On our Archtober tour of Roosevelt Island’s architecture led by our Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers, Judith Berdy, President of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society alerted us the presence of quirky benches we had never noticed before. Along Main Street, wooden benches are in the shape of Roosevelt Island itself! That’s so meta, no?
We spoke with David Kramer, President of The Hudson Companies, the developer behind numerous projects on Roosevelt Island, including Riverwalk, The House at Cornell Tech, and The Shops on Main where these benches are located. He tells us:
“The credit should go to Marvel Architects for coming up with the bench idea and design. The impetus behind the design was to be, well, fun and terrific. There’s a history of interesting, design-oriented, whimsical details on Roosevelt Island. The Tom Otterness sculptures off the Promenade come to mind. The other fun detail that comes to mind is the brightly painted vents in front of some of the buildings.”
He continues, “We were renovating the retail arcades in 2012-2013 and decided upon benches in the shape of the island. I think most residents were enthusiastic and appreciative from the get-go.” Kramer says that the only feedback they tend to receive is about which direction the benches should be facing. Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects tells us that the benches were part of a larger effort with Hudson Companies to create a distinctive district. “People were largely ignoring the retail and they wanted to enliven and make it a place that could be a destination for people to hop over on the tram or by subway and come to Roosevelt Island, because it’s an island, and a different tempo, and a different way of seeing the city. We worked hard in making a district that had its own Roosevelt Island sense of place, so that meant trying to create a pedestrian-friendly arcade in the existing buildings, and work in neutral language so that the signage would pop up, redoing all the store fronts and making them more open so you could really see inside or driving by.”
The benches become a “signature moment” within this revitalized commercial and residential district, continues Marvel, “We didn’t want to do a normal New York City park bench because we’d be losing an opportunity to make something distinctive. We played around with different types of benches, and it occurred to me that looking at things in scale — small middle, big — looking at the big scale of Roosevelt Island, and trying to understand the nature of why Roosevelt Island is so different. It’s long and it’s narrow, it’s distinctively part of the East River…and then it just occurred to me that that type of shape would be a great bench.” The benches have mahogany seats and backs, and supports of stainless steel. Marvel is currently working on another master plan design in New York City, for Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island that will be released this year.
In other fun bench news, the majority of the other benches on Roosevelt Island are in the style of the 1939-40 World’s Fair benches, which were originally designed for Central Park under the jurisdiction of Robert Moses. You can also find the original Roosevelt Island trams in a parking lot!