The BIG U and East Side Coastal Resiliency

The Big U is an ambitious, award-winning flood protection plan encompassing ten miles of publicly-owned Lower Manhattan waterfront. It seeks to overlay a new connective network of “social infrastructure” on top of new waterfront resiliency infrastructure. The plan was among the winners of an international design competition for coastal protection, Rebuild by Design, sponsored by HUD with funding support from the Rockefeller Foundation and others in the aftermath of the enormous damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

As envisioned by the team led by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture, the BIG U extends from West 57th Street on the Hudson River, south to the historic Battery and up to the United Nations headquarters at East 42nd Street along the East River. Phase one, the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, is being built with $335 million in funding awarded by HUD in 2014, the agency’s largest project-based CDBG-DR program funding award ever made. Phase two, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project, is in the conceptual planning stage involving extensive community engagement. Overall, the BIG U responds to the area’s severe flood vulnerability made evident during Hurricane Sandy, when unprecedented damage occurred in neighborhoods with some of the highest concentrations of workers, residents, visitors, and transit infrastructure anywhere in the United States.

The proposed system not only shields the city against floods and stormwater; it provides social and environmental benefits to the community, makes important connections among community assets, and fosters an improved public realm. James Lima led the team’s work exploring potential public-private partnership structures, funding strategies, public policy alignments, and intergovernmental outreach and coordination efforts, and assisted with cost-benefit analyses. Proposed solutions for the components were designed in close consultation with the associated communities and many local, municipal, State and Federal agency stakeholders. The project team built strong local community and political support.

The project has received an impressive array of national and international awards that recognize its innovation in resiliency design and extensive community engagement. Awards received include: American Institute of Architects (AIA): Nat’l Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design (2015); AIA NY Chapter: Design Award: Urban Design Merit Award (2015), Honors Awards: Community Development Award (2014); American Planning Association (APA): Nat’l Planning Excellence Award for Urban Design (2015); American Society of Landscape Architects NY Chapter Design Award: Honor Award (2015); APA NY Chapter: H. Whyte Award for Creativity & Ingenuity in Planning (2014); Global LafargeHolcim Award for Sustainable Construction (2015); MIPIM Architectural Review Future Project Award: Big Urban Projects (2015); Architizer A+ Awards: Masterplan Jury Winner (2015); NY Planning Federation Awards, Winner (2015).

Clients: Rebuild by Design (BIG U); NYC Department of Design and Construction (East Side Coastal Resiliency)
Image credit: Bjarke Ingels Group