The history of Roosevelt Island is deeply enmeshed with the practice of masonry construction. The gray gneiss rock beneath the island was quarried throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to construct many of the Island’s architectural monuments. Although the quarry is no longer in use, masonry construction has continued to have a central significance in the architecture of the island. Some of the historic stone of the former City Hospital was salvaged to become a retaining wall and benches in the new Southpoint Park.
The proposal for the Roosevelt Island Ventilation Structure artwork aims to continue this line of significant masonry works on the island. The idea is to place an additional layer of 3-dimensional masonry units onto the face of the new brick facility wall forming a trellis-like armature. This armature would be used to hold a variety of different plug-in elements, such as information plaques describing the history of the island and signage announcing one’s arrival to Roosevelt Island.
The 3-dimensional units would be made from cast stone with a heavy aggregate to give them a strong texture. Ideally, the aggregate would be collected from the local stone that still exists such as at the surrounding shoreline. These masonry units would thus be permeated with the physical artifacts of the islands history. Installed within the cells of this screen wall, a timeline of information plaques made of a cast or engraved bronze would tell the story of the island’s past. Some of these plaques highlight significant architectural details by making molds and replicating them at full-scale. Others present scaled reliefs of building elevations along with text. Many of the cells would remain empty, to be added to over time as other events or structures become important to memorialize.
The configuration of the cast stone wall presented here would require roughly 200 identical masonry units that would be pre-cast and finished off-site. The units would be attached to the brick wall and to each other with a combination of mortar and stainless steel anchors. The information plaques would be made of cast or machined bronze and anchored to the masonry units. The access gate into the facility continues the geometry of the cast stone wall.