Design Teams Propose Solutions for “Rising Currents”

January 6, 2010

By Alanna Malone

Though experts may dispute the role of human activity in climate change, evidence is mounting that temperatures and sea levels are rising. With 10 of the world’s largest 15 cities located on the coast, metropolitan areas could be greatly affected. In fact, according to a January 5 editorial in The New York Times, New York City “will face a tidal rise of 2 feet or more by 2080” if global warming continues at its current rate. 

Palisades Bay New York/New Jersey Upper Bay region
Image courtesy Guy Nordenson and Associates, Catherine Seavitt Studio, Architecture Research Office

The “Rising Currents” project was inspired by a study conducted by the 2007 Latrobe Prize team. The study, On the Water: Palisades Bay, explores the New York/New Jersey Upper Bay region’s need for “soft” ecological solutions to reduce water damage from flooding and storm surge, rather than “hard” systems such as concrete dams. Click on the slide show icon to view proposed solutions.

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The design community is taking notice. In November, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and its affiliate, the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, announced an initiative to explore infrastructure solutions to higher sea levels. Four architect-led, multidisciplinary teams [see list below] were selected for an eight-week workshop culminating in an exhibition titled “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront.”

Team candidates were nominated by school deans, practitioners, journalists, and other professionals, and were then asked to submit proposals to a jury of MoMA and P.S.1 curators and invited guests.

Winners were announced on November 2. Since then, the teams have been working in studio space at P.S.1, conceiving schemes and producing drawings and digital/physical models for four distinct coastal zones. This Saturday, the teams will present their concepts at 3 p.m. during an open house at P.S.1. Then, in late March, the schemes will appear in MoMA’s galleries in Manhattan.

Each team is led by architects, with additional members ranging from engineers, landscape designers, artists, environmentalists, and urban planners. The four teams have tackled issues of storm surge and flooding in specific areas around the New York City area. Barry Bergdoll’s, chief curator of MoMA’s architecture and design department, says this “glocal” approach is an “interdisciplinary way to solve problems that are both local in application and global in implication.”

The “Rising Currents” project was inspired by a study conducted by the Latrobe Prize team, a multidisciplinary Princeton University-affiliated group led by Professor Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer. The prize was given by the AIA College of Fellows; the team received $100,000 to fund the two-year study.

The group’s findings, presented in the report On the Water: Palisades Bay, explores the New York/New Jersey Upper Bay region’s need for “soft” ecological solutions to reduce water damage from flooding and storm surge, rather than “hard” systems such as concrete dams. Ideas include: artificial wetlands; barriers made of leftover building materials; an archipelago of man-made islands; old subway cars as reefs; tidal and wind turbines; a network of piers, wetlands, and oyster beds to control storm surge; and even a water-based transportation system similar to that of Venice, Italy.

The Latrobe Team’s study results were released in April 2009, and a forthcoming book by Nordenson is based on the research. Moreover, the team’s work will be on display during the MoMA exhibition this spring. Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, and Stephen Cassell, AIA, principals at Architecture Research Office, with Susannah Drake of dlandstudio, contributed to the study, and their work will be included in the upcoming presentations.

The “Rising Currents” project is the sixth installment in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s new Free Space program, which allows the art community to use gallery space in exchange for an exhibit or performance. Klaus Biesenbach, P.S.1’s new director, says he wants to reinvent the center as a “school for grown-ups.” With the marriage of workshop and exhibition space, Biesenbach foresees a programmatic expansion of P.S.1 as an “integral part of MoMA.”


* Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David Lewis—founders of Manhattan-based LTL Architects—are leading the team responsible for the Northwest Palisade Bay/Hudson River area, which includes Liberty Park, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty.

* Matthew Baird, principle of an eponymous, Soho-based firm, is the team leader for the Southwest Palisade Bay/Kill van Kull zone, which encompasses the Bayonne Piers and northern Staten Island.

* Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang, founders of Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS, are leading the team assessing the South Palisade Bay/Verrazano Narrows region, which includes eastern Staten Island, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

* Manhattan-based SCAPE Studio’s team, led by Kate Orff, is concentrating on the Northeast Palisade Bay/Buttermilk Channel and Gowanus Canal area, located southeast of Manhattan. This area includes Governors Island and Brooklyn’s Red Hook.

* In addition, a proposal developed in 2007-2008 by Adam Yarinsky and Stephen Cassell of Architecture Research Office, with Susannah Drake of dlandstudio, will be presented. Their scheme addresses solutions for Lower Manhattan.

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