Riverhead Tower

The artist/writer Jalal Toufic, in his reply to an interviewer’s questions expressed frustration that the cover of a book did not precede the writing of the book. If a picture is worth a thousand words, he asks why not start the book with the cover. Going on to examine movie posters in the same vein, he sees the poster as the generator of the film, i.e., start with the poster and make the film to fit. This way of thinking has engendered a project: Riverhead Tower.

We see the Riverhead area's potential arising out of the town's place on Earth. It is unique geographically. Riverhead is at the divergence of Long Island's North and South Forks. It has Long Island to the West (and New York City), the Atlantic to the South, Connecticut and New England to the North across the Long Island Sound and the forks and bays of Eastern Long Island to the East. Ask someone from Riverhead where it is on a global atlas and they will point to it with confidence and ease. 

The features of its geography are of such a scale that they can easily be found on any Earth map. A favorite fly-over of Long Island is Riverhead for the views of the area, from The Cape to New York City. On the smaller, local scale, Riverhead retains its geographic uniqueness. The Pine Barrens forest to the West and South of the town provide a protected watershed. To the direct West and to the North lie some of the last agricultural areas on the Island. The former Grumman Aircraft complex is extant. Deeded to the town by the U.S. Navy it is being developed as an industrial complex.

So why a tower? A tower of extreme height at first thought seems absurd. The first thing it would provide (ahead of all the problems such a project implies) is a vantage point from which to view this part of the Earth and its geography. But it is the problems that lie with a real tower that pose the challenging questions; they force the mind to see the town in consideration of its geography and what its potential holds. The tower becomes a focal point for thought beyond the small town and on to its integration with its larger environment.

There are obvious problems to consider, the practical aspects of the implied tower: Parking? Utilities? Stress on the environment. Structure? Use? Water? Waste?

Parking? Simple. The extreme concept of such a tower inspires the further use of extreme measures: Make Riverhead a car free location. On the aftermath of the Sandy Hurricane disaster, thousands of damaged cars were parked on the runways of the former Grumman airfield. Returning to lesson of that experience, opens the possibility of parking in the same area with a public transportation such as a monorail following the LIRR and LIE into town. Transportation in town can be limited to buses, bicycles, pedicabs and those can up graded with electric power.

Utilities? The Grumman area could also be used to provide electric power by sheltering the parking with raised solar panels as has been done at the Suffolk County Offices in Center Drive. The use of the tower, business, residential, decorative, would expand on the question of utilities. We are in the process of what Toufic might call, “designing the book’s cover, the film’s poster”.



Utilities: totally new thinking required re: power, waste, etc.

Stress on the environment: Where to begin?

Structure? Engineers, please.

Use? Merely a tower or habitable, useable, profitable?

Financing? Money, created every minute requires substantial fields for its investment.


Coming to New York:

A person arriving from Europe observed that on the flight in the pilot announced that the passengers would soon be able to look down on Eastern Long Island as the plane made its approach to JFK. Sitting at a window seat, looking down one could clearly see a particular familiar house in Riverhead, thirteen thousand feet below. Echoing the experience of the flight returning from Europe, a favorite fly-over of Long Island is Riverhead for the view.


Absurd ideas:

Meeting a person at a local gathering of supporters of the arts, we introduced ourselves. He asked what sort of thing had my attention and when I mentioned that I was working on a project for a half mile high tower for downtown Riverhead, he said not a word, turned and walked away.

Ref’ to current thinking with apartments with firetrap fire code, no parking, overloading facilities, noise, traffic, etc., . . .



Models are under construction. A model about five feet high is in progress. The first section of a twenty foot high version is being built. Design is happening as the models are being built; the models represent the idea, not a real building. They will be three dimensional renderings of the idea. The complexity of constructing the model has to be balanced with the facilities we have, not to mention other factors like time, people and expense resulting in our attention being directed entirely to the model rather than a representation of a larger structure and the complications that entails. TBD is key to the process. Thoughts from others are encouraged as to all the situations such a project implies. We're hoping to see an organic process where the concept is explored through the ideas of many, gaining complexity and richness through that interaction.



Why? This project arises out of paying attention to the managing of the town of Riverhead. The powers-that-be limit their vision of what's possible to nearby "success stories" that really paper over their own local disasters. Our contention is that inspiration for the town's possibilities lie within the town itself and that local thinking could use a dose of disruption.



Questioning the size and bulk of the model’s buttresses which were made intuitively, the “Why?" is left in limbo, to be slept on. As the model has progressed and its integration with the map of downtown Riverhead has begun we’ve become more conscious of the implications such a structure has on access and services. The buttresses are over sized and there’s a suspicion that they could be occupied by ground level businesses, offices and service facilities as well as required structure. All of this type of development could result in a sprawling of its elements extending the base of the tower and negating the simplicity of how it springs from the Earth.

© Ronald Williams 2017