Roosevelt Island Universal Arts Center

Resurfacing Place

Sean A. Gallagher

Credit / Partnership: Michael J. Stewart
Award: AIA / ENYA Innovation and Delight

Throughout its duration Roosevelt Island has weathered many changes of identity, yet in some aspect continued to root itself in the ideas of isolation and refuge. With every new ownership / occupation the island's geography and structures were changed for a new vision which satisfied the needs of its Manhattan and Brooklyn context. Today, slightly below the surface, there exists a layering of this history survived by partial ruins and boundaries of those past places. It is here that we began our investigation to find meaning and character for Southpoint. The landscape became a composition of surfaced ruins and boundaries of past places which define new spaces expressing different intensities of isolation and refuge. Water and terrain intertwine to provide enclosure and separation for private and public aspects of the program. Then the structures which housed these programs further develop the language of isolation and refuge by exploiting the individuality and inward focus of the shipping container. These containers, which are contextually relevant, were hung from a superstructure built upon water's amassment with the intention of imposing nothing arbitrary to the surfaced character.


In both a historical as well as geographical sense, Roosevelt Island has evolved as an entity immersed in the pulse of New York City - that pulse being the waterways that connect the boroughs - while at the same time always being a place of removal and separation.

Recognizing several significant historical occurrences on the island - isolation, hospitalization, incarceration, and in the twentieth century: education, voluntary habitation, and now relaxation and rejuvenation - Roosevelt Island has grown into an uplifting and hopeful refuge as an oasis of removal.

True to the islands varied past, the location of the shoreline boundaries are today extended from the past, and it is with note to these changes as well as these varied history of the island that the proposed universal arts center will find its form.

Structurally, the facility anchors onto the south-western shore of Roosevelt Island, fastening to the island in a series of asymmetrical pylons, spaced rhythmically, following the rip-rap shoreline of present day. In addition to the present day shoreline as one determination in the form of the facility, the maximum pier head line, which today exists as a line on a map more or less parallel to the shoreline of the island and tapering to a point on the southern extremities of the island, also informs the shape of the facility. It is these two man made boundaries that define the extents of the universal arts center. Though visually the project appears removed and isolated, it is important to allow residents and visitors easy access into the structure of the arts center. With this in mind, gradually ascending/descending catwalks serve as inspirational points of access into the facilities. Also, a clustering of elevators and stairwells are centrally located at a point logically located at fulcrum of the project.

With regard to the impact of shipping in this port city, and as a source of reference again on the changing, evolving nature of New York, we chose to reinterpret imagery of modern day shipping - and were compelled by imagery of the tower crane and the standard shipping container. Working from these forms, the composition of the structure consists of modified and attached shipping crates, suspended from the curvilinear piers. Suspending the structure above the shore and above the East River was an obvious result of our investigations into the history of island. One can read into these suspended entities as a literal example of isolation or as an instance in the continuing evolution of the island. It is also intended that the rhythmic form of these containers, however modified and disassembled, can serve as a refuge from the intensities of the city visually ever present, yet always separated by water.