In 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern coastline of the United States and caused a level of flooding and destruction that was unprecedented for a major, densely populated city like New York. Storm surges brought a terrifying amount of water to the city streets, tunnels and subways; the National Ocean Service reported a 9.4-foot surge over Battery Park. Essential infrastructure was damaged in many areas, homes were flooded and people were trapped.
In the aftermath, the innovative design competition Rebuild by Design, stemming from the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called for designs to resolve the structural and environmental vulnerabilities of the city’s waterfront in the face of worsening natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.
Bjarke Ingels Group and a team of international architects, urbanists, landscape architects, engineers and others, known collectively as the BIG Team, developed their concept for the competition, titled THE BIG U.
The concept for the BIG U involved a 10-mile protective system around the southern New York City waterfront. The system would not only shield local communities and at-risk individuals from the devastating effects of floods, but it would also incorporate the needs and character of the local communities. In other words, the BIG U wasn’t a wall, and it wouldn’t separate communities from the beautiful waterfront spaces. Instead, the structures used to protect the city would also become centers of social activity.
You can learn more about the BIG U design and proposal in the above mini-documentary with Bjarke Ingels Group’s Director of Landscape Jamie Maslyn Larson, Junior Landscape Designer Doug Breuer and Landscape Architect Autumn Visconti.