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Friday Fun: Adapting New York City for Rising Waters and “the Next Sandy”

As sea levels rise across the globe, coast lines are posing large threats for dense, urban areas. For these cities, like New York, climate adaptation can act as the last line of defense for safeguarding citizens. (Photo: dia_n / Flickr)

If global temperatures rise by 2º Celsius, New York City (NYC) could lose up to 1.8 million of its residents. However, unlike other cities who are simply working to mitigate climate change, NYC is working to adapt its cityscape to rising sea levels through Bjarke Ingels’s proposed Dryline Project.

Bjarke Ingels’s Vision

Forty year old Dane Bjarke Ingels is considered by some as one of the most innovative architects in the modern world. He leads the Bjarke Ingels Group—or BIG—a team of architects based in New York and Copenhagen. Since the group’s founding in 2005, BIG has completed over a dozen projects, ranging in location from Ingels’s home country of Denmark to China and New York.

In their unconventional work, BIG focuses on finding the “the fertile overlap between pragmatic and utopia.” Indeed, Bjarke Ingels has always been interested in weaving the practical with the fantastic, and is a big fan of science fiction, which he has identified as a source of inspiration for his style of architecture.

The Dryline: Protecting Manhattan’s Coast

Ingels’s unique approach to architecture is clearly present in his design of New York City’s Dryline, a 12 kilometer barrier designed to both prevent flooding and provide commercial and public space. The flood barrier is a system of concrete elements, known as the “big bench,” but doubles as infrastructure for bike shelters, benches, and skateboard ramps. Beneath the elevated roadways are parks and open spaces that host a wide range of public activities; to protect these lower areas, the structure features storm shutters that can be rolled down to create a barrier that both contains and blocks floodwater.

The project’s first phase involves the construction of a two mile long raised berm along the Lower East Side. Through strategic access points, park goers will be able to reach the waterfront, complete with fishing areas and swimming pools integrated with the coastline.

New York in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Ingles’s project is largely a product of post-Hurricane Sandy anxiety over future flooding and climate change. Indeed, damages to New York City caused by Hurricane Sandy were estimated to exceed $19 billion, and affected over 300,000 homes. In the aftermath of the storm, New Yorkers have come to view their city from a new perspective: as a coastal area susceptible to the hazardous conditions accompanying climate change. Determined not to be caught off guard in the future, the city of New York hosted a competition, prompting designers to submit proposals for protecting Manhattan’s coast. Ingels’s Dryline was chosen as the winner.

Sandy’s aftermath, and the construction of projects such as the Dryline, seem to represent a shift in attitudes towards climate change. The storm made clear that climate change is a phenomenon that wields significant and life-changing power over urban life.  As the Holcim Global Jury Report noted:

“[The Dryline] makes a political statement by means of an architectural and urban proposition, arguing that climate change indeed can no longer be suppressed or discarded as a figment of environmentalist imagination and that tangible solutions truly exist.”

A rendering of the project’s flip-down panels on the Two Bridges in Manhattan. (Photo: BIG)

Only time will tell whether the project can become the resilient flood barrier that the city needs. But, with a talented and varied team of partners and funders involved in the Dryline, it seems that the project is making headway. Overall, Bjarke Ingels has high expectations for the project, and hopes the first phase of the Dryline—which is already being surveyed—serves as an indicator of its larger success. “We’re trying to make the initial phase as adventurous a manifestation of the fundamental idea,” he told The Guardian. “We will have failed if, in the end, it’s just a good-looking green slope.”

While an expensive investment, the Dryline serves as a model of climate change adaptation that also creates green space, integrates pedestrian accessibility, and finds additional ways to benefit the public. As sea levels continue to rise and severe weather grows stronger, more cities may be looking to construct similar barriers.

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