On October 29 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Tri-State area of the United States eastern seaboard, killing 117 people and causing more than £53bn of damage.
In the hours following the hurricane, some 8M people were without power and 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
And it could happen again. More than 50% of New York City is in the evacuation zone for a category 3 hurricane. So what is being done?
Fast-forward four years and engineers are preparing to put the first shovels in the ground for the seven projects that received £757M of funding through the Rebuild by Design competition.
The competition was the brainchild of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which tried to come up with an innovative way to respond to natural disasters and develop long-term, community-supported solutions to the growing threat of climate change.
The competition attracted 150 entrants and these were narrowed down to shortlist of 10 teams comprising engineers, planners, scientists and architects. The teams were tasked with getting initial ideas off the ground, although the ideas were not the main selection criteria, and teams were chosen because of their background and approach.
In June 2014 six winners and one finalist were named. The result was a set of seven innovative concepts that aimed to marry civil engineering with designs that enhanced the recipient communities. Two years on, these projects are all in full flow, with construction of some expected to start next year.
“We’re all extremely excited to see how each of them is moving along,” Rebuild by Design managing director Amy Chester told New Civil Engineer. “We set a high bar for the competition and have been pleased to see that that bar has stayed high during implementation.”
Today all the projects have evolved in different ways from those originally announced in that first funding tranche. The original government funding was for the first phase of each project, and new funding had to be secured to enable them to come to fruition. Some projects have secured more funds than others so they have all adapted to take into account the amount of money they actually have.
One of the best known designs is The Big U, designed by the BIG Team, featuring architect Bjarke Ingels Group and consultant Buro Happold among others. It won £272M for its proposal for a U-shaped shield around large parts of Manhattan. The system is designed to take different forms in each district, enhancing the public realm – for example with parks and sports areas – as well as guarding against floods. Since then the project has secured substantial additional funding, including an extra £249M from New York City. The plan has been broken up into different sections, all with slightly different timelines. The East Side Coastal Resiliency project provides 3.5km of protection with enhanced waterfront spaces. Completion is expected by October 2017.
One project that has evolved according to funding is the New Meadowlands project. It involves a team including Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Urbanism alongside the Dutch Delta Collective, which is a collaboration that includes architect Zus, urban planner Urbanisten, research institute Deltares and contractor Volkerinfra The team outlined a system of berms and marshes across the Meadowpark in New Jersey. These will protect against ocean surges, and to collect rainfall, reducing sewer overflows in adjacent towns. Consultant Aecom came on board in November 2015. With £122M worth of funding, it had to work out what to do with the concept that would cost £692M to implement.
Aecom water resource market sector leader Chris Benosky explains: “The challenge is what can we do with that funding?” The original design included a 14.5km flood protection design costing £45M/km, but with the funding available, only about 5km of protection could be built. Aecom and the team pulled apart the original concept to create a kit of parts that could be used to similar effect.
“What we had to do is go back and relook at this,” says Benosky.
But does it matter how far the actual project deviates from the original concept? “The idea was really to set the conversation and the level that we wanted to think about our communities and what they would look like in the future. As time goes on even better ideas are generated and we’re perfectly happy for them to be implemented,” said Chester.
The hallmark of these projects is extensive community outreach.
“Every little decision has a bunch of conversations and debates. We have been surprised about how generally supportive residents are, because we created such a robust outreach project. Even when some people said we don’t want this, there wasn’t politics as normal, it was quite the opposite. We had big conversations,” says Chester.
“The design teams have more than 200 people working to make this happen, there’s so much goodwill with residents. I believe we have thousands of people who want to see these projects get built.”