In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, much of the press focus has been on Manhattan and its New Jersey suburbs, such as Hoboken, which was hit particularly hard. This makes sense: The storm hit these dense populations hard. But there is no reason to doubt whether the Metropolitan Transit Authority will ever get the subway running again.
For the Rockaways, N.Y., the plight seems bleaker. ARCHITECT photographer Noah Kalina depicts the severe damage that the area suffered. What seems so hard to imagine is what comes next: Even after the area is rebuilt, the Queens neighborhood will still be vulnerable to rising sea levels, more frequent and severe storms, and consequentially, more storm surges. A show at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 sought to address New York's coastal vulnerability by inviting architects to design (or redesign) weather proofs against flooding and storm damage. Today, that show looks prescient, but even two years ago a storm like Sandy did not seem like an impossibility.
Ben Adler talked to principals at Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis Architects, Architecture Research Office, and nArchitects about their proposed solutions to prepare the coast for the storms that will inevitably hit New York. Their solutions represent "softer" options for safeguarding New York. Proofs of concept exist for the general low-impact framework discussed by this architects, as Brad McKee notes in Landscape Architect, in the form of recently built waterfront parks.
Some architects are talking about soft power as the way to go. But the engineers aren't sleeping on this issue. At Slate, Matthew Yglesias surveys some hardcore options for protecting New York, modeled after Dutch geoscaping solutions to storm surges. He notes a 2009 seminar at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University that floated a $15 billion solution to safeguarding New York against storm surges.
Worth the price, as Yglesias says, considering that the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy alone may well exceed that figure. And it certainly does if you also consider the indirect cost of lost business and downed transportation. Days after the storm, parts of Manhattan are still generally inaccessible, and businesses remain focused on cleaning up instead of moving forward.
That's not to say that the Dutch and the engineers have it right. But it's time for a debate between hard engineering solutions and soft architectural solutions. The difference, in some cases, may be slight. In any case, doing nothing to prevent storm surges in the Northeast is no longer an option.