While all eyes have been on the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged New Jersey shore this week thanks to a visit from a periodically debauched, occasionally pantless ginger warrior-prince by the name of Harry, allow me to head north for a moment to the beaches of New York City where a handful of solar panel-clad structures including lifeguard stations, offices, and public restrooms are being installed — they’re replacing the older ones wiped out by the aforementioned superstorm — just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

As featured in 3D model form at BKLYN Designs 2013, the prefabricated-in-Pennsylvania beach structures are the creation of the green modular building specialists at Garrison Architects, a firm that I featured back in 2010 with a look at the zero-energy Red Hook Green project that’s (still) in the works just a couple of blocks from my own Sandy-impacted home.

As part of the "New York City Beach Restoration" project, a total of 37 elevated structures will be plopped down in 15 different Sandy-damaged spots at Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, Cedar Grove in Staten Island, and others. Perched atop concrete pilings and accessible via ramps, the galvanized steel-framed structures meet recently updated FEMA storm surge guidelines and, as mentioned, include photovoltaic panels along with solar hot water heating and skylight ventilators to offset energy use.

Other design features such as glass tile ceilings render the buildings (I'm thinking specifically of the bathroom units) less terrifying than what most beachgoers are used to when it comes to public facilities. It's also worth nothing that the wood rainscreen siding used in the construction of the buildings was mostly salvaged from Sandy-damaged boardwalks.

To say that the speed and efficiency inherent to modular building was more than beneficial here would be a severe understatement as there was an overriding sense of urgency to complete the buildings — and complete them fast — so that they’d be ready just in time for the start of sun-worshipping season. In a profile of the project at Co.Exist from March, firm founder Jim Garrison explains that he was approached by city officials just after Christmas and presented with a five-month Memorial Day deadline. That’s mighty tight.

The project profile page shares the essential details:

In order to meet such an aggressive design and construction schedule the building and the component are design as a system of modular component. Both modular and the elements installed within and upon it are systematized. Similar to the component approach of temporary automobile. Factory prefabricated was used to eliminate weather delay and allow for simultaneous preparation of the site and foundations.
Three types of structure will be constructed including life guard stations, comfort stations and offices. Each module is 15 feet and 12 feet high, 57 feet long and 47 feet long within interstate shipping limits. The module will be transported to each location on flat bed trucks where they will be set upon their pile foundations using cranes. Modules are arranged in pairs and are connected by a series of fully accessible ramps and stairs, which will provide access to and from the beach and boardwalk. This was done to reduce the labor and maintain as small a footprint as possible on the beach.

Garrison goes on to tell Co.Exist that these “economical and aesthetically pleasing” modular buildings can serve a greater purpose —emergency housing, for example — in storm-prone areas beyond comfort stations and lifeguard towers. He notes that New York City's beach reconstruction effort is the first time that an American city has begun “confronting the reality of starting to build infrastructure that can deal with these enormous storms and can live beyond them.” He adds: “This is a way to build in an era of congestion, ecological challenges, and the need for permanence.”

It was great to see Garrison’s quickly — but not hastily — realized vision on display at BKLYN Designs … and can’t wait to see the finished product at the beach later this summer.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Storm-ready prefab buildings set to debut at NYC beaches
Garrison Architects creates a series of green modular structures to grace NYC's Sandy-ravaged beaches by Memorial Day.