NYC gets ready for 'Waterfalls' off shore of Manhattan
U.S. Water News Online
NEW YORK — Most people view the river off Manhattan's East Side as a placid, even boring, strip of water to cross on the way to a more interesting destination.
Not this summer.
When the spigots are turned on, four mammoth waterfalls will roar into the East River and New York Harbor in a multimillion-dollar engineering feat designed by artist Olafur Eliasson.
“The New York City Waterfalls” is the city's largest public art project since 2005, when artists Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, adorned 23 miles of Central Park's footpaths with thousands of saffron drapes hung from specially designed “gates.”
“Waterfalls” is expected to generate at least $55 million in economic activity for the city, with hotels advertising special packages and tourist agencies offering bicycle and boat excursions.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ardent supporter of both “The Gates” and “Waterfalls,” will speak at the opening of the Scandinavian artist's work, which will be up through Oct. 13.
“Here in New York, water is everywhere. We take the water for granted,” Eliasson said in an interview shortly before the opening. “I want to suggest — now, it's not about the land, now it's about what's between the land.”
Eliasson, 41, is known for using technology to create indoor weather systems that incorporate elements like temperature, moisture, aroma and light. He's best known for his 2003 tour de force, “The Weather Project,” which drew about 2 million people to London's Tate Modern to see a glowing sun “rise” in a gallery — an effect he created by using a mist machine, mirrors and hundreds of light bulbs.
“Waterfalls,” which overlaps with the last days of a retrospective of Eliasson's work at New York's Museum of Modern Art, is eagerly anticipated as an economic windfall for the city. More than 5 million people saw “Gates,” including about 1.5 million out-of-town visitors, pumping about $254 million into the local economy.
“The project promises to make a big splash in our local economy by attracting thousands of sightseers to town, who will then spend money in our restaurants, hotels and stores,” Bloomberg said.
The falls will roar at the Brooklyn base of the Brooklyn Bridge and off Governor's Island in the harbor, Pier 35 near the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Promenade. The highest of the falls — ranging from 90 feet to 120 feet - is almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Vantage points for viewing include the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfronts and pedestrian and bike paths on the Brooklyn Bridge. The water will be turned on everyday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and illuminated after sunset.
“My work is ... about the relationship between the waterfalls, the journey around this part of town and the spectator,” he said. “I want people to see something which is personal. I want them to see themselves, essentially. I'm not offended when people say, 'This is not art.”'
The project was so ambitious that to pull it off, officials from 28 city, state and federal agencies worked with Eliasson over two and a half years.
The $15.5 million cost was raised by the Public Art Fund, a private not-for-profit organization. Individuals, foundations and corporations — including Bloomberg's own media company, Bloomberg LP — donated $13.5 million, and a state agency picked up the rest of the tab.
Officials emphasize that most of the materials from the waterfalls, including 270 tons of metal scaffolding, will be reused in future construction projects.
Metal scaffolds serve as the framework for each waterfall, which is generated by a system of pumps and filters. From an underwater pool, filtered water shoots up through a pipe into a trough at the top, then down in a frothy arch - about 35,000 gallons of water every minute for all four falls.
It's not the first time Eliasson has experimented with water.
In his 1993 “Beauty,” he produced a rainbow in a Danish gallery by projecting light across a fine mist of water. And for a work called “Green River” in 2000, he poured nontoxic green dye into a river in Stockholm.
Born in Denmark of parents from Iceland, Eliasson spent vacations with his grandparents on the volcanic island in the north Atlantic, where waterfalls are central to a rugged landscape illuminated 24 hours a day in summer by the midnight sun.
Eliasson's studio is a 15,000-square-foot former train depot in Berlin where he plans his large-scale creations with the help of dozens of mathematicians, technicians, lighting designers and architects.
He also has a home in Copenhagen he shares with wife Marianne and two children, Zakarias and Alma, who were adopted from Ethiopia.
Children were included in his plans for “Waterfalls.”
The Public Art Fund collaborated with the city's Department of Education to assemble study guides for teachers taking their classes to see the falls.
“Children tend to see things very different than grown-ups,” Eliasson said, explaining that while adults might see a static landscape in a waterfall, a child follows it as something vital and changing, much like a rainbow or a cloud.
Regardless of age, Eliasson said the goal of his project was to take spectators beyond the two-dimensional postcard image of the New York skyline.
“New York is sort of the icon of the modern city. ... It's a city everybody has a view on,” he said. “There's something quite challenging about trying to, let's say, shake the image that people have of this city.”
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