The Makings of a Storm-Resilient City

Written By Stephanie Fujihashi | May 01, 2014
Screen shot 2014 04 29 at 12.25.42 pm

Photo courtesy of Bijark Ingels Group

Almost 18 months has passed since America’s second costliest hurricane wreaked havoc on New York City in ways that most never imagined possible. Areas hit the hardest are still undergoing recovery—economically, structurally, and psychologically. New Yorkers have had to learn to accept hurricanes and tropical superstorms as a threat and risk that comes along with living in NYC. As the Tri-State area rebuilds, plans to prevent mass destruction from any future storm of a similar magnitude (which, studies show, is quite likely to happen) are simultaneously being implemented throughout the area.


In New York City, Rebuild by Design, an initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has been hosting a design competition in order to develop innovative and implementable proposals to create hurricane-resilient infrastructure. The competition was launched in 2013 as a collaboration between HUD, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, the Municipal Art Society of New York, the Regional Plan Association, and the Van Alen Institute. 148 international applicants applied, and after deliberation by experts, ten teams were selected to go further in the competition. The areas which the ten teams focused on covered a large range from Bridgeport, Connecticut, down to the southernmost ends of the Jersey Shore. Copenhagen and NYC-based architectural firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), selected Manhattan as their area of focus. On the 3rd of this month, BIG’s final proposals were made available for public viewing.


The revealed designs were quite inventive. BIG is proposing a 10-mile U-shaped raised berm, which will encircle essentially the lower half of Manhattan. BIG’s proposed plan, dubbed “the Big U,” will stretch from West 57th Street down past the Battery, and back up north to East 42nd Street. The waterfront on which the proposed berm is to be erected will also offer easily accessible routes into various parks, walkways, and recreational facilities, complete with salt-tolerant trees and shrubs.



For the areas around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy, BIG suggested attaching walls to the underside of FDR drive. In the event of a massive storm, the walls will be deployed, protecting the area from floods. When the detachable walls are not being used to resist the swollen East River, the overhead panels, which will be decorated by local artists, will create a recreational area for the community.


BIG also has plans for the eastern and western boundaries of the Battery, which, during Hurricane Sandy, allowed floodwaters into the Financial District, subsequently shutting down the world’s financial capital. The “Battery Berm” will consist of knolls and elevated paths through parks, which will also allow residents and visitors of the city to enjoy much needed green space.


The team behind The Big U views the opportunity to make the city storm-resistant as a chance at improving social infrastructure as well. They suggested replacing the existing Coast Guard building in Battery Park with a new building, which will serve as a maritime museum or an environmental education facility. The maritime museum would feature a “Reverse Aquarium,” in which visitors will have the unique opportunity to observe tidal waves and sea level variations through a flood resistant glass, while being below sea level. Additional community spaces, market areas, local farms, and various other venues along the waterfront are proposed as well, creating entrepreneurial opportunities for many NYC residents.

Photo courtesy of BIG


BIG’s innovative response to the city’s storm-resilience, as well as the other nine teams’ plans, will be subsequently evaluated by an expert jury in the near future. The winning teams will then attempt to implement their designs with disaster recovery grants from the HUD, as well as through other sources of public and private funds. We don’t know if we will get a chance to walk these waterfront walkways anytime in the near future, but we think that any type of initiative to strengthen the city’s storm-resistant infrastructure is headed in the right direction by trying to prevent anything like Hurricane Sandy from ever shutting down our vibrant city again.

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