Video Feature: Nicholas Garrison of FXCollaborative at the new Museum on Liberty Island

Nicholas Garrison of FXCollaborative speaks at the new Museum on Liberty Island

On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, we had the pleasure of being able to attend a preview of the newly opened museum located a short stroll away from the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. There, Nicholas Garrison, Partner and Project Designer from FXCollaborative, was kind enough to share some words about his firm’s involvement in the project.  Below the video here can be found the related transcript.

Keep in mind, the torch which Mr. Garrison refers to can be seen standing behind him. It was Lady Liberty’s original torch until it was replaced in 1984. Thereafter, it was moved to the base of the pedestal underneath the statue. We ourselves had climbed to the crown at the top of the lady in 2009. Prior to one’s ascent the torch was visible at the bottom. Felt good to see it once again.

My name is Nicholas Garrison, I’m the partner and design director from FXCollaborative for this project. The inspiration for our design came from looking and observing people arriving on the island and being a little disappointed because they couldn’t get into the other museum. Disappointed because there wasn’t much else to do if you couldn’t get into that other museum. I also realized that people who come here are really passionate about the statue and about the symbolism of it, and they consider the ground as sacred. So we really decided that the landscape in the park was something that we wanted to make bigger and extend through our building design, not just to make it smaller because we put another building on the island. So, from the very beginning, it was kind of a merger between architecture and landscape. We would create more places to go, more things and places you could stand on and see things from. It’s an amazing place, this island. It’s got incredible views of New York and also the statue of course.

So we kind of had this idea that you could climb up on top of our building and also walk inside below. So there’s two big pieces to that. One is this torch which you see behind us which is the centerpiece of the museum and really the most precious artifact in the museum, and we wanted to give it a place of honor and to really celebrate the light of the torch which is kind of the main symbol of the museum in this kind of honored location. The entire roof is designed around its height. The glass around it is designed to put it in daylight because for 30 years it was in the base of the fort where it was dark. We wanted to give it the same view of New York Harbor it used to have.

On top of this is the top point of the roof and you can actually climb on top of this museum and get onto the roof and have this incredible view of New York Harbor. So those two things are the result of that initial design idea to make a building that more than a building…an extension of this place and finally, if we had one goal, it was to make people happy, because they weren’t before.

We have our fingers crossed but we think we’re going to make it.

The following is would is borrowed from FXCollaborative’s design:

Enhancing the Visitor Experience on Liberty Island

FXCollaborative set two goals for the design of the Statue of Liberty Museum: 1) To create a building that uplifts the experience of the island for all visitors, and 2) To extend and add to the island’s open space, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a beloved international monument.

Symbolizing Liberty

The Statue of Liberty Museum is a garden pavilion that is designed to welcome all visitors of all ages, nationalities, and ethnicities. It is located at the north end of the formal pedestrian mall on Liberty Island, facing the Statue of Liberty and slightly rotated away from it. The museum anchors the main axis that connects the Museum to the Statue, and extends this axis via a sweeping granite staircase that leads to its roof. The visitor experience culminates in a dramatic granite roof terrace that provides unobstructed views of Lady Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and New York Harbor.

The design eschews formality in favor of an asymmetrical design that embraces its dramatic setting and changes form as visitors move in, on, and around it, much as the idea of liberty is a diverse and pluralistic concept. The project’s angular plan and rich variety of spaces allow visitors to enjoy a broad view of the island and New York Harbor. Its dynamic expression was inspired by the irregularity of the water’s edge, as well as the geometry of the circular Flagpole Plaza. The resulting form creates a visual counterpoint to Fort Wood at the base of the Statue, which bookends the far end of the mall. Both the Fort and Museum have acute corners; whereas the Fort turns inward, the museum radiates outward, celebrating freedom.

The Museum’s centerpiece is the display of the Statue of Liberty’s original torch—a universal symbol of enlightenment—that was previously located inside the base of the pedestal. From the outside, it is framed by a sparkling glass vitrine that creates a dramatic space of inspiration and contemplation. This vitrine acts as an oversized display case, making it visible as beacon to visitors on the island and all over the Harbor. (A silk-screened dot pattern on the 22-foot-high glass walls deters bird impacts and ensures their safety).

Merging Building and Landscape

The design merges building and landscape. The building responds to the layout of the island, which is based on French formal garden traditions, and establishes a naturalized landscape that is “lifted” above the formal mall. Its steps, terraces, and roof extend the park and the perimeter esplanade above the ground plane to carry visitors onto the site, creating a new visitor environment for viewing, resting, and picnicking.

The planted roofs incorporate native vegetation that super-insulates the building by capturing and filtering stormwater. Around the building, the grounds are planted with native meadow grasses that create a natural habitat for wildlife and migrating birds. The building’s elevation above the 500- year flood plain prevents damage from extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy, which shut down power on the Island in 2012. The museum emerges as a new geology that is deeply integrated with nature.

Celebrating the Statue

The interior spaces are inspired by sculptor Auguste Bartholdi’s industrial workshops in Paris and the engineering bravado of Gustave Eiffel’s structure that provides the armature for Lady Liberty— even the beautiful scaffolding that was employed in her restoration. The mechanical systems and complex structural steel framework that support the angular roof and glass walls are unabashedly displayed around the torch and throughout the exhibition spaces. Building systems are painted in a deep charcoal color to foreground the exhibits. Polished concrete structural floors add to the industrial look and feel of the interiors.

Linking Past and Future

The project’s materials link the future of Liberty Island with its past. Inspired by the idea that the museum has been “lifted” from the park, all vertical surfaces are rendered in irregular, vertical patterns suggestive of a tectonic shift; they provide a compositional counterpoint to the building’s dominant horizontality. The precast concrete walls have a deeply textured, irregular pattern, which creates dramatic shadows; this texture reflects the Palisades cliffs of New Jersey that rise dramatically from the Hudson River just to the north. Their custom-colored aggregate mix harmonizes with the hues of the massive stones of Fort Wood, and the building’s bronze doors and hardware echo the finishes found at the Fort. All pedestrian and seating surfaces are finished in locally-sourced, grey-pink “Stony Creek” granite used by Richard Morris Hunt for the statue’s pedestal over 130 years ago. Copper fascia panels are spaced at irregular vertical