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12 Innovative Post-Sandy Projects Built to Withstand Future Storms

By Amy Zimmer | October 2, 2017 3:23pm
 A rendering of Dock 72 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
A rendering of Dock 72 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
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Courtesy of Rudin Management

BROOKLYN — As sea level rise increases the impact severe storms like Superstorm Sandy have on New York, the city’s architects are designing buildings that are more resilient than even building codes require.

There’s even a homegrown rating system for New York’s coastal buildings called the Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (commonly known as WEDG) that aims to make projects more resilient, while also making the waterways more accessible and healthier. The guidelines, which the Waterfront Alliance launched in 2015, will soon go national, the nonprofit’s president and CEO Roland Lewis said.

“Sandy is five years behind, and people don’t think about it as much, though with [the recent hurricanes], it’s on the top of people’s minds again," Lewis said. "We need to get on the retail level, people thinking and talking and hopefully demanding that we have intelligent defenses against the coming storms and rising water.”

Lewis added, “Every coastal city on the face of the earth is coming to the realization that cities need to adapt."

It’s especially urgent as terms like the "100-year floodplain" seem to be losing meaning. A 100-year flood means there's only a 1 percent chance of a severe flood happening any given year. But some experts worry the chances of such storms are becoming more common. Designers are now looking at planning for a 500-year flood, which means there’s a 0.2 percent chance of it occurring in a given year.

Architecture firms such as Perkins + Will are developing frameworks for how the built environment can plan for and respond to environmental stressors through its “Resilience Lab,” looking at the issue from social, economic and environmental perspectives, explained Janice Barnes, the firm’s global resilience director.

“We’re trying to encourage the industry to move,” said Barnes, who is also on the advisory board of the Urban Land Institute New York, which recently added resiliency to its criteria for its annual awards for excellence in development. (Submissions are being accepted through Nov. 3 for this year’s awards.)

Here’s a short list DNAinfo New York compiled of some of the city’s most innovative new projects when it comes to resiliency:

Whitney Museum of American Art, Meatpacking District

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Whitney flood gate. (Photo courtesy of Cooper Robertson)

Construction of the Whitney was already underway when Sandy hit.

But the 2012 storm brought more than 6 million gallons of river water into the building’s 30-inch deep basement, forcing architects from Renzo Piano Building Workshop, working with Cooper Robertson, to pay even greater attention to address resilience and protect the museum’s collections from future storms. 

Already, galleries and art storage were planned for the fifth floor and higher. But then the building's planners enlisted manufacturers of watertight doors for navy vessels to build 10-inch thick floodgates to prevent water from entering the building’s doors to allow staff to respond quickly to periodic flooding, and waterproof membranes are behind the reinforced concrete floors to makes sure the rest of the building is sealed, according to a white paper from Cooper Robertson.

If an event like Sandy is in the forecast, a temporary flood barrier can be deployed from a nearby warehouse and assembled on-site to protect the building’s ground floor and basement.

Also, instead of a 1,000-gallon fuel oil tank originally planned, the museum has 4,000-gallon tank to keep the building’s systems running.

Dock 72, Brooklyn Navy Yard

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Dock 72 (Image courtesy of Rudin Management)

Building atop a landfill — which also acts as one of the new docks for the NYC Ferry system — presented “challenges and opportunities,” explained Michael Rudin, of Rudin Management Company.

The 675,000-square-foot building sits above grade level, atop 400 pilings that go 130 feet deep down through the landfill to the bedrock.

“The lower portion of the building has columns, which support the building and raise it up out of harm’s way,” Rudin said. “Where we decided to go above and beyond: the lobby itself is 8-feet above the 100-year flood plain. Everything below the lobby essentially will be breakaway panels. In the event of a flood or storm, all of that is essentially material that can be replaced. It’s sort of a pass-through for water to pass under the lobby.”

All of the mechanicals are on the second floor, 28-feet above the 100-year flood plain. The utilities are encased in material to make them essentially waterproof, and there’s a generator to power emergency areas along with some tenant needs which can be negotiated upon lease signing, Rudin explained about the building which is expected to lease a third of its space to WeWork.

Red Hoek Point, Red Hook

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Rendering of Red Hoek Point. (Image courtesy of Thor Equities)

The roughly 645,000-square-foot building building designed by Foster + Partners at the old Revere Sugar Refinery, which is expected to be completed in 2020, is currently working with the Department of Buildings and other agencies to design its own deployable flood wall, according to developer Thor Equities.

