A mirage of an island floating above Pier 54 of the Hudson River, Little Island, is an urban solution to reactivate its surrounding communities since the calamity of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In collaboration with Heatherwick Studio and MNLA, Arup contributes to the project’s structural design, MEP systems and construction. With over eight years of planning, development and construction, the opening of Little Island Park successfully brings life to a once-derelict pier, allowing New Yorkers to experience a multi-sensory landscape, celebrating arts and culture in this people-centric performance space.    

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet1
Little Island Park Site Plan _©Timothy Schenck

A Wandering Leaf on the Water – Manhattan’s Reinvention | Little Island Park

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet2
Entering Little Island Park _©Timothy Schenck

Initially intending to create a pavilion as an extension to the waterfront, this seemed like a missed opportunity and a waste of potential for one of the most densely populated Manhattan, New York City communities. With the support of The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation (DVFFF) and the city of New York, a new proposal for a tree-filled open-air park emerges. Calling fellow designers and engineers, Arup devised a structural approach for the project’s aesthetic and constructability.

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet3
Inside Little Island Park _©Timothy Schenck

Taking advantage of the piers existing wooden piles, these remains act as the park’s foundation, generating a wandering illusion as part of the design vision. The piles become an essential habitat for existing marine life and provide varied heights to create contours for a new landscape and topography. Arup then translates this vision into reality, embracing advanced modelling to devise a “Cairo pentagon” pattern, repeated and arranged around the park’s perimeter. This pattern furnishes the deck with an organic, rippling effect, producing distinctive spaces for multiple mixed on-site uses.  

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet4
Cairo Pentagon Tiling Pattern Rendering _©Arup Associates

Manufacturing Structures

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet5
Various Heights and Contours _©Timothy Schenck

The most notable aspect of the project is the structural approach that Arup has greatly contributed to. Using 3D design and prefabrication techniques, Arup collaborates with construction partners to build this into reality. Since the Hudson River has a long history of building precast piers, prefabrication will minimise the amount of work over water. Fully dependent on their investment in parametric design, these modular constructions have met the tolerances desired on-site to make the ‘pots’ look monumental with clean and seamless joints. Aside from that, Arup’s structural team also worked on a 3D environmental analysis to accurately translate variations of elevations within the park to alleviate potential clashes between the park’s uses.  

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet6
Precast Pots with Seamless Joint Detailings _©Timothy Schenck

Green Infrastructure for a New Public Green Space

Little Island Park by Arup Associates and Arup - Sheet7
A New Public Green Space _©Getty Images

Little Island is designed as a haven for people, nature and wildlife. One can describe it as a ‘green oasis’ held by sculptural planters to stay afloat. Arup’s precast concrete planters or ‘tulips’ are filled with more than a hundred species of flora and fauna, encouraging biodiversity and varied microclimates depending on the topography, sun exposure and wind patterns.

Flora and Fauna _©Timothy Schenck
Flora and Fauna _©Timothy Schenck

Considering the rising sea levels, Arup’s decision to create the park as an island pier separates it from the esplanade in which the ground elevation is below flood levels. It is important to elevate the main pier above the rising flood levels, utilising bridges to help slope up to the raised level. Working closely with MNLA, Arup’s structural team also developed integrated storm management, transforming Little Island into one giant green roof. Since the green infrastructure was successfully implemented into the park’s landscape, the entire park is a sponge for stormwater. The runoff is captured by the green’ surface, beginning to filter down through the pier’s structure and finally releasing it back to the Hudson River. 

An Integrated Theatre Design in the Outdoors

Ampitheatre _©Timothy Schenck
Ampitheatre _©Timothy Schenck

Working with the Hudson River Park Trust, Arup sorted out a wide array of design and performance options that range from large-scale music shows to multimedia installations, accommodating world-class performers. The landscape integrates three performance spaces, including an optimised 700-seat amphitheatre with natural stone seating, giving views of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. Arup’s Sound Lab stimulates the soundscape experience that fully supports various types of performances and events without diverting from the park’s overall atmosphere, striking the right balance between the park and the performance space. Moreover, these design interventions minimise noise from Manhattan’s heavy traffic; It is an escape from the hustling and bustling of New York City. With each aspect of the experience considered, Little Island is a place to feel connected to the water and natural world. 

An Ambitious Architectural Vision Comes to Life | Little Island Park

Architectural Vision Comes to Life _©Timothy Schenck
Architectural Vision Comes to Life _©Timothy Schenck

A public space built for the people of New York. The concept gives way to the reality of a remarkable construction 60 feet well above the Hudson River. After long planning efforts since 2013, Little Island Park has increased tourist revenue and retains and revitalises a part of history that was once forgotten. It is like nothing people have ever seen before; it is inclusive and open to everyone. At a time when green space and open-air venues in crowded cities have never been more important for public health and wellbeing, Little Island demonstrates what is possible.”


  1. Associates, A. (2021) Transforming Hudson River’s pier 55 into little island – a whimsical urban park and performance venue, Arup. Available at: https://www.arup.com/projects/little-island (Accessed: February 7, 2023).
  2. Design & Construction (2022) Little Island. Available at: https://littleisland.org/design-construction/ (Accessed: February 9, 2023).
  3. Green, J.W. (2021) Little island opens today unlocking over two acres of public park and performance space above the Hudson River, Arup. Available at: https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/little-island-park-opens-in-new-york-city (Accessed: February 8, 2023).
  4. Pintos, P. (2021) Little island park / heatherwick studio + MNLA, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/962374/little-island-park-heatherwick-studio (Accessed: February 9, 2023).
  5. Solway, J., Parrella, M. and Lee, V. (2021) Creating an urban oasis, Arup. Available at: https://www.arup.com/annual-report-2021/little-island (Accessed: February 7, 2023).
  6. Souza, E. (2021) Little Island Park and the collaboration among designers, contractors and fabricators: An interview with Arup, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/970787/little-island-park-and-the-collaboration-among-designers-contractors-and-fabricators-an-interview-with-arup (Accessed: February 9, 2023). 

Audrey Kianjaya is a graduate architect and urban planner who is currently pursuing a career as an architectural researcher and writer. She aspires to make a positive impact through her writing and design, earning her project the title of “People’s Choice” from the Regen Dining Competition held in 2020.