The Great Climate Change Park
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.