After years of ideas and proposals from the community to resuscitate the Harlem riverfront in New York City, Foster + Partners recently announced a major renovation project in the area’s Sherman Creek Park. When completed, the new boathouse there will help Row New York’s free and inexpensive youth programs prosper, which means more kids will be able reap the physical and character-building rewards of competitive rowing. Even better, they’ll have access to new educational programs designed to guide them through the college admissions process.
Harlem River History
For many years, the nine-mile Harlem River tidal channel between Manhattan and The Bronx has been dubbed “New York’s Forgotten Waterfront.” As recently as the early 20th century, the river was a thriving fishing and crabbing community, with many timber boathouses lined up along its banks. But time eventually turned the area into a desolate mixture of communal dumps, abandoned vehicles, freight trains, chop shops, and struggling small industries.
Locals and city officials alike have been racking their brains trying to figure out how to breathe new life into the district, with new parks, restored marshes and beaches, and a even labyrinth of bike paths slowly popping up over the last few years.
The new Foster + Partners boathouse is expected to bring even more people to the shore, and make sure the Harlem River waterfront is remembered fondly into infinity. Most importantly, it’ll allow Row New York to significantly increase its influence, helping up to five times as many students, including those with learning disabilities and physical limitations. Plus, for the first time ever, the organization will be able to house all its programs in one central location.
New Beginnings with Classic Features
The 1,600-square-foot Foster + Partners design, spearheaded by the firm’s iconic Founder and Executive Chairman Norman Foster, is made exclusively from wood. A huge plaza surrounds the main structure, with folding ramps leading to all levels. Flood-resistant boat storage on the lower level is topped with an oversized multi-use hall, which itself is flanked by classrooms and changing rooms and opens to a broad terrace with panoramic views of the river.
A great folding timber canopy floats over the entire boathouse, protecting both its terrace and plaza from the harsh summer sun. The unique lattice design of the covering casts mottled shadows over the structure, and over the bordering landscaped areas that play host to community events and performances, casual picnicking, and overall family fun.
It appears that nature uncannily “knows” that a new era is dawning for the Harlem River shore. Locals claim that fishing has never been better in the area, with ample numbers of eel, catfish, toadfish, porgies, flounder, and striped bass being caught there in recent months, along with crabs, mussels, oysters, and clams. There have also been reports that about 45 assorted species of birds have been frequenting the shore as of late.
Norman Foster’s visualization of what his group seeks to accomplish with this project is clear. He explains: “In envisioning a design for a boathouse that will serve a diverse population and be a resource to the community at large, I wanted to create a building that was both functional and accessible, but also one that responded to the Hudson River’s long history as a busy transportation hub. This timber boathouse will fit naturally into the landscape of the riverfront and will transform this stretch of the Harlem River into a lively gathering place for people from all communities.”