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The Great Climate Change Park
Mapping the Ecotone


Mapping the Ecotone, Ashley Kelly and Rikako Wakabayashi's winning entry in the design competition Envisioning Gateway, is one of those things that we have been meaning to post for months.

Having earlier attempted to communicate our fascination with coastal interventions and our belief that by merely being sited on such tenuous terrain, they are by default the most interesting type of project there is, we think that the duo's project will be a good postcript to our previous post.

Their proposal is certainly among the best that we have encountered last year, and it definitely deserved its First Prize.

Mapping the Ecotone


Kelly and Wakabayashi had a two-fold task. First, they had to develop a master plan that unifies the separate units of the Gateway National Recreation Area scattered all over the New York-New Jersey harbor. Second, within this larger scale, they had to design a new park at Floyd Bennet Field in Jamaica Bay, the result of which are seen in the images accompanying this post.

A major element of their proposal is a series of jetties and piers, rigid infrastructure in an otherwise shifting landscape. It's the urban edge intersecting with the natural landscape. From above, they look like the runways of the now defunct airport, here realigned not to direct people off to distant locales but to the site itself.

Mapping the Ecotone
Mapping the Ecotone
Mapping the Ecotone


It's a simple design but a fantastically genius one. It allows park visitors to come “into direct contact with marshlands, tides and fluctuating sea levels” but, in keeping with the natural condition of the park, a place in “necessary flux,” this infrastructure vacillates between accessibility and inaccessibility.

In other words, during low water levels, you can throw around a frisbee, have a picnic or take a hike on dry ground; you can do most anything what you can at a national park or an urban park. however, when the waters come and inundate the site, there will certainly be some things that you won't be able to do. But you would then be able to fish from the jetties, do some kayaking and more — until, of course, the site reverts back to drier conditions.

The great deluge may have come but there's no reason to panic. The design being as resilient as it is, the infrastructure hasn't collapsed. The symbiotic relation between the varying ecological and cultural systems hasn't deteriorated.

This is disaster, designed.

Mapping the Ecotone


There is an important lesson here for coastal cities threatened by sea level rise, especially cities like New Orleans. The prevailing paradigm is to separate urban settlements from the waters, to fortify against attacks from the elements. But it's a catastrophic mistake to think that one can contain something as eternally mutable as the landscape. You cannot freeze the outline of the shores or the riverbanks forever in time and place.

What Kelly and Wakabayashi are saying is open up the city to the waters. Give it a zone of transition — an ecotone — where both land and water can be occupied simultaneously.

In the abstract, replace classical notions of formal clarity and structural stability with an orthodoxy of flexibility and adaptibility.

Mapping the Ecotone


Mapping the Ecotone


Meanwhile, it must be mentioned that in addition to being points of access, the jetties and piers are pedagogical tools as well. As the landscape changes around them, they provide a backdrop with which one may be able to discern the various habitats, the disappearance and reemergence of landforms, and fluctuating sea levels.

One may even possibly detect the creeping effects of global warming.

6 COMMENTS —
  • dp
  • July 17, 2008 at 3:53:00 AM CDT
  • At first glance it looks like a load of new-build concrete structures that have no purpose other than providing rectilinear footways. How adaptive and globally-sensitive is that?

    Maybe if I read the details I'd find that these are existing structures modified slightly, or new but built from sludge and old timbers by hand.

    The broader point is that anything purporting to address ecological issues should start from found materials, low technology and low impact.


  • k
  • July 17, 2008 at 7:07:00 AM CDT
  • How far do you need to ship the 'found' materials then, dp? Do you need to refine them, recycle them, recondition them? The amount of energy used in these processes can often be more resource-intensive than new materials.


  • dp
  • July 18, 2008 at 5:09:00 AM CDT
  • Hi, k.

    Material found on site would suit me, as would material floated over from nearby cities, particularly if it was diverted from an existing waste stream. Likewise, plant material grown on site (e.g. coppicing), earthen foundations and even hand-dug canals would be welcome.

    Part of the point is to reduce consumption of resources like oil and minerals, while increasing consumption of biological energy, e.g. manual labour. This would probably require that the workers live on site, which would raise other questions about resource consumption. But I would rather see things developed this way than through reliance on conventional resource-hungry methods.

    *note to Alexander: Blogger has some sort of error with OpenID.


  • dp
  • July 18, 2008 at 7:53:00 PM CDT
  • Addenda:The Rossville Boatyard would be an interesting place for a climate change park partly because a significant amount of the infrastructure is already in place. Although the carcinogenic crabs (not a pun!) aren't quite what one would hope for.


  • Anonymous
  • July 29, 2008 at 10:34:00 PM CDT
  • Aesthetically the forms have elements which are eerily similar to the Field Operations/Diller Scofidio scheme for the High Line.


  • k
  • July 31, 2008 at 5:31:00 AM CDT
  • dp, all well and good if the site happens to be fortunate enough to have rich soils as well as being a repository for found materials. If this is the case, by all means it should be capitalised, but we mustn't fall into the trap of expecting that recycled materials are automatically a good thing, as often their embodied energy can exceed that of new materials dependent upon shipping, refining etc.

    On a broader scale, I'd suggest that the type of areas that need this kind of development are remediation projects that are unlikely to have suitable soils or useful found materials to enable any level of self-sufficiency prior to construction.


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