought ideas for the reuse of Governors Island. The competition was prompted by the Coast Guard's announcement that they would be closing their facilities on the island by 1997, after which the federal government was expected to transfer ownership of the 172-acre property to the city and state for redevelopment. Liberated from military occupation for the first time in more than 200 years, the future of Governors Island was suddenly thrown into question. Situated only a half mile from Lower Manhattan and flanked by stunning panoramic views, the island had the potential to become an exclusive enclave for the wealthy—or a magnificent public space to join the ranks of Central and Prospect parks. The opportunity to envision a new public future for this extraordinary site was the first of its kind in many decades.
The competition posed an array of theoretical concerns, asking designers "to consider the urban potential of Governors Island in terms of spatial adjacencies and experiential overlaps between a range of actions, actors, events, and ecologies...to acknowledge the physical reality of cities and their historic programmatic complexity as fundamental to the survival of a vital public realm." Designers also had to grapple with certain restrictions, including the existence of six designated city landmarks and the nationally landmarked historic district comprising the northern half of the island.
The competition was open to anyone who registered. Van Alen Institute received more than 200 entries from students, faculty, and landscape architects in 14 different countries. The proposals were incredibly diverse and creative in their approaches, ranging from a World's Fair site to a massive Necropolis, from a Resort Spa to a new home for the United Nations. The winning designs embodied a holistic approach that allowed for multiple possible futures on the site, and their collective focus on landscape—rather than specific buildings—signaled an imminent shift within the design professions.
M. Christine Boyer
Author and Professor of Architecture, Princeton University
Urban Designer, Chicago Park District
Designer and Architecture Critic
Architect, Enric Miralles - Benedetta Tagliabue | EMBT
First Prize ($10,000)
Second Prize ($2,500)
Kimberlee J. Douglas
Third Prize ($1,000)
Anuradha Mathur and Dilip Da Cunha
Honorable Mentions ($250 each)
Kimberlee K. Yao
Van Alen Institute
Partners and Collaborators
Andrea Kahn, Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, Columbia University (Co-author)
In September 1996, the Coast Guard closed its operations on Governors Island. In early 2003, following years of speculation and negotiations, the federal government sold the island to City and State of New York for one dollar, with stipulations prohibiting gambling and permanent residential development. Shortly thereafter, twenty-two acres on the northern half of the island were transferred to the National Park Service and designated as a National Monument. The Trust for Governors Island is the public corporation charged with developing the island. The Trust solicited a series of development proposals in 2005; in 2006, they launched a design competition and invited five internationally renowned teams to submit schemes. The design proposals were made public in June 2007, and in December 2007 a jury selected the team led by West 8 as the winner.