When Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard in October 2012, Coney Island, a coastal community in Brooklyn, New York, was severely damaged by flooding. Homes were destroyed as the ocean surged up to 10 feet and moved over 272,000 cubic yards of sand, some of which Skanska was tasked with removing. It’s clear that steps need to be taken to ensure that this community is prepared to withstand future floods. To spur innovation, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) sponsored the 3C: Comprehensive Coastal Communities competition. The competition called for solutions addressing resiliency and streetscape character to restore coastal communities. Our team, “ECO,” tackled the challenge of designing a new community for one portion of Coney Island.
Home damage in this Coney Island neighborhood was substantial because the community’s existing dwelling units were built at sea level and below base flood elevation (the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood). According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, new housing units need to be elevated two feet higher than the base flood elevation. For existing structure and utilities, the common resolution to this issue is to elevate them to prevent further damage in future coastal storms. However this typical solution was not feasible here for two reasons: Coney Island townhouses have shared walls, and our site survey revealed that neighborhood residents were not willing to spend more money to elevate their home than they had already spent to repair their unit after the storm. Based on Skanska’s experience with FEMA projects under the NYC Rapid Repairs program, which made basic repairs to storm-damaged homes, we proposed an economical and sustainable solution to designing for resilience. Our submission, entitled WaveUP, won the 3C public vote for best design!
Because of the shared wall structure of the townhouses on Coney Island, it is not possible to elevate the single dwelling units individually. In order to protect the existing units from the next possible storm, we decided to empty out the ground floor and install a prefabricated additional floor on top of the existing second level. In doing so, we didn’t want to disrupt the existing streetscape of the neighborhood. To lower the prefabricated addition’s visual impact on the street level, the additional unit is set back 14 feet (the allowable setback limit from the zoning code), creating a balcony. This pushback also gave us the necessary space for the support of the additional prefabricated unit and the space for a floating car deck. The design’s triangular shape was inspired by the shape of waves. It also provides the optimum angle for the PV solar panels located on the roof: these will generate important energy for the homes, but will supply essential emergency energy should another storm hit.
From the public survey we learned that most of the residents lost their cars during the flooding. After structural and cost analysis, we found that it would cost just $800 to build and install a floating deck made of Styrofoam brand floating billets. An investment of less than $1,000 could allow the residents to save their valued vehicles. It is a very simple structure; it has no mechanical parts, and requires no maintenance. As part of our design, we suggested implementing a series of DIY workshops to teach residents to make their own floating decks. The workshops are designed to engage the community in rebuilding.
As part of the efforts to rebuild the community, we had to implement new landscape designs as well as architectural developments along the streets. Our proposed contemporary wetland buffer for the neighborhood would be a state of the art project and demonstration area for do-it-yourself (DIY) coastal resilience designs, saline plant environment research and bird species habitat.Salt water can be mortal for plantation. For this reason we selected plantings that are salt tolerant and which can resist breakage and uprooting during high winds. Through careful plant selection we planned to eliminate the need for large-scale soil replacement during construction as well as to avoid damage and reduce losses during future coastal flood events. Species were selected based on their ability to benefit one another in their ecological roles. Additionally, the use of native plants reduces the need for supplemental water and fertilizers while providing habitat for the native fauna.
With climate change, coastal communities like Coney Island are becoming more vulnerable. High energy consumption is a driving force behind climate change. Reducing energy consumption is necessary in order to fight against climate change and help prevent damaging weather disasters in the future. We wanted to implement an engaging way for the community to monitor their energy consumption. We came up with the Happy Meter, a playful visual display on the façade of the house indicating the household’s energy consumption. Faces on the meter indicate if a home is using below, at or above the average NY state electric consumption compared to a similar sized house. It’s been demonstrated that making energy usage visible can encourage a reduction in consumption up to 15 percent. The Happy Meter will create a united neighborhood and educate the next generation about the energy consumption with a fun visual and a dose of competition!
This design project was an exercise in thinking about resiliency – not just in the built environment but for Coney Island’s community spirit as well. Resiliency means bouncing back. From our studies we found out that the temporary improvements in the built environment will never provide enough strength to bring the units back to the normal. We need to look at the big picture and take necessary actions for the permanent solutions. We have to stop resisting the nature and learn how to adapt for a better and safer future.