Early this week, the 10 finalist proposals in Rebuild by Design — a design competition launched this past June by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan that “addresses structural and environmental vulnerabilities that Hurricane Sandy exposed in communities throughout the region, and develops flexible solutions to better protect residents from future climate events” — were officially unveiled to the general public.
And while each resiliency-minded proposal is intriguing and unique in its own right, leave it to an interdisciplinary team headed by Denmark's Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to really deliver the attention-grabbing goods. Urban farms! East River swimming holes! Planted berms! "Reverse Aquariums!" Artist-decorated flood walls tucked under FDR Drive!
Dubbed BIG U, Team BIG’s proposal for a 10-mile-long “protective ribbon” that slips around three distinctive, vulnerable waterfront regions/communities in Manhattan like a glove — it spans from West 57th St. down around the tip of the island at the Battery and back up north along the East River to 42nd St. — is designed to “not only shield the city against floods and stormwater” but to “provide social and environmental benefits to the community, and an improved public realm.”
A key element of the BIG U proposal is a bridging berm that "provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels" while also offering "pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river."
BIG U includes a newly built maritime museum/environmental education facility complete with a "Reverse Aquarium" which "enables visitors to observe tidal variations and sea level rise while providing a flood barrier."
One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments joined Bjarke Ingels Group in the creation of the community-centric proposal.
The team’s approach is rooted in the two concepts of social infrastructure and hedonistic sustainability. By proactively cross-breeding public infrastructure with social programs, the team will inject new urban life forms into our cities. BIG is committed to designing cities and buildings that are both ecologically and economically profitable — where sustainability is not a moral dilemma, but approached as a design challenge. The proposal consists of separate but coordinated plans for three contiguous regions of the waterfront and associated communities, regions dubbed compartments. Each compartment comprises a physically separate flood-protection zone, isolated from flooding in the other zones, but each equally a field for integrated social and community planning.
The compartments work in concert to protect and enhance the city, but each compartment’s proposal is designed to stand on its own. Each compartment was designed in close consultation with the associated communities and many local, municipal, state and federal stakeholders; each has a benefit-cost ratio greater than one; and each is flexible, easily phasable, and can be integrated with in-progress developments along the City’s waterfront.
As for what specific features one would find in each “compartment" within the berm-heavy BIG U, do check out the below “day in the life of” video created for the competition.
And also be sure to head over to the Rebuild by Design homepage where you can learn more about the nine other final proposals, whittled down from an initial proposal pool of 148. While BIG U envisions more resilient waterfront neighborhoods in Manhattan, the other proposals zero in on additional Sandy-impacted areas including the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, the New Jersey Meadowlands, Long Island, Hunts Point, Bridgeport, Conn., and Hoboken, N.J. One proposal, The Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project," focuses on a trio of vulnerable coastal communities: Asbury Park, N.J., Far Rockaway, Queens, and this writer's own neighborhood, the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
Organized by Henk Ovink, a Dutch water expert and senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, the competition itself is a Rockefeller Foundation-supported initiative of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force in collaboration with NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, the Municipal Art Society, the, Regional Plan Association, and the Van Alen Institute. The winning proposal, to be announced later this spring, may be implemented with disaster recovery grants from HUD in addition to private and public funding. Says Ovink of the competition: “Rebuild by Design is not about making a plan, but about changing a culture.”
Along the East River tucked under FDR Drive, a system of storm walls are "ready to flip down to prepare for flood events." When not deployed, the panels "create an inviting ceiling above the East River Esplanade." The BIG U proposal explains that the panels, decorated by local artists, can also be "flipped down to protect from the elements, creating a seasonal market during the winter."
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