Architect plans to inspire with new Liberty Island museum

Very few projects make you glad to be a human being and this one does. It really inspires you every day to get up, to do the best you can
– Nicholas Garrison, principal architect, FXFOWLE

Nicholas Garrison – lead architect for the Statue of Liberty’s new museum on its home of Liberty Island – has said he wants his vision to “inspire people” just as the famous monument has for more than 130 years.

The US$70m (€63.7m, £57m) museum, designed to celebrate the Statue of Liberty, will transform Liberty Island into a full-fledged visitor attraction, according to Garrison, who is principal for architecture practice FXFOWLE.

Breaking ground last week, the project is a key part of the island’s beautification plan, with a 26,000sq ft (2,400sq m) rooftop garden one of the key parts of Garrison’s design, incorporating both a viewing spot and a nature space to create a “plateau” to observe and reflect.

“On the island we have this large circular plaza, which was put in in the 80s when the statue was restored,” said Garrison, speaking to CLAD. “Our site sits just off of this so we wanted to get to the roof via a traditional set of monumental steps that would engage this circle in a kind of a theatrical and a neoclassical way.

“In the US we have for example our Supreme Court or the Metropolitan Museum steps. We started with examples like these and then made it so that the whole building is the grand assent of these steps, extending the landscape over the building and then you’re on the roof.”

The 26,000sq ft (2,400sq m) museum’s roof is one of the key parts of Garrison’s design, incorporating both a viewing spot and a nature space to create a “plateau” to observe and reflect.

“Liberty Island sits in line with the 9/11 site, so you look across the water and you see the new construction, but you also remember what’s not there anymore,” said Garrison. “It has a double poignancy where you’re thinking about what liberty means to you. Then you look across and you realise it has been faulted and literally attacked in so many different ways. We felt that view and that spot was really important to be made accessible to the public. The roof is really the ‘a-ha’ moment for the whole building.”

The museum’s three interior galleries are being overseen by ESI Design. A 19-foot (5.8 metres) torch that was removed and replaced on the Statue of Liberty will be the centrepiece of the final space, called the Inspiration Gallery. During its 100 years atop the famous statue, the torch was refitted to include stain glass and interior lights, turning it into a literal torch.

“It’s a beautiful object and a really meaningful one too,” said Garrison. “It was on display but in this dark room underneath the fort. We wanted to put it in a space that had views of the harbour again in full daylight and you could appreciate the patina”, he added, referring to the green tinge that has formed on the statue through 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 that happens in New York 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 and seeing it in daylight is really important,” he said.

Much like the view from the museum’s roof, Garrison believes that the view visitors are given when they arrive on the island is key, so his design retains that view, offering views of Manhattan and the towering statue.

“Coming off the boat and then having this amazing view across the island, we didn’t want to obscure that,” said Garrison. “With the plan you will notice that it kind of angles off to the left. We’ve done that on purpose so that the museum won’t be in your main cone of vision, when you arrive. Getting off the boat you get this wonderful panorama of New York. Your first impression is this big statue looming over you on the right, but you’ve got this beautiful view of the city, straight ahead. We thought that was really important to preserve that, but then when you look left, we wanted our building to say, ‘hey come on, you know there is this really cool thing that you can come and see’. You can see the torch displayed here in the window, like a beautiful piece of jewellery and then it says ‘by the way you can climb up here and get an even better view’.”

As many as 4.3m visitors are expected the visit the museum annually – the same number of people that visit Liberty Island each year. It is slated to open in 2019.

World-famous fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is leading the the fundraising effort for the development, which has so far sourced US$40m (€36.7m, £32.7m) of the US$70m (€64m, £57.2m) total. Furstenberg has also been involved in maintaining the vision for museum’s design, according to Garrison.

“Diane has been incredibly supportive in helping us realise our goals,” he said. “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.

“Towards the end it gets really dicey. They say they don’t quite have that kind of money and maybe we should do something cheaper. Having Diane be a successful fundraiser and champion for the building has helped us to retain a lot of the essential pieces that we really liked and which were really important to us, so on that level she has been amazing.”

Talking about what the project means for New York and its people Garrison said the Statue of Liberty’s powerful message has been the driving force for the entire creative process.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It never gets old, and that’s probably the best way to put it,” he said. “I never get tired of imaging – working on this project and imaging what it could be and how it might help. Very few projects make you glad to be a human being and this one does. It really inspires you every day to get up, to do the best you can. It has 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.”

FXFOWLE  Statue of Liberty  Nicholas Garrison  museum  visitor attraction  Liberty Island  architecture  design 
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Nicholas Garrison – lead architect for the Statue of Liberty’s new museum on its home of Liberty Island – has said he wants his vision to “inspire people” just as the famous monument has for more than 130 years. The US$70m (€63.7m, £57m) museum, designed to celebrate the Statue of Liberty, will transform Liberty Island into a full-fledged visitor attraction, according to Garrison, who is principal for architecture practice FXFOWLE.
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The original torch is the centrepiece of the museum, restored in 1986 after sitting atop the statue for almost a century / FXFOWLE
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