While the bulk of the structure will be well above projected surge levels, the retail spaces along Beard Street are designed to connect with the surrounding neighborhood on the street-level, making the flood wall an important feature.

The details haven’t been finalized yet, the developer said.

There’s also landscaped buffer designed around the perimeter designed by SCAPE Landscape Architecture, led by Kate Orff, director of the Urban Design Program at Columbia’s architecture school.

Living Breakwaters, Tottenville

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Living Breakwaters (Image courtesy of SCAPE)

Developed for the Rebuild by Design Competition, by SCAPE, the project won $60 million from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

This coastal green infrastructure project, featuring a wall of oyster beds, aims to reduce erosion and damage from storm surges in an area hit by 16-foot-high waves during Sandy. The concrete reefs — expected to begin rising in 2018 — are designed to break the waves and reduce their height as well as improve the health of the Raritan Bay.

There is also a strong community component to the project, which has involved local input: The project will improve outreach and education, through a school curriculum for the area to help increase awareness of the local ecology.

Saltmeadow, Far Rockaway

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Saltmeadow. (Image courtesy of CetraRuddy)

The location of this 60-unit townhouse complex from JDS Development Group is a departure for by CetraRuddy, an architecture firm specializing in high-end high-rise buildings such as TriBeCa’s celebrity-magnet 443 Greenwich. But the firm was interested in tackling how to respond to the area, which was within the flood zone deeply affected by Sandy.

The design aims to protect against storms and flooding while allowing residents to rebound from extreme events in the future, explained the firm’s co-founder John Cetra.

The living spaces and electrical closets of the two-family townhomes are all above the base flood elevation, while ground floors are designated for storage, garage and unfinished areas.

The homes, which began leasing this summer, have flood vents — permanent openings that allow water to pass into or out of a building’s exterior foundation walls. Other sustainable features include permeable pavers to reduce runoff and storm planters to capture rainwater and filter it before releasing it back into the soil.

Climate Change Row House, Long Island City

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Climate Change Row House (Image courtesy of Jesse Winter)

When architect Thomas Paino filed permits to do a fairly straightforward gut renovation of this 1903 row house, his plans — submitted before Sandy hit — were rejected by the Department of Buildings, which told him he had to elevate the building because it was in the flood plain.

He has since become an expert on how to make row houses more resilient, with FEMA using his model in a “best practices” video.

“Most people think there’s nothing you can do to elevate a row house. You can’t put it on stilts like in the Rockaways,” he explained.

Working with a structural engineer, they figured out how to remove joists supporting the ground floor to elevate it.

The home — which also meets the rigorous energy efficiency standards for a passive house — can be “jarring” to see on the block, Paino said.

“There was a big dispute: Should it be made to look like other houses? It would never look quite like them, so we decided to make it look very different. Some neighbors love it; some hate it.”

Bloomberg Center, Cornell Tech Campus, Roosevelt Island

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Bloomberg  Center. (Image courtesy of Morphosis)

Morphosis Architects had just begun planning the design of the Bloomberg Center when Sandy hit, forcing the firm to go back to the drawing board, said project principal Ung-Joo Scott Lee.

The ultra-eco-friendly building, which is aiming to be among the largest “net zero” academic structures producing as much energy as it consumes, had to move its “mission critical” mechanicals from the cellar to the penthouse, even though the building’s base was elevated 6 feet higher than the 100-year flood plain — or 3.5 feet higher than the 500-year flood plain.

“The cellar itself is built like a bathtub,” Lee said, “so you can have water in it.”

Any electrical panels in the basement were elevated and there’s a way to inject silicone into the walls to ensure that any weak points created during the construction process are sealed, he explained.

“It’s really like a waterproof fortress,” Lee said. “When it comes to an event like Sandy or even Harvey or Irma, your building will be flooded. The question is how fast your building can come back on line and re-start the system.”

Empire Outlets Mall, St. George

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Empire Outlets (Image courtesy of BFC Partners)

This massive 1 million square foot $350 million shopping center, located between the Staten Island Ferry and the Staten Island Yankees ballpark, also had to go back to the drawing board after Sandy hit.

The garage was re-designed to hold more weight in event of a storm, keeping the water there until it recedes, explained Don Capoccia, of BFC Partners.

