April 6, 2010
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Preview of “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront”
Location: Museum of Modern Art, 03.23.10
Speaker: Barry Bergdoll — The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art
Organizer: Museum of Modern Art

ARO1

Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio’s New Urban Ground transforms Lower Manhattan with an infrastructural ecology.

Courtesy Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

If calculations are correct, the sea-level around NYC will rise two feet within the next 50 years, and up to four or six feet within the century. Many parts of the city and surrounding areas could be swallowed. Whether or not one believes in climate change, natural disasters, such as hurricanes, could easily overwhelm the city’s current infrastructure. MoMA and P.S.1 teamed up to find solutions for New York Harbor by hosting an “architects-in-resident” program at P.S.1 (11.16.09-01.08.10).

On View through 10.11.10 at MoMA, “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront” features the resulting five proposals, in the form of elaborate drawings and articulate models, for five different zones around the harbor. Organizer Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, said that the multi-disciplinary teams “came to us not with projects, but philosophies.” They were instructed to design without the constraints of property lines or governing administrations. The five proposals shouldn’t be viewed as a master plan, Bergdoll explained, since they aren’t meant to be executed altogether.

Zone 0: A New Urban Ground, includes Lower Manhattan and the northern edge of the Upper Bay. Architecture Research Office/ARO and dlandstudio imagined a combination of “hard” and “soft” solutions, reclaiming nature by creating wetlands and parks and paving streets with a cast-concrete mesh and plants that act as a sponge to absorb tidewater. Rather than employ a traditional barrier such as a seawall, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis/LTL Architects embraced the ambiguity of the shoreline in Zone 1: Water Proving Ground, which includes the Northwest Palisade Bay/Hudson River area in NJ (Liberty State Park/Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty). By sculpting an existing landfill, the team created four protective “raised fingers” that foster areas for parks, aquaculture, recreation, and research.

Occupied by an oil-tank farm and military pier, Zone 2: Working Waterline, includes the Southwest Palisade Bay/Kill van Kull area (Bayonne, NJ, Bayonne Piers, and northern Staten Island). Matthew Baird Architects’ proposal acknowledges that changing shipping routes due to shifts in the Arctic could “reshape the economy of New York Harbor as much as higher sea levels will reshape the contours of the land.” They employ a land berm for protection, an elevated “solar path” for vehicles and pedestrians, and a new glass recycling facility to produce large “jacks” that can be stacked underwater to create a reef. nARCHITECTS tackled Zone 3: New Aqueous City: A Zoning Ordinance for a Regional Metropolis, which includes the South Palisade Bay/Verrazano Narrows area (eastern Staten Island, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park). In this proposal, the city and water co-exist through habitable piers and a connecting network of ferries. A manmade archipelago and inflatable storm barriers allow the shore to build natural resilience to storm surges.

SCAPE/LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE proposes revitalizing an old oyster reef in Zone 4: Oyster-Tecture, which includes the controversial Northeast Palisade Bay/Buttermilk Channel and Gowanus Canal area (Governors Island and Red Hook). A field of piles and a web of “fuzzy rope” provide seeding ground for oysters, which naturally create reefs and clean the harbor water. Someday, residents might even be able to enjoy an oyster dinner by the shore.

A recurring theme in this exhibition is “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Working against nature by physically blocking the water will not breed success; instead, infrastructure and architecture should embrace the sea and establish harmony. These projects are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; but Bergoll hopes that they will foster an ongoing dialogue: the exhibition’s website describes the projects in detail and is open for public comment.

Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, is a freelance architectural writer and a contributing editor to e-Oculus.

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