Jury Asks “What If NYC…”

Storm Surge

Image showing the storm surge of a Category 3 hurricane on NYC.

Courtesy What If NYC…

On February 6, Mayor Bloomberg announced the results of the international competition entitled What If NYC…. Initiated by the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the competition challenged entrants to design post-disaster provisional housing for a typical coastal neighborhood in New York.

NYC ranks in the top tier of U.S. cities susceptible to major flooding from storm surges. Different from the issues associated with long-term sea level rise from climate change and global warming, this competition focused on the near-term possibilities of flooding and inundation similar to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster of 2003 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

While the OEM has plans for early warning, evacuation, and short-term sheltering (up to two weeks) for those affected by a major storm, it wants the capacity to accommodate residents for up to two years, the time required for reconstruction. Of the 11 program criteria for judging and 117 competition submissions for stage one of this two-stage process, the jury focused on density, delivery, and deployment. Equally important in the deliberations were the often-conflicting aspects of poetry and pragmatics.

To preserve a sense of community in NYC, it is necessary to house more people than in the lower density environment of New Orleans. Hence, the jury focused on multi-story solutions over one-story proposals. The question of readiness and deployment was also a significant issue. Is it economically and technically feasible to have a reserve of accommodations, stored nationally or regionally, ready for expeditious transport to the post-disaster site? If so, what type and where? And when the units and “hardware” arrive, would it be more advisable to place them adjacent to reconstruction sites or on separate sites altogether, leaving the rights-of-way open for communication and transport? Would offshore locations be better?

The seven-member jury, chaired by NYC Department of Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney, FAIA, and comprised of highly regarded experts — Joseph F. Bruno, Paul Freitag, Mary Miss, Guy Nordenson, Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA, and Richard Plunz — took their charge seriously, deliberated in depth, and chose 10 compelling winners and 10 honorable mentions. The winning teams will now use their $10,000 stipends to further develop their proposals. OEM Commissioner (and juror) Bruno, anticipates an exhibition of the stage two entries and the possible production of a full-scale prototype.

For further information about the competition, jurors, deliberations, and images of the entries, go to the OEM website. The list of the 10 winning entries is in the Names in the News section of this issue.