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SSCE, Day 12: The Future of NYC – Green or Blue?

July 17, 2010

fischerlighting

Yes, “blue” is apparently the new term for an eco-friendly (and H2O friendly) design aesthetic … “green” is so 2009.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I, until I visited the MoMA on Thursday to see the “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront” exhibit with my “In the City” class.

The exhibit presents a series of solutions for reshaping New York City’s waterfront into a marine ecosystem of residences, commercial and recreational areas, and energy-harvesting plants, in preparation for the inevitable 10 foot rise of sea levels over the next century due to global climate change.  Seen any disaster flicks in the past 5-10 years?  2012? The Day After Tomorrow? Deep Impact? Yeah, I guess New Yorkers figured they should do something before one of those cinematic epic tidal waves comes knocking.

The exhibit reimagines the city’s waterfronts in several ways, one of which takes the traditional notion of a city block and literally turns it on its head.  This team of designers imagines buildings suspended from a common overhead grid system, where building owners decide how far down they want their buildings to be built (i.e. how close to the water).  The flat space created by the common roof areas serves as an evacuation area in the event of a flood.  This team, in fact, would require all new buildings on the waterfront to have a rooftop evacuation area (notice the switchback-topped building in the photo).

Other designers imagine the city’s waterfront as a flexible, submersible system of parks, farms, ports, and energy-harvesting plants, that is built to accommodate the natural tide changes in the harbor.  What was most notable about this team’s presentation was their model, which combined a physical white model with live projections to demonstrate the potential change in tide levels over the course of a day, and how those changes would affect their planned waterfront design.

I personally enjoyed the added element of an outdoor amphitheater and floating stage in this team’s proposal.  I could only begin to imagine the logistical nightmares that a venue like this would have to solve in order to function safely!  It would, apparently, have the best stage backdrop ever, though, with an uninterrupted view through the proscenium to the Statue of Liberty!

Other teams’ proposals included turning downtown Manhattan streets into “blue” avenues that, when reconstructed with porous and absorptive materials, could act as a natural sponge and filtration system for any excess water that makes it into the city; or, installing huge oyster nets in the harbor to benefit from the natural water-filtration capabilities of the mollusks.  At any rate, there were certainly a lot of interesting, well-though-out designs that would be worth investigating further.  I highly encourage anyone interested in urban design in the NYC area to go visit the exhibit.

After visiting that exhibit we were given the rest of the morning to explore the MoMA at our own leisure.  Unfortunately that only left an hour or so before our afternoon class, but I managed to find another interesting exhibit on 20th- and 21st-century product design before we left.  Take a look at this chandelier!

And this table! (Which, coincidentally, reminded me of some 3D modeling exercises we had recently done in class.)

I really wish I had had more time to spend wandering through the museum; there was so much I didn’t get to see.  Luckily, my New School ID gets me in for free, so I can easily return later!

Continuing the theme of spending time outside of the Parsons buildings, our Studio class, that afternoon, went to visit the site where our final design project, a new bicycle transit station, would be located.  We were tasked with surveying details of the site and the surrounding areas in order to form a clear idea of how our individual designs will function and fit into the space and surrounding neighborhood.  Long story short, our site is currently the home of a mid-sized car park.

While currently a fantastic location for parking your car during the workday, the site has to be transformed into a facility that can store up to 800 commuter bikes, and include other amenities such as locker rooms, a juice bar, and information kiosk, and a bike rental shop.  Yes, the space is just as small as it looks in this photo.

Having never conducted a site survey before, I wandered around the site with my camera and sketch book, noting things like access paths, traffic patterns, colors of the surrounding buildings, and other details I thought would be pertinent to understanding what I had to work with in my design.  What I became most interested in was the site’s adjacency to the High Line elevated park, and it’s proximity to the park’s built-in viewing gallery that overlooks Tenth Ave as well as our site.

A clever feature of the park, designed by prominent New York firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, it is the ultimate people-watching location.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for me) 10th Avenue doesn’t offer much to look at other than our car park and the enormous yellow billboard that advertises it.  I think it would be interesting to offer a dialogue between this gallery and my transit station by revealing some of the inner workings of it (through translucent walls or the like) on the side that faces south towards the gallery.  This just seems too good of an opportunity to pass-up, in my opinion.

Other opportunities I became interested in were the colors of the surrounding neighborhood, and the site’s relative proximity to the West Side Highway bike path.  It’s really fun to think about the logistics and design of an urban site like this, because it will have such a dramatic impact on the culture and environment surrounding it.  I believe my theatrical training has prepared me well for a project like this too, because, in a way, this feels kind of like designing a set for a show (especially with the proximity of the High Line viewing gallery).  I’m really excited, and I will, of course, post updates about my design as it progresses.  I have to complete a full site model and mock-up in the next few days, so more pictures will be coming soon!

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