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The Next Wave
Ten teams present visionary Rebuild By Design plans to protect the Northeast region against future storms.
BIG's plan.
Courtesy BIG

Seventeen months after Hurricane Sandy roared into New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, leading architects from around the globe showed how affected communities can fight back against the next Sandy. They presented their plans as part of Rebuild By Design, a competition created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to solicit ideas for a more resilient region. After months of consultation with engineers, architects and planners, the final ten teams presented their proposals twenty-nine floors above the eerily calm waters of the New York Harbor and the Hudson River.

For the South Shore of Staten Island, SCAPE proposed “living breakwaters” made of oysters to protect against a stronger sea. WXY drew up plans for “blue dunes,” or barrier islands miles out from shore. And OMA suggested both hard infrastructure and soft landscapes to “resist, delay, store, and discharge” stormwater from Hoboken.

Left to right: Rendering of Sasaki's plan; Section through SCAPE's plan.
Courtesy Respective Firms

It was BIG’s proposal that would wrap Manhattan’s skin with new cultural and green space that doubles as infrastructure. Bjarke Ingels told AN that his team’s plan was “the lovechild of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.” To that effect, new parkland serves as a berm, an art gallery under the FDR expressway becomes a storm wall, and pavilions transform into floodgates. “If we’re going to spend all this money on necessity or utility, let’s make sure it also provides social amenity and public amenity,” said Ingels.

This point is key: Planning for climate change should be about more than preparing for bigger and more frequent storms. Because even if the “100-year storm” becomes the “50-year storm” or the “10-year storm,” the vast majority of the time, these spaces will not be flooded with water; ideally, they will be flooded with people. Brooklyn Bridge Park is the perfect example of this: on most days it is a treasured public space, but when Sandy struck, it became a crucial buffer between the borough and the breaking waves.

Left to right: Proposal by Interboro; Rendering of plan by PennDesign & OLIN; HR&A's plan for a section of the Gowanus Canal.
Courtesy Respective Firms

Rebuild By Design is about building more spaces like that; it’s focused on using design as infrastructure and infrastructure as design. “This is about moving from a culture where we only think about protecting our communities after the storm has happened, to thinking about how we protect our communities in every decision that we make as we build them,” HUD Secretary Donovan told AN. “Every time we build a sidewalk, a park, a piece of infrastructure, how do we make sure that every one of those steps better prepares our communities for the effects of climate change.”

Rebuild By Design fits squarely within that vision. The competition is not just an opportunity for famous architects to show off some nice renderings. When a winner— or winners—from the group is selected later this month, they are slated to receive federal funds to help make their plans a reality. Hopefully, the funds come in before the next storm does.

Henry Melcher


Section through a barrier island by WXY and West 8.
Courtesy WXY & West 8