After Sandy: Redesigning the Waterfront


Friday, November 16, 2012

“Superstorm” Sandy has made it clear that flooding is not only a New Orleans problem: some of the country’s densest population centers are also extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges. For cities like New York, the waterfront is a design problem on a gigantic scale.

Politicians, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, tend to talk about sea walls as a large but easily envisioned answer. But Adam Yarinsky, principal and co-founder of the Architecture Research Office, tells Kurt Andersen that he’s wary of hard constructed boundaries as a single solution. “What’s the back-up if the barrier fails?” 

For the last decade, Yarinsky and other planners, engineers, and architects have worked on solutions for urban coastal flooding. In 2010, several of these proposals made up the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Rising Currents. (Listen to 360’s story about the exhibit.) Yarinsky calls Sandy “an opportunity, not simply a catastrophe. And it’s something that can improve the quality of life in the city quite a bit.”

ARO teamed up with landscape architect Susannah Drake to create a plan for Lower Manhattan’s waterfront. Yarinsky describes it as “soft-edge” design, an ecological approach in which new wetlands and redesigned city streets work together. During a flood, the streets would deliver both freshwater and brackish water into the wetlands, and the wetlands would clean that water.

The proposal’s watery green edge reminds Kurt of the way Manhattan looked 400 years ago, before European settlement. “This idea of a gradient or a slope that surrounds the perimeter of the island as a buffer zone that can absorb some of the force of a storm surge — that’s the way natural systems work,” Yarinsky explains.

→ What approach should we take in reshaping our coastal city waterfronts? Tell us in a comment below.

Slideshow: Redesigning Lower Manhattan

Courtesy of Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

Architectural Research Office collaborated with landscape architect Susanna Drake to come up with a plan to protect lower Manhattan’s waterfront from flooding. The ecological infrastructure makes use of a slope surrounding the perimeter of the island to act as a natural buffer against storm surges.

Courtesy of Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

Wetlands around the edge of lower Manhattan are more resilient to severe weather events.

Courtesy of Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

Water, sewer, gas, and electric services are relocated to accessible, waterproof vaults beneath the sidewalk. The roadbed is rebuilt as a network of porous streets to absorb rainfall and channel water from a storm surge out to the harbor.

Courtesy of Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

An aerial view of the plan.

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Adam Yarinsky

Produced by:

Michele Siegel

Comments [18]

Josh Pasch from Virginia,MN

After looking at what is proposed and what they wish to do I view this nothing but more questions. The ideas to make Islands and also refs reminds me of Kansai. Epic project that still we don't know how the outcome of the project will be in the future, as in erosion or in structure stability. I find this to be a nice idea but when working with literally the most powerful force in the world, water. What really can you do. Looking at the pictures and having access to multiple utilities and so forth would be nice. With all shore lines we have the issue of being built for a purpose in the early years of developmental. Now shore lines have the purpose of being visually pleasing. We build structures as close to it as we can and then try and find a solution when it gets damage. We all know that these issues will come forth when building this close but we do it anyway. I think we are flawed by thinking where and what to build on our shorelines. Personally I would take some of the aging building out and redevelop in areas that can support structures at these levels. There are multiple miles of shore line that have nothing but old structures that are abandoned just sitting there for no use. We could instead have a different way of thinking about our structural needs. The shore line will always be an issue. I see nothing but ban-aids for a real problem. We can build a man made harbor techniques to stop erosion but then those will need to be maintained so that they don't go away. I like the idea of having a hanging building. I find this a great concept. What happens when the structure has a fault on one of the main supports. I cant find a lot of info on these and would need to know more before I could comment.

