08-01-22 | Feature

The Statue of Liberty Museum

A Seamless Marriage of Architecture and Landscape
by Quennell Rothschild & Partners, FXCollaborative, Rambusch

Situated on Liberty Island, the iconic Statue of Liberty is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 12.7-acre island located in New York Harbor and managed by the National Park Service was in need of a new museum building and surrounding grounds. The design of this new endeavor, which was positioned opposite the statue on the site's main axis that includes the Flagpole Plaza, features angular forms inspired by the contours of the water's edge. FXCollaborative was the architect for the project. The landscape architect, Quennell Rothschild & Partners, provided landscape design for the museum's green roof and at-grade planted areas. This included soils information and baseline irrigation requirements for what was envisioned to be a garden pavilion that appears to emerge from the landscape and rise above the ground, bringing the landscape with it. QRP also collaborated on hardscape components from the schematic design phase through construction.
Once established, most of the plantings require no irrigation. Those portions that will be irrigated utilize a water-efficient drip system. The original torch that graced the Statue of Liberty for nearly 100 years was replaced in 1986. It is now the centerpiece inside the new museum, viewable from miles away through it's glass vitrine. The project construction manager, Phelps Construction Group, selected Rambusch to move the torch from the old museum, and develop and fabricate its new illumination system.
Native meadow grasses and perennials were selected for salt tolerance. The seed mixes included little bluestem, tufted hairgrass, fox sedge, and woolgrass to create an overall matrix of wavy grasses, along with wild Columbine, smooth aster, and yellow wild indigo to add color and texture notes. Ernst Conservation Seed provided some of the seed mixes.
Materials used in the original construction of the Statue of Liberty were specified for this project. This included Stony Creek granite that the statue's base is made of for the staircase that leads to the museum's green roof.
An 8" layer of soil was provided over the structure, with a special anchoring net system designed to withstand the scouring effect of New York Harbor winds. To quickly stabilize the roof while slower-developing seeds established, oat grass was added as a cover crop. To further ensure quick seed establishment, QRP worked out a dual irrigation approach in consultation with frequent collaborator, Mike Astram of Northern Designs: a drip system embedded just below the netting, plus a separate spray system. Where the planted roof is especially steep at this triangular panel, a sub-surface waffle system is anchored to the building structure, preventing soil erosion and facilitating establishment of meadow plantings. American Hydrotech provided the soil, soil stabilization system, erosion control net, drainage layer and water retention layer. To prevent over-concentration of moisture at the bottom of the triangular panel, successive bands of drip irrigation were incrementally reduced. Invisible at the surface but critically important, a custom-designed drain wicks away any excess moisture before it can cascade over the building entrance The surface of the roof terrace is made of granite.
Native tree species including oaks and birches were added to reestablish the island canopy. At the project's interface with the island's formal mall, linear tree plantings and hedges were restored to preserve historical integrity.
A series of bioswales and a bioretention basin receive runoff from impermeable surfaces, virtually eliminating outflow from the site.
Paperbark birches frame the building entrance. Swamp white oak, Tupelo, and other native trees stabilize the soil and provide some relief from wind.

The Statue of Liberty, "Liberty Enlightening the World," is known the world over, and its torch is as much a universal symbol of enlightenment, freedom, and democracy, as it is a welcoming beacon to all. However, the old Statue of Liberty Museum, which was located in the statue's pedestal, could only welcome 20 percent of Liberty Island's 4.3 million annual visitors due to restrictive security measures implemented following September 11, 2001.

In contrast, the new Statue of Liberty Museum, which was designed by the architectural firm of FXCollaborative, and anchors the site's main axis between it and the statue, gives every visitor the opportunity to experience the museum and the inspiring history and message of Lady Liberty.

The Surrounding Grounds
The museum's 20,000-square-foot green roof with seating and observation terraces was designed by the project's landscape architect, Quennell Rothschild & Partners (QRP) and planted with native meadow species and perennials.

An early schematic plan for the landscape viewed the stepped landscape and faceted green roof areas as distinct zones but Mark Bunnell, a partner at QRP known for his ability to solve complex technical problems with elegant solutions, proposed a single unified landscape expression.

He applied a native meadow and grassland treatment on the entire roof to merge the ground plane and roof top, conjure the imagery of an American landscape and create an ever-changing tapestry that would respond well to the site conditions and act as a softening counterpoint to the building geometry.

The green roof creates a natural habitat for local and migrating birds and super-insulates the building by capturing and filtering stormwater.

QRP also provided landscape design for the at-grade planted areas. This included soils information, baseline irrigation requirements for architectural coordination, as well as input on hardscape components from schematic design through construction.

