BIG Architects' "Big U", a plan to protect Manhattan from future superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, was recently awarded $335 million as part of the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rebuild by Design competition. The U-shaped program aims to implement protective planted berms and flood walls in Manhattan's flood zones to make them more resilient to storm surge. Instead of just serving as passive infrastructure, the protective system will also do double duty to provide area residents with dynamic public spaces for outdoor and indoor activities that range from gardening to tai chi to swimming.
“The Big U is an example of what we call Social Infrastructure,” said Bjarke Ingels, BIG‘s Founding Partner. “The High Line shows how a decommissioned piece of infrastructure – the abandoned elevated railway – can be transformed into a public space and green landscape. 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, which also happens to shield their hinterlands from flooding. The Big U will not only make the waterfront more resilient but also more accessible and inviting to the citizens around it.”
Named for its shape, the Big U is a protective system that would encircle Manhattan from West 57th Street down to The Battery and back up again to East 42nd Street. In order to address three distinct flood zones along the perimeter of the city, BIG created three separate “compartments” that could provide customized protection for each area.
For the Lower East Side, BIG envisions a Bridging Berm planted with salt-tolerant plants that could absorb rainwater and create natural flood-protecting barrier. This berm could also act as a new green space with areas for socializing, running or relaxing.
In order to shield the low-lying area along the FDR between the Manhattan Bridge and Montgomery Street, the plan calls for gates that can be flipped down during flood events. The deployable walls could also showcase local art and be laced with lighting in order to increase the safety of the walkway at night.
Lastly, the Battery Berm would be an elevated pathway along the east and west boundaries of the Battery. In addition to keeping storm surge at bay, these upland knolls could be utilized by locals as an area to garden, farm, or enjoy waterfront views.