Global warming and rising sea levels pose a serious threat to Lower Manhattan, and some experts believe that rising waters could affect New York more than any other city in the world. The impending flood, be it from a storm like Hurricane Sandy or rising sea levels, has many architects thinking of viable solutions to save our great city. Two architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania, Tingwei Xu and Xie Zhang, think the solution is to build an elaborate lattice work bib on the shorelines of Downtown. The duo have designed an extensive membrane system that would guard the bottoms of Lower Manhattan buildings from messy floods.
According to Xu and Zhang, a lattice work of flowing membranes would be draped around building bases and the ground. This membrane would be made of a material that reacts differently to different types of weather, being mostly effective when it rains, as it would soak up and divert water away from the surface. But the membrane would also have a function when it is dry out. Like a giant germination net, the membrane would be planted with trees and other greenery, acting as a soil substitute that could be stretched to different levels. The plants also act as a natural guard against flood water.
The architects are basing the membrane idea on the failure of the more concrete levee systems in natural disasters. They feel that fluid, stretchable material is more apt to accommodate rising tides and divert them. By using spongy materials and creating marshes and other wetlands would help water slowly drain, rather than slam into the city all at once. Soft infrastructure like manmade marshes have been discussed and explored by many architects post-Katrina, and many believe Manhattan could benefit from this time of system along its coast line.
Xu and Zhang’s bib idea may be a little out-there, but this type of alternative thinking can help New Yorkers find an innovative solution should climate change keep heating up our summers and increasing our sea levels — a problem that we very well know threatens many parts of New York.