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BIG U

Location: New York, USA

Status: In Progress

Rebuild by Design, an initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and HUD, is aimed at addressing structural and environmental vulnerabilities that Hurricane Sandy exposed in communities throughout the region and developing fundable solutions to protect residents from future climate events. The BIG U is a protective system around Manhattan from West 54th Street South to The Battery and up to East 40th Street: 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography that comprise an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.

Lower East Side before a storm: The Big U not only shields the city against floods and storm water; it provides social and environmental benefits to the community, and fosters an improved public realm.

Lower East Side during a storm: The Big U not only shields the city against floods and storm water; it provides social and environmental benefits to the community, and fosters an improved public realm

Where the FDR lifts off from the ground and creates a gloomy underside, BIG worked with the local residents on the design to improve the mood of this space. Illuminated art pieces by local artists are proposed for the underside of the FDR – A Sistine Chapel of street art.

The art pieces can fold down to form temporary enclosures for events such as a Christmas market—or they can all come down to resist the sea.

The pavilions within the BIGU will animate the highway undersides and hold back the water. These pavilions are placed in such a way that the waterfront view will always be retained from the adjoining side-streets and only right before a storm, will the walls slide out to enclose the perimeter.

During the Rebuild by Design competition, the design team was asked – What if the resilience infrastructure for Lower Manhattan wasn’t a wall between the city and the water, but rather a string of pearls of social and environmental amenities tailored to their specific neighborhoods, which also happens to shield their various communities from flooding?

The Big U is a protective system that encircles Manhattan, responding to the needs and concerns of the island’s diverse communities. Stretching from West 57th Street south to The Battery and up to East 42nd Street, the Big U protects 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography that comprise an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.

A small-scale study model of the BIG U.

The team behind the Big U has envisioned three compartments that function independently to provide flood protection. Each compartment comprises of a physically discrete flood-protection zone that can be isolated from flooding in adjacent zones. At the same time, each compartment presents opportunities for integrated social and community planning. The compartments work in unison to protect and enhance the city, yet each compartment’s proposal is designed to stand on its own.