The BIG U: BIG’s New York City Vision for “Rebuild by Design”

Render for The U, “The Harbor Berm,” an elevated path through the park. Image Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

Yesterday BIG, along with 9 other teams including OMA and WXY, unveiled their proposals for “Rebuild by Design,” a competition which tasks teams with improving the resiliency of waterfront communities through locally-responsive, innovative design. Each proposal was required to be “flexible, easily phased, and able to integrate with existing projects in progress.” As Henk Ovink, the Principal of ”” as well as the Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, stated: “ is not about making a plan, but about changing a culture.” The winners will be announced later this spring.

BIG’s proposal, The BIG U, is rooted in the firm’s signature concepts of social infrastructure and hedonistic sustainability. It envisions a 10-mile protective system that encircles Manhattan, protecting the city from floods and storm water while simultaneously providing public realms specific to the needs of the city’s diverse communities. Bjarke Ingels states: “We asked ourselves: What if we could envision the resilience infrastructure for Lower Manhattan in a way that wouldn’t be like a wall between the city and the water, but rather a string of pearls of social and environmental amenities tailored to their specific neighborhoods, that also happens to shield their various communities from flooding. Social infrastructure understood as a big overall strategy rooted in the local communities.”

More on the BIG U, after the break…

The BIG U, BIG’s proposal for the Rebuild by Design Competition. Image Courtesy of BIG

From BIG. The Big U is a protective system that encircles Manhattan, responding to the needs and concerns of the island’s diverse communities. Stretching from West 57th Street south to The Battery and up to East 42nd Street, the Big U protects 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography that comprise an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area. The team’s approach is rooted in the two concepts of social infrastructure and hedonistic sustainability. The Big U not only shields the city against floods and storm water; it provides social and environmental benefits to the community, and fosters an improved public realm. The team envisions three compartments that function independently to provide flood protection. Each compartment comprises a physically discrete flood-protection zone that can be isolated from flooding in adjacent zones. At the same time, each presents opportunities for integrated social and community planning. The compartments work in unison to protect and enhance the city, yet each compartment’s proposal is designed to stand on its own.

Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

The proposal consists of separate but coordinated plans for three contiguous regions of the waterfront and associated communities, regions dubbed compartments. Each compartment comprises a physically separate flood-protection zone, isolated from flooding in the other zones, but each equally a field for integrated social and community planning. The compartments work in concert to protect and enhance the city, but each compartment’s proposal is designed to stand on its own. Each compartment was designed in close consultation with the associated communities and many local, municipal, state and federal stakeholders; each has a benefit-cost ratio greater than one; and each is flexible, easily phasable, and can be integrated with in-progress developments along the City’s waterfront.

Render for The BIG U, “The Bridging Berm,” robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side. Image Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

Bridging Berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The Berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many  unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both berms and bridges are wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs and perennials, providing a resilient urban habitat.

Render for The BIG U. “The Flip Downs,” deployable walls attached to the underside of the FDR Drive, ready to flip down to prepare for flood events. Image Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

Between the Manhattan Bridge and Montgomery Street, deployable walls are attached to the underside of the FDR Drive, ready to flip down to prepare for flood events. Decorated by neighborhood artists, the panels when not in use create an inviting ceiling above the East River Esplanade. At night, lighting integrated into the panels transforms a currently menacing area into a safe destination. Panels can also be flipped down to protect from the elements, creating a seasonal market during the winter.

Render for The BIG U, “The Harbor Berm,” an elevated path through the park. Image Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

The east and west boundaries of the Battery were key inlets during Hurricane Sandy, allowing floodwaters to rush into Lower Manhattan and shut down the nation’s – and the world’s – premier financial district. Enhancing the public realm while protecting the Financial District and critical transportation infrastructure beyond, the Battery Berm weaves an elevated path through the park. Along this berm, a series of upland knolls form unique landscapes where people farm, sunbathe, eat and engage with world class gardens.

Render for the BIG U, “The Reverse Aquarium,” part of a maritime museum or environmental education facility, whose form is derived from the flood protection at the water-facing ground floor. Image Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

In place of the existing Coast Guard building, the plan envisions a new building programmed as a maritime museum or environmental education facility, whose form is derived from the flood protection at the water-facing ground floor. This signature building features a “Reverse Aquarium” which enables visitors to observe tidal variations and sea level rise while providing a flood barrier.

Courtesy of rebuildbydesign.org

The BIG TEAM includes One Architecture (water & urban planning), Starr Whitehouse (landscape architecture), James Lima Planning & Development (finance & economics), Green Shield Ecology (ecology), Buro Happold (engineering & sustainability), Level Infrastructure (engineering) and Arcadis (hydrologichEngineering), AEA Consulting (arts & cultural planning), and Project Projects (graphic design), and the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons the New School for Design.

See all ten proposals at Rebuild by Design.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "The BIG U: BIG’s New York City Vision for “Rebuild by Design”" 04 Apr 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=493406>
  • geoffrey fulton architect

    Do I detect the yellow brick road coming to life? We are bringing it to life in Australia on http://www.containerarchitecture.co (not .com)
    under News.

  • Baoan

    God Save the Qeen, BIG Save the New York!

  • Baoan

    God Save the Queen! BIG save New York!

  • Alexandre Collaço

    It remembers me the Burle Marx project for Aterro do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro. It is sure nice but very detached from the city.
    Would probably arise some security issues as happened in Rio.