Pier 15 in New York City by SHoP Architects, 2011.

A month ago the latest addition to the East River Waterfront Esplanade, which stretches for two miles along Manhattan's old industrial waterfront from the Battery Maritime Terminal to Montgomery Street, opened without fanfare. The uneventful opening of Pier 15 probably stems from the fact it happened at the beginning of winter, but also because, while the two-level park is complete, the glass pavilions that sit on the lower level are empty. The planned restaurant and maritime museum are yet to be, but nevertheless Pier 15 is a strong destination jutting into the East River just south of the South Street Seaport Mall on Pier 17.

Designed by SHoP Architects with Ken Smith Landscape Architect, the pier's presence is shaped by its edges: To the west is the elevated FDR Drive; the tall ships of the South Street Seaport are docked directly to the north; the south is all water until Wall Street's Pier 11 (designed by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson); across the East River to the east is the Brooklyn cityscape. The design responds to these respective conditions: It creates a front door with three access points and cantilevers on the top to look over the FDR Drive; a set of stands on the top tier look upon the masts of the tall ships; a park between the glass pavilions is a pleasing spot for looking south and soaking up some sun; and the eastern end of the pier provides seating for looking at Brooklyn and the famous bridge that links the borough and Manhattan.

Five organizations held five different visions for the pier. We synchronized these objectives into a cohesive whole. -SHoP Architects, from SHoP: Out of Practice

As mentioned three options are available upon arrival at the western end of Pier 15. The hexagonal paving that defines the rest of the East River Waterfront Esplanade extends to the eastern end of the pier on the lower level. This path takes one past the two glass pavilions and the south-facing garden that is open to the sky. The red plastic slats of the ceiling define the overhead undulating plane of the path and the rest of the lower level. They comprise the most visually striking part of the pier, owing to the color of the material but also the way they bow like the hull of a ship. SHoP has used this sort of repetitive construction on a number of other projects, and its use here is effective in creating a sense of place and linking the building to its nautical neighbors.

The second path is to the right, up some stairs that bring one to the boardwalked top tier surrounding a couple patches of grass. Open where the lower tier is enclosed, the top is like a truncated High Line, an elevated walk suitable for slow strolls. This level is reached by the third path, a ramp that ends at the stage-like steps that face the ships to the north; additional seating comes in the form of a long row of black benches above the steps. The ramp continues to a prow that looks eastward to Brooklyn. Alternatively one can descend via stairs to the end of the lower tier. Overall the system of circulation is simpler than it might be described here, and it is easy to navigate. One can experience the pier like a Mobius strip, moving up down and around to look this way and that, sitting, strolling, and someday eating and visiting a museum.