Waterfalls

Response to Waterfalls

When I initially visit the first of three NYC waterfalls, I’m on a sailboat that launches from Chelsea Piers approaching the waterfall situated in front of Governor’s Island almost head-on. A host of steel pipes form a temporary structure that reminds me of the scaffolding construction workers use for support as they work on repairing/restoring/remodeling buidlings around the city. It looks just as wobbly and temporary. From the top spouts a waterfall that cascades down to where the Hudson River and East River unite.

Image credit: Architecture MNP

Image credit: Architecture MNP

From there, the boat makes its way around the Statue of Liberty affording a pretty decent view of the waterfall under the Brooklyn Bridge in profile as well as the installation next to Pier 35. I try to conceptualize these three waterfalls in a couple different ways. There’s their collective physical appearance: temporary, minimalist and simplistic in design. They are spaced at a distance where one can observe them all together, but each must be discovered in turn. Seeing one does not guarantee the discovery of the other, and I appreciate that. Then there’s the reaction by participants. The majority of people that share this boat with me a snapping frantic pictures with their digital cameras to ensure they take home the best shot. Few seem interested in actually thinking about the waterfalls as anything more than another New York backdrop, like Times Square and the Empire State Building.

But I’m being more critical. Individually, these towers of water aren’t much to look at. In fact without knowing that they are a group, my reaction is that this is little more than a cluster of expensive water statues obfuscating what is otherwise a beautiful, historic waterfront. The asceticism represents a sense of raw industriousness. It feels like possibility and hope and a new future. That being said, it would make more sense to see this installation scattered across a city like Hong Kong or Dubai; a place where industry continues to thrive and cranes, new construction and robust economies signal a bright future full of possibility. Here in New York in 2008, whether the waterfall sits like a troll underneath the Brooklyn Bridge or tries to mask the facade of a 200 year-old military facility, it feels woefully out of place.

Credit: Inhabitat.com

Credit: Inhabitat.com

A few days later, I’m running from my apartment along the East River. I pass underneath the FDR and keep right on moving until I’m down by the South Street Seaport. I circle around to return the way from which I cam when I pass the waterfall under the Brooklyn Bridge. Seeing it from the shore is a totally different experience, and I’m kind of surprised I didn’t take notice the first time. The installation feels more like it belongs to the bridge. From this perspective, it obscures the bridge’s foundation and appears as an integrated part of the structure.

I keep running and minutes later pass Pier 35, which is where I find a group of Chinese people gathered, doing what appears to be Tai chi exercises. Others rest their arms on the rails separating the path from the shore, staring at the water falling from atop the installation. I stop and join the group at the rail. It’s then that I think about the peace we find in falling water. There’s the beauty of the water as it drops rhythmically from above, and the calming effect it has on the ears. Five of us lean in silence, watching the water fall and listening to soothing sound of water hitting water. Minutes later, I’m on my way uptown again, showered by wind whipped wisps of water as I go.

The ugliness of the physical structures detracts from my ability to fully appreciate the other components of the design. The disparate elements don’t seem to come together (the sheer randomness of the placements is infuriating!) and, although I enjoyed my time in front of Pier 35, I’m not sure I’ll remember the waterfalls once they’re gone with the same fondness I have for The Gates in Central Park or the Cows on in Chicago.