Abandoned Pier Reborn as Shipping Container Gallery, Foodie Hangout

Abandoned Pier Reborn as Shipping Container Gallery, Foodie Hangout

NEW YORK — After a decade of near-abandonment, the Marina complex at Pier 57 is now a lively intersection of various New York eras. The derelict bus station floating on the Hudson River is currently home to “T.I.N.Y.” (“The Interactive New York”), an installation of projected sights and sounds evocative of city life in the early 90s, the decade that its creator, film graphics designer Garson Yu, decamped from Queens to Los Angeles. On view in an industrial space of bare concrete floors and riveted steel walls, “T.I.N.Y.” speaks to a past predating the Meatpacking District’s transformation into a nightclub hotspot, while the concessions on hand — artisanal ice creams, organic cold-pressed coffees, sustainably-raised pork — reflect the most current foodie obsessions. The view beyond the pier’s steel roll-up doors looks off into the near future, namely David Child’s glinting, soon-to-be-completed One World Trade Center.

Since the New York City Transit Authority vacated the three-acre space in 2003, the pier has seen only brief periods of action: In May it housed the Collective .1 Design Fair, and on a darker note in 2004 it held detainees arrested during heated Republican National Convention protests. Its current role as host to a mash-up of urban time periods is the brainchild of Young Woo, the New York real estate mogul behind the shipping container-based DeKalb Market (contrary to its DIY aesthetic, it was not built by hipsters), in addition to million-dollar Manhattan “Feng-Shui certified” condos. Here too, shipping containers play a pivotal role: Madrid-based architect Josemaria de Churtichaga, whom Woo tapped just weeks before the Marina opened, designed a system of 36 shipping containers that are now suspended from the Marina’s ceiling. This “Magic Carpet,” as de Churtichaga calls it, rearranges to fit the needs of the space, as the containers can be lowered to the floor for use.

“You can make different synergies,” the architect told ARTINFO. “You can make corridors. You can put random containers down. You can put all of them up. You can really allow multiple activities. In a way, it’s an abstraction of urban fabric.” At the moment, rows of these industrial throw-aways serve as screens on which Yu projects his mini-films, while others house vendors ranging from multiples outfit Grey Area to Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue. The rest hang overhead in storage.

At 16,000 square feet, however, the Marina is only the tip of a much grander iceberg. In April, New York City Council gave Woo the green light to transform all three acres of Pier 57 into a multi-level arts and culture destination that will include a rooftop park and Tribeca Film Festival hub, a restaurant, an artificial beach club, and of course, a marketplace of reused shipping containers. If all goes according to plan, de Churtichaga’s installation will host 18 months of yet-to-be-determined cultural programming while Woo and his architectural team — Handel Architects, melk!, and shipping container specialists LOT-EK  — will be making over the space for its scheduled spring 2015 opening.

Yu’s ode to New York, with its footage of Coney Island and yellow cabs, and the brief illusion that one is hurtling through a Subway tunnel rather than walking through a shipping container corridor, is a fitting means of introducing the space. Not only is it immersive and interactive — the projections, rigged to microphones, respond to visitors’ voices — it speaks to a city that has arguably become a world capital of adaptive reuse. Where abandoned elevated railways have become verdant tourist attractions, derelict bus garages have temporarily transformed themselves into design fairs, and shipping containers have proven they can become anything, Woo’s vision compounds these concepts into a single project. “Shipping containers can be transformed from unexciting objects into very inspiring ones,” Woo told ARTINFO via email. One little-known fact is that Woo’s days as an architecture student at Pratt continue to influence his career in real estate: “I’m involved enough to push the design limits.”