2015 Honor Award

The Big U

Landscape Architect:

Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners PLLC

Project Team:

BIG Architects

One Architecture

About the Project:

The Big U responds to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy with protective landscapes that embody social, economic, and physical resiliency. Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency challenged designers to imagine infrastructure that could be leveraged to enhance local communities; in response, the landscape architect proposed wrapping lower Manhattan’s waterfront in a 10-mile ribbon of berms and defensive landscapes that doubled as community assets. Flood barriers were augmented with amphitheaters, skate parks, and other amenities that would not only protect but enhance adjacent neighborhoods. During HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition, the landscape architect teamed with internationally-renowned architects and engineers to amplify this impulse toward multi-dimensionality into a vision of hedonistic sustainability. The landscape architect created a framework for public engagement that allowed stakeholders to employ tools of the design studio to define local socio-economic opportunities, identify programming, and help tailor landscape interventions to enhance local social and physical resiliency.

Project Location

The Big U encompasses a series of programmed landscape interventions that wrap Manhattan’s waterfront from West 54 Battery and north to East 40th Street.

Project Purpose

The lessons of Hurricane Sandy were multivalent, requiring multivalent solutions. The hurricane revealed not only structural vulnerabilities, but a host of social and economic weak points in communities all up and down the East Coast. Without immediate intervention to increase storm resiliency, losses from future storms are expected to be catastrophic. The Big U contends that, in a post-Sandy world, the very idea of resiliency needs to be re-defined to encompass all of the factors that make a community strong—social, cultural, and economic factors no less than structural and environmental.

Expanding on work prepared by the landscape architect for SIRR, the Rebuild By Design team took Manhattan as its testing ground, germinating the core idea of hedonistic sustainability around civic opportunities in individual neighborhoods, from Hell’s Kitchen to the United Nations, with a particular focus on the Lower East Side and Financial District.