'Unlike Anything Built in New York': The Making of Tribeca's River Habitat

Steve Koller awaits the arrival by crane of one of some 1,600 boulders that he and his fellow dockbuilders will install on the newly constructed platform at the end of Pier 26. The rocks will provide a breakwater for the pier and protect the wetland tidal pool when it is completed. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Aug. 15, 2019

Tribeca’s Pier 26 now has a rocky foothold in the Hudson River. 

Some 1,600 boulders, washed by the tides, rest atop a newly built 14,400-square-foot extension of the pier’s western edge. Soon to be home to a man-made wetland tidal pool, the tiered structure will host a variety of marshy native vegetation, an interpretive vision of the original Hudson River coastline, and part of the $31 million ecologically themed pier that is due to open next summer. 

“This will be unlike anything that has been built in New York,” Hudson River Park Trust President Madelyn Wils said at the pier’s groundbreaking ceremony last October.

Indeed, this structure is a first. It was built over nine months by dockbuilders from Trevcon Construction, with overall management of the Pier 26 project by Gilbane Building Company, and landscape design by OLIN. Like table legs, 36 steel pipe piles, anchored in bedrock, now support nine 250-ton concrete panels that in turn bear the massive weight of the hundreds of multi-ton boulders that will provide a breakwater for the plantings and pier.

To see what it takes to build such a challenging structure in the river, the Trib documented some of the gritty, water-soaked work of those who made it possible.

Photographs by Carl Glassman/The Tribeca Trib

The "Legs" Come First
Pile driving in January. These piles formed a kind of template for the permanent 3-foot-diameter steel pipe piles, ensuring that the white pipe piles would go in straight. Much like table legs, these piles are used to support the platforms of the marsh- and boulder-filled tidal pool.
Workers guide a pile, held by crane, into position.
One of six cages, filled with oyster shells, is lowered onto a pipe pile. The submerged shells are expected to help propagate live-oyster habitats. In the future, divers will periodically check on their progress.
As one of the 7-foot-diameter pile caps is lowered by crane into the water, a diver waits to connect it to the pile that will later help support a 250-ton platform.
A diver installing pile caps signals to the crane operator that he can raise the cable that had carried a cap to his underwater workspace.
A pile cap, still connected by cable to a crane, provides a platform in the choppy river for diver Frederick Lawson's installation work.
Giant Panels Go on Top
With all 36 of the piles installed, the first of nine 250-ton concrete platforms sits on a barge, readied to be hoisted into place.  
A giant 2 million-pound capacity crane is used to swing the platform onto its pile legs. The precision work must be performed at night to avoid wakes from ferry traffic. 
Watching as the first of the platforms is lowered onto the river piles that will support it. "This has been fighting sleet and snow and all sorts of bad weather," Gilbane project executive Keith Neuscheler said of the months of work in the river leading up to now. "It's awesome to see this." 
Dockbuilder Matt Peterson checks the platform that has just been lowered into position. Like everyone, William Faherty, Gilbane's supervisor on the project, watched the action closely. "Everything has to be spot on so that what comes later [such as walkways] can land in place," he said. "It's gonna work. We put too much effort into this for it to fail now." 
Frederick Lawson, left, confers with fellow dockbuilder Ken McManus. Lawson is standing on a pile cap.
On May 3, a crane lowers the last of the nine platforms that will hold the ecological "getdown."
After the last platform is lowered, dockbuilder Ken McManus makes his way across the gangway that provides access between the pier and the newly constructed platform in the river below.
Structural engineer Raj Chinthamani, of Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers, inspects the structure he has designed. "This is the last piece of the puzzle," he said with satisfaction. "Look at this. Everything fell into place very nicely." Chinthamani had spent two years on the project.
Eric Glaeser uses a laser surveying instrument to make sure the panel is positioned exactly right.
As dawn breaks, the worknight nears an end.
1,600 Boulders, Protectors of the Coming Wetland
The first of two barges at the pier on May 14. On board are the boulders that will be hoisted by crane onto the newly assembled platform. Each barge contains about 800 rocks of varying sizes that were quarried near Lake George, NY, and will provide a protective barrier for the plantings. 
Landscape architects Demetrios Staurinos and Jamee Kominsky, at left, confer with Gilbane's William Faherty, center, and Keith Neuscheler before the boulder installation begins. Staurinos and Kominsky are from OLIN, the firm in charge of the Pier 26 design.
Swung from a barge by crane, the first—and one of the largest—boulders is guided into position by a crew of dockbuilders. The rocks weigh from 2 to 9 tons each.  
The map used as a guide for the placement of the stones, which are cut in four sizes. But fitting them all together is no easy task because the stones are not perfectly shaped or sized. 
Steve Koller, left, signals to the crane operator as foreman Ryan Byrd takes hold of a boulder.
About 50 boulders are "floated' in the course of a night. Here, Mike McDede prepares to place another one. "Probably the most frustrating part about this," said Trevcon supervisor Matt Lippincott, "is that you'll set a rock and bust your ass getting it in and it's a tight fit, and the very next one you say, 'This one is better.'"
McDede puts a bolt through the platform, to be tightened on the pile cap.
The platform panels and the piles beneath them are not permanently bolted together until after the boulders on the panel are set in place. Ken McManus waterblasts river muck from one of the holes where a bolt will be inserted, sending a foul odor into the air but clearing the way for a well-seated bolt.
Marty Bower, assisted by McManus, uses a torque wrench to tighten a bolt that connects the platform to the pile cap. Underneath, a diver with a wrench tightens the nut on the bolt. 
Finished for the night, Bower washes up.
Later, he surveys the night's efforts. It is June 18, about a week before the dockbuilders' job at Pier 26 is done.
Once completed, the ecolgical "getdown" at the end of Pier 26 will not only provide a place to study tidal plants, but it will also offer a new perpective of Lower Manhattan.
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