NYC May Get a Big Ugly Wall Instead of Bjarke Ingels’ Storm Protection System

Posted On Wed, July 6, 2016 By

Posted On Wed, July 6, 2016 By In Policy, Technology, Urban Design

“Not only is New York City going to build the cheapest, ugliest version of the big dumb wall, there’s a very good possibility that it won’t even be big enough.”

According to a recent Rolling Stone article titled “Can New York Be Saved in the Era of Global Warming?” the level of storm protection put in place to protect the city from future superstorms may fall short of the elegant solution that was originally promised. According to the story, the city funded a proposal–Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)’s winning submission in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design contest–that involved a 10-mile barrier system that would protect Lower Manhattan from the ruinous effects of storm surges and sea-level rise. Called the Big U, the $540 million infrastructure project would be designed to contain parks and public spaces. But because of cost issues, the project may not materialize as planned.

The barrier “sponge” that would help insulate the city against future Sandy-like storms is currently being created by BIG. It was promised that the 16-foot steel and concrete berms would be “cleverly disguised as skate parks, public pools, urban farms, bird sanctuaries, and marshland trails.”

big u 4
BIG’s proposed approach weaves its way around Manhattan, responding to community needs with parks, paths and play spaces.

According to the story, architects and urban planners familiar with the project say that due to its cost and complexity, the finished product is “just going to be a big dumb wall.” And as is often the case when barrier walls are built, there is resistance to living next to them. There is concern that the the structure will affect property values, with neighbors wanting to be on the “right” side of it; the story cites the ongoing battle in Hoboken involving the OMA-designed sea wall that has been facing intense community opposition.

big u 5
The masterplan includes physically autonomous flood-protection zones that can be individually isolated.

The worse issue of all, though, may be the system’s shortcomings when it comes to actually protecting our communities from possible storm damage. The barrier is clearly be intended to protect the Wall Street area, but what about waterfront communities like Red Hook, Brooklyn, who would suffer even more severe consequences?

The story cites the fact that in the Netherlands, for example, barriers are required to go much further in their storm protection capabilities, and some predict that global warming will make Sandy-like storms a more likely occurrence. Protecting against a bigger “500-year storm,” though, would be more expensive, which, at the moment, may be the deciding factor.

[Rolling Stone via Gizmodo]


All images courtesy of Rebuild by Design / Bjarke Ingels Group

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