Dec. 01 2012 01:42 AM
Anthony Fickas from Eveleth

The Super Storm Sandy was clearly a major catastrophe, but as the Adam Y. and the host pointed out it leaves a great beneficial long-term opportunity. Preventing, or rather relieving pressure from storms on any major city on an U.S. coast should be a major concern with the more usual occurrences thereof.
I agree with guest Adam Yarinsky that it should be planned out thoroughly and in a manner that has room for change/open-ideas. Yarinsky’s naturalistic and dual-ly ecologically beneficial safe guards/plans are very intriguing. Why invest in “multi-billion dollar” sea walls! It seems absurd to spend obscene amounts of money when it could be done in a green friendly and ecologically beneficial way—reconstructing wetlands like New York had for thousands of years.. It would be nice to restore some nature and habit to the bustling concrete jungle of NYC.
Overall, I believe the government should take a green-friendly role; reconstruct Manhattan in a way that will dual-ly safeguard from future storms and restore some habitat.

Nov. 30 2012 11:35 PM
Daniel Niska from Mountain Iron

I would agree that people need to realize that these disasters can happen anywhere. It happened in New Orleans and now it has happened in New York and the East Coast. However, I seem to recall that the barriers in New Orleans didn't really have a back-up. When the walls broke, the water came in with nothing to stop it. This is where engineers should be focused on. Not all plans go the way they should and there should be something there in case their plan fails. The slope is a good start. If they build barriers and they fail, the water would have to climb uphill to get into the city. This would be an advantage compared to New Orleans because New Orleans was basically built on a swamp in low lands so the water, being pushed by gravity, flooded the entire city. Now in New York, the slope makes the water travel slower up the incline, giving the people of the city enough time to either evacuate or build up their protection against the water with sand bags or other easily transported materials.

Nov. 30 2012 11:05 PM
Josh Yernatich from Mountain Iron

They are all great ideas for an upcoming city... For a city that already exists it would be to expensive! The cost would be so high to protect water, sewer and electricity that it wouldnt be worth it. The most important thing in my mind is to protect the citizens first. The whole part of living on the water front is for the view, is they put their barrier out there they loose it.

Nov. 30 2012 10:49 PM
Justine Briski

I think that the whole idea is a great idea. But we are always going to have natual disasters, we can't just protect the future. There is always going to be something in our way. So we think is this really worth spending all our time and money on surrouning the perimeter. Why spend a whole bunch of money if we don't even know if it will happen again?

Nov. 30 2012 08:23 PM
Gerald Bester II

I feel the slope will be a good idea to improve the life of the city. It will also help out Architect's like Adam Yarinsky. Also the sea walls sounds like a good idea, only if they can fine a legit way to back up the barrier if it fails to hold up. I think it would be good to help the barrier if they created wetlands around them to help storm surges.

Nov. 30 2012 02:46 PM
Andre Reyes

I agree I think relocating gas, water, and sewer, waterproof vaults beneath the sidewalk, and electric services to accessible, is a good idea. With doing this affectively you can keep all of those safe and accessible, but Is spending money on this affective yet expensive process worth it? The cost of all of this to happen I assume will be a lot, but if the benefits outweighs the costs then I think I can be worth it.

Nov. 30 2012 02:33 PM
Andre Reyes

I agree I think relocating gas, water, and sewer, waterproof vaults beneath the sidewalk, and electric services to accessible, is a good idea. With doing this affectively you can keep all of those safe and accessible, but Is spending money on this affective yet expensive process worth it? The cost of all of this to happen I assume will be a lot, but if the benefits outweighs the costs then I think I can be worth it.

Nov. 30 2012 02:25 PM
Ashley Fugere

I think that even though we’ve been thinking about ways to protect our cities from nasty storms like sandy … to be perfectly honest we will never be ready for storms as big as sandy not everything lasts forever. To build barriers in front of Manhattan may help but they may also just cause more damage…. What I think we should do to help maintain protection to the coastal cities is kind of make some sort of Dam thing so its like a barrier like it was said in the article it was neat idea yes but why not just call it a dam it literally sounds like its just gong to do what a dam does and there fore I think its an awesome idea It’ll help protect things like life homes and etc.…. I believe its awesome Idea to help protect our cities.

