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Waterfalls Along the East River

Angela Kim

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Governor's Island waterfall
(Bernstein Photography)
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Waterfalls Over New York City

If you are walking this weekend along the East River in New York City, you might notice something different: waterfalls. There are four of them as you head downstream. They range from 90 to 120 feet tall, and are made of more than 270 tons of scaffolding. One is underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

It's New York's largest public art project since Cristo's "The Gates" two years ago in Central Park. At dawn on Thursday, the waterfalls just turned on -- no crowds, no ribbon-cutting.

This weekend, many folks are taking them in for the first time. We wanted to get a taste of their reactions. But first we spoke with the artist himself:

Olafur Eliasson: My name is Olafur Eliasson. I am the artist who created the waterfalls here in New York.

I wanted to integrate the water into the city. I didn't want to create a feeling that the waterfall just kind of flew in and was dropped on a neutral platform like a pedestal. So that's why I worked a bit on finding these four sites, which would have a kind of a narrative or an individual story of sort.

The space around the Lower Manhattan -- between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan and Governors Island -- that space has a history of being kind of looked across. Nobody would look at that space as a kind of positive space. Everyone looks across it and takes it for granted, almost.

When I saw a boat going through the river, and when I looked at the water, essentially, I realized that one of the elements that would add depth to this space -- one of the elements that would take it away from being a representation or a picture and make it actually three-dimensional, make it something that would take time to engage in -- is the time it takes for the water to run.

I look at it as a project, and a project is obviously like a dialogue. I say something, and then the city says something back, then I say something, or somebody else takes part in that dialogue. So I don't think that permanence or leaving the waterfalls up is necessarily any better.

Phillip Lopate: My name is Phillip Lopate. I'm a writer. I've lived in New York City all my life, born and raised here.

From where I'm sitting, I can see one of the waterfalls extending from the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge down into the bottom of the East River.

New York City was founded because of the water, and it was really profoundly affected by being a great port. And then sometime in the 1960s, the port was moved to New Jersey because of "containerization." There used to be a kind of superhighway of boats of all kinds going up and down the East River and Hudson River. Now it's much more of an empty harbor with the occasional ferry or yacht or pleasure boat.

New York City is a place of amazing created landscapes. After all, Central Park, which most people think of as a kind of natural outcropping, was really entirely man-made. This city is in general the symbol of what man can do, and the bridges are a part of that. So it really fits into the spirit of New York to have a man-made waterfall in its midst.

Lauren Young: I think the idea is amazing. What's really cool this morning is that there's all this morning noise, so you're hearing all the subways going across the Manhattan Bridge. I'm curious to come out at night and hear what it's like, because I think part of the whole experience is to hear the water. This is the only place right now -- we're standing at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge -- where you can hear it.

The water is cascading down, but it's coming out of scaffolding. It's not like it's coming out of these beautiful rocks or anything green.

The thing is that we don't experience the water that much as New Yorkers because it's highways pretty much all the way around the island of Manhattan. I always get angry -- why did they let this big city happen in the midst of an island? My husband likes to say that New York is a small island off the coast of the United States.

Michael: My name is Michael. I think it's spectacular, but it does look fake -- which it is! But it's a work of art, definitely it's a work of art, and I like it. I like it, but I'll give it a six.

Woman at bridge: I might be in agreement with that. I would give it a slightly higher mark, maybe a seven and three-quarters. I wouldn't ever jump in it, but I would definitely like being next to it. What would it take to get a 10? I don't know, I'd have to see it at night. Everything looks better at night. Even people. And waterfalls.

Adrian Polasio: You would just never imagine going over the bridge and seeing a waterfall in the river. The water's just there. I don't know how to describe it. You just find yourself staring for a second instead of moving, moving, moving. There's something else that you're looking at that's impressive. And it just stops you for a second.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By e. david zotter

    From wilton, CT, 06/29/2008

    That's just what NYC needs....ARTificial waterfalls.

    Seriously, of all the things to needed.... and money is spent building this?

    Does this reduce pollution or conserve power? Why not build something like a solar farm on top of the buildings... or a wind farm?

    Does this improve the public education system in NYC? Why not give that money to hiring better qualified teachers and administrators?

    By Deborah Fox

    From Carlsbad, CA, 06/28/2008

    Neat story; I'm glad there were pictures on the website. What was the music playing in the background of the story?

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