On Liberty Island, New York, a new museum is taking shape next to the Statue of Liberty, designed to tell the story of the statue and help turn the island into a fully fledged visitor attraction.
The US$70m (€63.7m, £57m) museum has been designed by New York practice FXFOWLE. It’s a key part of the island’s beautification plan and features a large rooftop garden and a viewing platform overlooking New York Harbor.
“On the island there’s a large circular plaza, which was built in the 1980s when the statue was restored,” says Nicholas Garrison, principal at FXFOWLE. “Our site sits just off this, so we wanted to get to the roof via a traditional-style set of monumental steps that would engage this circular plaza in a theatrical, neoclassical way. The roof is really the ‘aha moment’ of the whole project.”
Designed to inspire
The 26,000sq ft (2,400sq m) rooftop – one of the key parts of Garrison’s design – incorporates both a viewing spot and a nature space, creating a ‘plateau’ where visitors can observe and reflect.
“Liberty Island sits in line with the 9/11 site, so when you look across the water you see the One World Trade Center, but you also remember what’s not there anymore,” says Garrison. “It has a double poignancy when you think about what liberty means. You look across and realise that it’s been literally attacked in so many different ways. We felt it was really important that view and that spot was made accessible to the public.”
For the three interior galleries, FXFOWLE is working with New York-based firm ESI Design, who are handling the exhibition space.
“We went back and forth on the degree of natural light that the museum should have,” says Garrison, discussing the ESI partnership.
“A lot of exhibit designers prefer a ‘black box’ because their videos show up better, the sound is better controlled and there’s no glare. We came up with an entrance based on bright daylight. The idea was that it would invite you in and then you would go through the exhibits inside the museum and would emerge in this glass space in full daylight with these incredible views. Within that emerging space we will have the museum’s signature piece – the original torch which sat on the Statue of Liberty’s arm for 100 years.”
A beacon of hope
The torch, which is 19 foot (5.8 metres) high, is the centrepiece of the final space, dubbed the Inspiration Gallery. During its 100 years on top of the famous statue, the torch was refitted to include stained glass and interior lights.
“It’s a beautiful object and a really meaningful one too,” says Garrison.
“It was on display, but in a dark room underneath the fort. We wanted to put it in a space that had views of the harbour in full daylight where you could appreciate the patina”, he added, referring to the green tinge that has formed on the statue through the process of oxidation.
“In many ways, New Yorkers think of it as New York green because the statue has become associated with the city. Every sporting event and almost every newscast that starts in New York begins with a flyover of the statue as the intro. It’s become synonymous with the city in many ways and so that green is really special. Seeing it in daylight is really important.”
Much like the view from the museum’s roof, Garrison believes that the view visitors have when they arrive on the island is key, so his design retains that, offering views of Manhattan and the towering statue.
“You come off the boat and then you have this amazing view across the island. We didn’t want to obscure that,” says Garrison. “In the plan, you will notice that [the museum] angles off to the left. We’ve done that on purpose so that it won’t be in your main cone of vision when you arrive. When you get off the boat your first impression is of this big statue looming over you on the right, but you’ve also got this beautiful view of the city, straight ahead. We thought it was really important to preserve that. When people look to the left, we wanted our building to say, ‘there’s this really cool thing that you can come and see.’ You can see the torch displayed in the window, like a beautiful piece of jewellery.”
Leaving a legacy
The museum is expected to welcome as many as 4.3 million visitors annually. Slated to open in 2019, famed fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is leading the fundraising effort for the development, which has so far sourced US$40m of the US$70m total. Furstenberg’s involvement has also been key in maintaining the vision for the museum’s design, according to Garrison.
“Diane has been incredibly supportive in helping us realise our goals,” he says. “One of the things that happens with a project like this, is the design is constantly under assault by things like budget pressures and schedule issues. Having Diane as a successful fundraiser and champion for the building has helped us to retain a lot of the essential pieces which were really important to us.”
Talking about what the project means for New York and its people, Garrison says the statue’s powerful message has been the driving force for the entire creative process.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I find that it never gets old,” the FXFOWLE principal says. “Very few projects make you glad to be a human being but this one does. It really inspires you every day to get up and go and sdo the best you can.
“It’s just been one of those kind of projects, it hits all those buttons and you really just want to do right by it. So hopefully, we will.”