Professor Randy Mason


North Brother Island Preservation Studio

University of Pennsylvania
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Historically referred to as the ‘ferry dock,’ the gantry and slip structures were constructed on North Brother Island in 1948 in response to influx of WWII veterans and their families were housed on the island following the war. The island was upgraded with a ferry dock and gantry system to accommodate the increased traffic to the island. A complementary ferry dock was installed at 134th Street, just across the East River, that same year. The ferry bridges acted as gangways to load passengers and vehicles onto the boats and absorb some of the impact of the boats engaging the slip.

Historically, the gantry was the doorway to the island, and the slip its threshold—both symbolically and functionally. It is the intent of this proposal to return the gantry to its former role on the island as a symbolical gateway and a functional entrance point to the island.

The objective for the design of the new cladding system was first and foremost to mitigate the heavy wind loads acting upon the structure. The historic configuration of the cladding system would act as a sail, in terms of increased surface area for prevailing winds to apply additional pressure to. Furthermore, as it has been determined that reconstruction of any structure on the island is not consistent with our comprehensive preservation approach, returning the gantry to a fully clad structure was not considered as a design alternative. Moreover, the gantry has undoubtedly stood longer as an unclad or partially clad structure longer than it has as a fully clad one; in other words the interpretive value of the gantry is manifested in the ability to see the structure below the cladding and not focused on the cladding itself. In this way, the secondary design objective was to reinterpret this aspect of the structure. Thus, the comprehensive approach for the redesign of the gantry cladding was to first design a series of geometries to shed wind loads from the prevailing direction and to expose the structure below in a new, and bold way, appropriate for the new and improved doorway to the island. Corrugated metal was chosen, similar to the original, however stainless steel is the proposed metal to promote material longevity in a corrosive marine environment and to catch the light of the setting sun to passers-by on the shore and in boats—a beacon of sorts. Computational fluid dynamic studies were employed to fine tune the behavior of these cladding panels for wind performance.

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