A new high-profile spectacle flowed into New York this week, courtesy of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The New York City Waterfalls—riding high with a $15-million price tag—is the city’s loftiest public art installation since “The Gates,” when saffron-colored ribbon shimmied atop more than 7,500 gates throughout Central Park in 2005. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the installation will inspire a wonder akin to what the Danish settlers felt when they first stumbled upon New Amsterdam (they apparently looked at the shoreline and compared it to the Garden of Eden.) Though we're not convinced the project will channel visions of paradise among jaded New Yorkers, Bloomberg seems to expect that it’s certain to cause passersbys to slow their steps and gape, if only for a moment.
The larger-than-life waterfalls flow from four giant spigots affixed to the New York shoreline (Pier 35, by the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo, near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and on the north shore of Governors Island). Two of the falls rival Lady Liberty in height and are “three-quarters the height of Niagara Falls,” according to Bloomberg, the project’s über-cheerleader.
Why waterfalls? In Bloomberg’s words, as parlayed during his weekly radio address:
Our waterfront is one of the most magical parts of New York...The “Waterfalls” project will help bring that sense of awe back to the Harbor, and get more New Yorkers out to enjoy our wonderful parks and open spaces.
How does it work? “Robert Benazzi, the hydraulics designer working with Eliasson, created a system that will suck up the East River, lift it ten stories into the air, and drop it back down, thousands of gallons a minute,” explained New York magazine earlier this month. “He says the only comparably complex job in his 40-year career was designing the sprinkler system for the Sears Tower.” And to our relief, Bloomberg promises "the project’s design takes steps to protect fish and other aquatic life, which means that for the more than three months they’re up, the Waterfalls will have little impact on the environment."
Who? When? Sponsored by the Public Art Fund and the City of New York, Waterfalls will continue to, uh, fall through October 13. Check out Circle Line Downtown’s harbor cruises for an up-close sightseeing experience, or download a map for the most bicycle-friendly route to take for optimum viewing.
Photo: The New York City Waterfalls (artist’s rendering), 2008; © Olafur Eliasson, 2008; Courtesy Public Art Fund