Where the building meshes with the surrounding landscape, a series of bioswales and a bioretention basin receive runoff from impermeable surfaces, virtually eliminating outflow from the site. Once established, most of the plantings require no irrigation; those portions that will be irrigated utilize a water-efficient drip system.

Native tree species including oaks, birches, and black Tupelo were added to reestablish the island canopy.
At the project's interface with the island's formal mall, linear tree plantings and hedges were restored to preserve historical integrity and to provide a "frame" for the museum's treatment.

The visitor experience culminates in a dramatic granite roof terrace that provides unobstructed views of Lady Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and New York Harbor.

Ecological Artistry

From the outset, the team wanted to exclusively use native materials to support the harbor ecosystem. Everything had to tolerate salt spray. Plant growth heights needed to align with security
surveillance measures.

No toxic plants could be used in case of accidental ingestion. Plants requiring deep rooting could not be used on the roof. The desired visual effect was a balance of wavy grasses and flowering species. And all plants needed to be able to accommodate a range of slope and exposure conditions.

The team approached Neil Diboll, consulting ecologist with Prairie Nursery to brainstorm about seed mixes that would thrive in the varying conditions, meet all the design criteria and work within the budget.

What resulted was five different seed mixes to handle all the site conditions: roof, irrigated meadow, non-irrigated meadow, bioretention basin, and irrigated meadow under shady building overhangs. Though differing in makeup, the mixes share enough similar species to appear continuous.

Design Challenges
Deceptively simple in appearance, the creation of the meadow landscape involved overcoming enormous challenges. They included integration of the building to the island's mall, providing stability and seamless transition between various building elevations and steeply sloping roof planes, and the application of a single landscape typology across a variety of site conditions (on grade and on structure, differing wind and sun exposures, and variations in water availability).

To achieve the effect that the building was lifted out from the meadow required solving a few technical issues. Typical green roofs feature a wide gravel border around the edge, which would have ruined the eloquence of the gesture. QRP worked closely with FX architects on an edge detail that allowed meadow planting to extend to within four inches of the fascia, separated only by a relatively invisible drainage channel. A continuous band of reinforced planted paver blocks embedded below the meadow surface anchors the drainage medium.

Having witnessed Hurricane Sandy's damage to green roofs elsewhere in the city, Bunnell and project manager Rucha Mandlik were determined to find an effective solution to the scouring effect that New York Harbor winds posed to the plants. After consulting with Chris Brunner of New York Green Roofs, they settled on an approach using polypropylene netting over the entire roof with extra anchoring around the perimeter, combined with a heavy hydromulch layer to lock in the soil medium.

Another imperative was ensuring enough rooting depth for meadow species. In too many green roof projects, soil depth is one of the first items squeezed in value engineering. But FXCollaborative was fully on board with the need for healthy rooting depth, helping QRP get a full 8-inch depth of soil medium baked into the structural design of the building.
The most visible part of the roof also happened to also be the most challenging for stabilization. Where a triangular facet of the roof folds down steeply near the building entrance, a special waffle system was embedded the full 8 inches to hold the soil medium place.

A Lasting Impression
Opened to the public on May 16, 2019, the 26,000-square-foot Statue of Liberty Museum achieved the two goals of the architect, FXCollaborative: to create a building that uplifts the experience of the island for all visitors, and to extend and add to the island's open space, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the beloved international monument.

Respectful of the historical significance of its site and its ecological and environmental impact, the new Statue of Liberty Museum improves the experience for all of the island's 4.3 million annual visitors, is able to convey the history and message of Lady Liberty to a new generation, and anticipates achieving LEED Gold certification.

In the months since the museum has opened, the project has received numerous awards and acclaim. QRP has been back to monitor plant growth noting the effect of site exposure on the various seed mixes, which have allowed the best adapted plants for a given exposure to assume localized species dominance, providing a constantly shifting experience of grasses and flowers around the site.

Visitors from all over the world interact with the grasslands and meadows as they touch and photograph plants on their journey to the singular views of Lady Liberty and the harbor.

QRP states that they "are humbled as we realize that our landscape has become part of the visual memory of a visit to this iconic American symbol for generations to come."

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF)
Architect (Design Architect & Architect of Record)
Landscape Architect
Quennell Rothschild & Partners
Experience and Exhibition Design
ESI Design
Construction Manager
Phelps Construction Group
Project Management
SBI Consultants, Inc.
Structural Engineer
DeSimone Consulting Engineers
MEP Engineer
Kohler Ronan Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineering
Langan Engineering
Torch Relocation and Illumination System Design


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