Chasing New York City's Waterfalls

The Waterfalls under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Waterfalls at Pier 35 in Manhattan.
A close-up of the Waterfalls under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Waterfalls at Governor's Island.
The Waterfalls along the Brooklyn Promenade between Pier 4 and 5.
The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfalls at Night. All photos by Nadia Chaudhury .

You can find cascading waterfalls right in the middle of the East River. This sounds impossible in the city, but of course, these aren’t natural waterfalls. Instead of falling from cliffs or mountains, the water churns from metal structures.

These waterfalls are part of Dutch and Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s current exhibit: The New York City Waterfalls, unveiled on June 26. The four waterfalls are located throughout New York Harbor: under the Brooklyn Bridge, between Pier 4 and 5 in Brooklyn, on Pier 35 in Manhattan and along the north shore of Governors Island.

The metal structures resemble the scaffolding that normally enmeshes construction in the city. Using intake filter pools, water from the river is collected without harming fish. A pump sucks the water to the top and falls back down into the East River through a filter that resembles a cheese grater, giving the spout the frothy look of natural falls. At night, the Waterfalls will be lit up with LED lights powered by renewable energy. The heights of the waterfalls vary slightly from 90 to 120 feet tall, mimicking New York’s skyline.

New York City is surrounded by water, and Eliasson created the exhibit to make New Yorkers more aware of their aqueous environment. “In developing The New York City Waterfalls, I have tried to work with today’s complex notion of public spaces,” Eliasson said in a press release. “The Waterfalls appear in the midst of the dense social, environmental and political tissue that makes up the heart of New York City. They will give people the possibility to reconsider their relationship to the spectacular surroundings, and I hope to evoke experiences that are both individual and engage a sense of collectivity.”

The Public Art Fund, New York City and State governments, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pushed for these temporary exhibits throughout the city.

Eliasson works with “natural elements and phenomena to create sculptures and installations that evoke sensory experiences.” He often plays with light and water in his works, such as the 1998 Green River exhibit installed in cities throughout the world, such as Los Angeles, Bremen, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden.

Eliasson is also featured at the Museum of Modern Art and p.s. 1 with his exhibit Take Your Time, a retrospective of his works, including new pieces. The Waterfalls will run through October 13, on Tuesday and Thursdays from 9 am to 10 pm, and the rest of the week starting at 7 am.


Nadia Chaudhury

Nadia Chaudhury is a former Layout Editor for the Rail.