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Architecture faculty’s firm wins unbuilt design award

A proposal to transform the space near the Holland Tunnel Exit Plaza in lower Manhattan into a public park by the architecture firm of Dasha Khapalova, visiting critic in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, has been honored by the Architect’s Newspaper.

The St. John’s Park project redesigns and reopens a disused New York City park at the Holland Tunnel Exit Plaza in Lower Manhattan.

Ballman Khapalova, a New York City-based firm run by Khapalova and co-founder Peter Ballman, won the Unbuilt – Urban Design category award in the publication’s 2019 Best of Design Awards, announced in mid-December.

St. John’s Park, in the Tribeca neighborhood, dates back to the early 19th century. Originally called Hudson Square, it was the locus of New York City’s first development of townhouses around a private park. By 1827, the neighborhood had become known as St. John’s Park, named after a chapel of nearby Trinity Church. The park later became a freight depot; since 1927, it has been the exit for the Holland Tunnel.

Currently, the tunnel’s exit plaza diverts traffic onto five off-ramps, used by 100,000 people daily. The resulting space inside the traffic circle is, according to Ballman Khapalova’s proposal abstract, “inaccessible, unbuilt, and unbuildable.”

“St. John’s Park was never accessible to the public, and even before the construction of the Holland Tunnel, the park was private,” Khapalova said. “With this project, we are giving the park back to the city.”

In the proposed design, traffic continues to flow on the existing off-ramps. At the same time, “a continuous loop travels from street level to one level below ground, excavating the center of the site and allowing passage below the existing roadway,” according to the proposal.

The main park at the sunken level measures 300 feet in diameter and is open to the sky. At street level, a series of new playgrounds, lawns and dog parks surround it. Along the perimeter of the sunken park, interior spaces serve a variety of public and cultural functions.

Ballman Khapalova, along with engineering and construction partners, are working toward making St. John’s Park a reality.

“The Architect’s Newspaper award is an important recognition of the potential of this project,” Khapalova said, “to take what the 2010 AIA Guide to New York City referred to as a ‘circular wasteland’ and turn it into a central, vibrant and novel public space.”

Patti Witten is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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Lindsey Knewstub