The project — expected to open in spring 2018 — elevated the waterfront esplanade by 4 feet to act as a surge wall, bringing it up to the 500-year flood plain.

The 2-foot-thick wall between the building’s 500,000 square foot parking lot is built to act like a dam next to the control center for Staten Island’s rail system and it decked over the track bed so it would be protected from the elements if maintenance needs to be done.

The building’s power sits 20 feet above its lowest point.

“In the worst-case scenario, if there’s a surge, that would not stop any of our operations,” Capoccia said.

Resilient Power Hubs
Linda Tool & Die, Red Hook

Red Hook Lobster Pound, Red Hook
Banner Smoked Fish, Coney Island

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Rendering of a power hub. (Image courtesy of Thread Collective)

Bright Power, an energy efficiency consultant, won a 2015 contest from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, to build small-scale, stormproof power plants at three these three locations using the $30 million prize money aimed at creating something resilient post-Sandy to help small businesses.

“All three were sincerely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. It’s not only the business being impacted but people’s jobs being impacted. It’s a real problem if people can’t go to work,” said Gita Nandan, of the architectural firm Thread Collective, which is working with Bright Power on the project.

The mini power plants allow the buildings to have instantaneous back-up power to critical systems when the grid goes down, as well as energy savings the rest of the time. They can operate as part of or independent from the utility grid.

They use solar photovoltaics and combined-heat-and-power, but don’t necessarily require solar rooftop panels.

Instead, at Linda Tool, for instance, the manufacturing building is creating new skylights to accommodate the solar equipment, Nandan explained.

Added Value community farm, Red Hook

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Added Value (Image courtesy of Thread Collective)

The 3-acre nonprofit farm was wrecked by Sandy, with trace levels of toxins infiltrating the soil, Nandan explained.

So, the farm scraped the soil — and sent it to The Bronx where it was used for a noise-dampening berm — and Thread Collective helped rebuild the farm’s beds two feet taller. They added a 10 kilowatt solar panel and a large composting facility with a marine-grade battery.

The beds, however, would still be affected if another storm like Sandy hit, she noted. But raising them higher would have required more complicated accessibility features like ramps and railings.

Still, in the event of flooding, the goal is to keep the farm open.

“The farm is dedicated to food security,” Nandan said.

The Forge, Long Island City

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Image of the Forge. (Image courtesy of FXFOWLE)

This 270-unit, 35-story rental is not in the highest risk area of the flood plain, but that didn’t stop the architect FXFOWLE and the developers from designing a building that would stand up well to a possible flood event.

Images of people lining up to use the power at Starbucks shops in Manhattan post-Sandy was “front and center” when planning this building, explained David Brause, of Brause Realty.

The basement-less building put all of of its “mission critical” equipment on the second floor or above. It installed oversized generators to add back-up capacity beyond elevators and hallways — which are now required to aid in the event of an evacuation — so its 26,000 square feet of amenity spaces would be powered along with hot water in its gym showers.

Also, the building — the city’s first with wind power and solar — has a façade that’s better insulated than typical new buildings, reducing its reliance on the grid and allowing people to stay warm longer in the event of a power failure. Its rain water retention tanks, used for its green roofs, helps prevent flooding of the sewer system.

“It we wanted to own this building for five years and sell it, then we wouldn’t do this,” he explained. “If the next storm hits, we will be able to function. This building will have many more lights on.”

Rockaway Boardwalk, Rockaway Beach

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Rockaway Boardwalk. (Image courtesy of WXY)

Called the “Rockaway Dune Walk,” the firm WXY architecture + design, in collaboration with local and federal agencies, built the elevated 5.5-mile concrete boardwalk, stretching from Beach 9th to Beach 126th streets, as a new model of innovative infrastructure.

The sand-colored custom concrete pre-cast planks sit atop newly planted dunes. On-ramps from the street are speckled with recycled glass, and the ramps to the beach are made from recycled plastic lumber, shaped to maintain the stability of the dunes underneath.

It took nearly five years to complete the miles-long stretch of boardwalk and replace the decades-old wooden esplanade ripped apart by Sandy in a process that included input from the community and hit snags like the possible disturbance of nesting endangered piping plovers.

In the end, the project added six miles of seawalls, dunes and other protective structures to withstand tidal forces.