East River Conservatory by Palfinger and Sahin inspired by geology

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East River Conservatory
View from East River. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin unveiled the design for the East River Conservatory in New York City, which covers a total site area of 9,000 square meters and includes three major programmatic functions: greenhouses, markets, and a composting facility. It should provide the citizens of New York City with a new public gateway at the waterfront, harmonizing a circular model of production (greenhouses), distribution and consumption (market), and waste utilization (composting), which again feeds back into vegetable cultivation in the greenhouses.

The project is located in Long Island City, Queens, right next to Queensboro Bridge, one of New York’s iconic structures. The site is located at East River, facing Roosevelt Island and the skyline of Midtown Manhattan—views across the river range from the Empire State Building at 34th Street, the United Nations headquarters on 46th Street, and Billionaires’s Row at the southern end of Central Park. Further, the site connects to the East River ferry and the newly panned Brooklyn-Queens waterfront greenway.

An unconventional program as geological layers

East River Conservatory
Axonometric anatomical model. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

“Driven by program, circulation, and structural considerations, we‘re envisioning the project like a geology: heavy, earthy underground composting, lively markets as topographic landscapes above, and on top of it two greenhouses as lightweight structures, hanging from a composition of arch bridges – mirroring the catenary curve of the 110m tall Queensboro Bridge right next to the site,” say the designers Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

The south greenhouse is used to grow vegetables commercially, featuring an atmosphere with a higher concentration of CO2, while the northern greenhouse serves as a publicly accessible tropical conservatory. The heavy base of the building pierces through its floor, creating mountain– and jungle-like moments, suspended skywalks, and views over Manhattan’s skyline.

Form-finding and structural considerations

East River Conservatory
Sculptural concrete footings. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

Inspired by the almost sublime enchantment experienced while walking underneath Queensboro Bridge’s 75.000 tons (!) of steel – with the roadway floating over 40 meters above one’s head – the East River Conservatory project aims to evoke this impression of “lightweight heaviness,” a typical urban characteristic of New York City, by lifting up the main greenhouses and suspending them from a composition of steel tube arch bridges. A surreal experience is further supported by mirror-like panels covering the undersides of the hanging structure, reflecting sunlight, people and the movement of the river.

As for the Queensboro Bridge – a cantilever truss bridge – the East River Conservatory project’s form is driven by the catenary curve shape of the compression arches, supporting each other to create a stable composition.

Concluding the use of large arches, parts of the project feature sculptural concrete footings.

The structural design was developed with the consultancy of Cristobal Correa, Principal at Buro Happold NY, who also worked on the Singapore Jewel Changi Airport by Safdie Architects, the High Line by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and the National 9/11 Memorial Pavilion by Snøhetta.

Facade systems

East River Conservatory
Greenhouse shading system. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

The hanging greenhouses – trusses suspended from steel tube arches utilizing load-bearing steel cables – feature a self-supporting double-curved two-way cable net with a point-fixed glazing system. Aluminum shading elements are optimized through solar analysis and greenhouse requirements. Mechanical systems run through the greenhouse floors, as a certain depth is predefined through trusses. The lower part of the building is cladded in GFRC panels, creating a quarry-landscape-like atmosphere, with certain elements being perforated – enabling light rays to illuminate certain interior spaces.

The facade systems were developed with the consultancy of Reid Freeman, founding principal of the Brooklyn-based firm REID Architecture PLLC.

Composting infrastructures, MEP, public and commercial circulation

Mockups of greenhouse facade systems. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

The project features three interconnected programs – greenhouses, markets, and composting facilities. Therefore, various circulation paths for public visitors, market vendors, parking, greenhouse workers, composting technicians as well and compost delivery trucks were developed.
Systems for composting and markets were developed with the consultancy of Robert Lavalva, an architect and expert in sustainable infrastructure, food systems, and economic development. Mechanical systems were developed by an engineer and MEP consultant, Kevin Hillery (Buro Happold NY).

Biomorphic Topologies 2.0 – Studio Andreas Palfinger
Market entrance and mirrored greenhouse underside. Courtesy of Andreas Palfinger and Aysin Sahin.

Project Info

Project by Andreas Palfinger & Aysin Sahin
Studio: Gisela Baurmann (Founding Partner, Büro NY)
Structural Consultant: Cristobal Correa (Principal, Buro Happold NY)
Facade Consultant: Reid Freeman (Founding Principal, REID Architecture PLLC)
MEP Consultant: Kevin Hillery (Engineer, Buro Happold, NY)

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