Nov. 29 2012 04:03 PM
Tanner Kohls

I think that using wetlands as a way to keep the dirty water clean is very environmental and a great way to introduce more wildlife into the area, as well as using this system to reduce polution. I like how they said sandy was not neccesarily a catastrophe but an opportunity, and thats how they should look at it, and if it works they could implement new strategies in different cities around the world

Nov. 28 2012 10:26 AM
Rebekah Lauseng

Adam Yarinsky mentioned practicality being something that may be a problem. I wonder too, after listening to the podcast, if all of this is practical? The biggest question I have is by making the shoreline filled more with water, how would this protect the city's inner body? It was mentioned that these 'soft edges' to the city would help to absorb some of the force that the storm brings. That would be a positive for sure as well as helping other parts of the city. Like mentioned earlier though, I do not understand really the inner part of the city would then be protected, plus not only is water a problem in storms such as hurricanes but winds are a concern as well. The idea of being able to have more cleaner water is great. This makes me wonder if the city would be able to provide so much water that they may be able to share to other parts of New York or not. The most interesting idea was having the soft-edge design under the streets! It would be helpful to have streets that allowed water to soak through them but how can these streets be strong enough to not sink under the weight of cars? Eventually you would think that they would get lower and lower.
Overall, this idea is unique and interesting to hear about. It also provides hope for the city. I would be interested in hearing more about it and being able to hear how the plan would be made a reality.

Nov. 26 2012 02:46 PM
Kayla Rosati

I think it sounds like a good idea and hopefully a good way to enhance protection towards storms or floods. I’m not sure if I believe this kind of project could completely stop something so powerful, like a hurricane, but if it’s able to protect a city, even by a little, why not try building sea walls. Would it be a waste though, if it protects less than how much money they put into it?

Nov. 24 2012 03:25 PM
Karissa Rosati

After listening to this article, I believe that it would be a great idea and opportunity for something new for the environment of Manhattan. It is eco-friendly and I really like the fact that all of the water being caught during a flood or rain fall would be cleaned and returned back to either fresh water or salt water grounds. It is quite a process to take on by reconstructing the outer parts of Manhattan, but I think that in time it will be worth it because it will create new habitat and also hopefully help the city out if another disaster occurs.

Nov. 24 2012 12:57 AM
Cameron Smith

This sounds like a great idea. From what i know of storm walls, they don't seem to hold up that well to severe storms like sandy. This idea would be more efficient in my view. Not only would it help against storms but it would also recycle the water in a natural way by sending all the flood waters away. I just don't know how that would work out to well though. I'm not sure how far off these dumping grounds are so i'm wondering how long this pipeline system would have to be to reach its destination. However i could see this working really well.

Nov. 23 2012 06:20 PM
Stephen Buria

After listening to this podcast i wondered why New York didn't have stronger defenses in place to begin with. Yes this idea is all well and good, but why weren't better storm walls up in the first place? New York (and most of the east coast) are succeptable to hurricanes, and numerous other wind and water related storms so i'm puzzled why storm barriers and similar defenses weren't in place ages before sandy hit. However i digress as this is a good sounding idea. I'm just not sure if in practice it would work as well as its designed to; however if provided more evidence i might change my mind.

Nov. 23 2012 04:45 PM
Steve Bukvich

To me this sounds like a great idea but i just think it sounds too good to be true. If the flood water vaults get clogged or blocked from say garbage (which new york has ALOT of) would they just make the flooding worse? I think some sort of actual barrier should be put in place with this flood vault idea just as a backup defense to flood waters.

Nov. 21 2012 10:26 PM
Andrew Wooster

I think the slope surrounding the perimeter is a good idea. It would allow the island to protect itself much better against a potential catastrophe. I do think that its just a barrier though that can be easly bypassed by a big enough storm. Its just delaying the inevitable. The idea in itself is great that the streets would bring the water into the wetland and the wetland will naturally clean the water. I hope the theory will work it would take away alot of man made expences.

Nov. 21 2012 11:54 AM
Doug Reinesch

I think relocating water, sewer, gas, and electric services to accessible, waterproof vaults beneath the sidewalk is a good idea.With this route you can keep all of those accessible and safe. My only worry would be whether or not it is worth spending the money on. I imagine the costs of relocating all of this and making it waterproof isn't exactly the cheapest. If the benefits outweigh the costs then by all means go for it.

Nov. 20 2012 11:12 AM

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