by Graham Higgins LEED AP
On Earth Day 2015 (04.22.15), the AIANY Historic Buildings and Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) Committees co-hosted “Historic Buildings and Districts at Risk,” focused on landmarks and districts within designated zones of risk in New York City. The event, moderated by DfRR Co-chair Illya Azaroff, AIA, was a panel presentation and discussion about newly-introduced regulations and policies that influence city’s extensive assortment of historic structures. As a coastal city, New York is increasingly susceptible to a range of water-based extreme weather events, epitomized by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. New York’s landmark districts, and landmarks in particular, embody the city’s unique architectural, aesthetic, and cultural heritage. As humanity continues to alter the Earth’s natural balances, many of these unique historical and cultural neighborhoods and structures are at increased risk of extreme weather events. The threat of intensified coastal weather creates a new set of challenges for New York’s landmarks, and requires a delicate balance between contemporary resilient design strategies and traditional preservation methodologies. As the panel revealed, New York is employing a cooperative interagency strategy to both preserve its landmarks and adapt to the challenges of our changing climate.
The event’s first speaker, Megan Jadrosich, PMP, is the CFM Regional Environmental Officer for FEMA Region II and a seasoned resiliency strategist and coordinator. Jadrosich stressed the balance between FEMA’s integral role in responding to natural disasters at the federal level and its duty to address the localized concerns of each area where it operates. While she noted that there is a distinct set of economic benefits to building intelligently and adaptively, he also stressed the significance of respecting existing conditions through effective design. Protecting a city’s landmarks is about more than dollars and cents – it is a quest to preserve the most vibrant and crucial stitches of a city’s urban fabric. Jadrosich provided a full spectrum of large- and small-scale protection strategies. At the building-level, key mechanical systems can be elevated safely above flood elevations, while historically sensitive materials can be deployed to ensure flood-proofing or flood gate deployment when required. At a larger scale, surge barriers, levees, floodwalls, and gates, as well as watershed management and green infrastructure, can be used to protect entire neighborhoods, such as those used throughout the entries in the celebrated Rebuild by Design competition. Ultimately, Jadrosich emphasized the importance of a blended approach of small-scale and large-scale strategies dictated by effective intergovernmental and interagency cooperation.
Cecilia Kushner, AICP, Deputy Director, Climate Resiliency, Strategic Planning at the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP), focused on the range of initiatives spearheaded by DCP, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency. All strive to integrate effective urban design with the need for contemporary sustainability and resiliency strategies. Kushner mentioned that earlier this Earth Day afternoon Mayor de Blasio released One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, the most recent update to former Mayor Bloomberg’s renowned PlaNYC. The new “OneNYC” plan builds upon Bloomberg’s legacy of coherent sustainability strategies, metrics, and accountability, and has been re-envisioned to include four main pillars of growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency. The document also builds upon the post-Sandy SIRR (Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency) strategy, which deals with strengthening coastal defenses along New York City’s 527 miles of coastline, upgrading buildings, protecting infrastructure and services, and making neighborhoods safer and more vibrant.
Cory Scott Herrala, Senior Technical Advisor for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, noted that climate change awareness has become a central focus of the commission’s work. Herrala provided a series of case studies of approved extreme weather adaptation strategies employed throughout New York’s historically sensitive areas. These include temporary barriers, flood shields and panels, permanent elevation, flood vents, and assorted interior flood proofing , which can all be accomplished through historically sensitive retrofits. He said historic preservation and resilient design are not diametrically opposed. Retrofitting the 70,000 buildings within the flood plane in New York, 85% of which were built before 1983, will not be an easy task, but it is a necessary one if the city is to retain its rich architectural heritage. The integration of preservation, climate science, and resilient design is a crucial step in ensuring New York’s future success. Each of these fields is inherently linked, and, as Herrala argued, a multidisciplinary approach is required to address the challenges the lie ahead in a historically sensitive manner.
The Earth Day event highlighted two concepts in particular: the importance of a layered, multi-scale approach to resiliency planning, and the significance of a historically-sensitive, co-operative intergovernmental planning approach. Ultimately, New York’s changing coastal weather systems will necessitate a more sophisticated response from the entire design profession. The city’s landmarks will require special attention given their significant cultural value and unique architectural character. A truly effective resilient design response, one that is able to adapt to patterns of intensified extreme weather events, must adequately balance historical considerations with contemporary needs. As the event revealed, this balance is both necessary and readily achievable.
Graham Higgins is an Energy Engineer at Energy Spectrum Inc., a Brooklyn-based energy efficiency and engineering firm specializing in New York City and the Tri-State Area. Graham is a LEED GA, BPI MFBA, and a graduate of the Sustainable Development Program at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is currently enrolled in a Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program at The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Event: Historic Buildings and Districts at Risk
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.22.15
Speakers: Megan Jadrosich, PMP, CFM Regional Environmental Officer, FEMA Region 2; Cecilia Kushner, AICP, Deputy for Climate Resilience Strategic Planning, NYC Department of City Planning; Cory Scott Herrala, Senior Technical Advisor, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission; Caterina Roiatti, AIA, and John Arbuckle, Assoc. AIA, Co-chairs, AIANY Historic Buildings Committee (introductions); and Illya Azaroff, AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (moderator)
Organizers: AIANY Historic Buildings Committee and AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee