One year after Hurricane Sandy swept the New York coastal area of Queens, Swedish firm White Arkitekter was named as the winner of a two-phase international competition dubbed FAR ROC ("For a Resilient Rockaway") with a scheme that addresses severe weather, sustainability and social integration.

The competition was launched in April 2013 by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and attracted 117 entries from around the world. The White proposal, developed with engineers Arup and global architecture firm Gensler, is titled _Small Means and Great Ends_ and aims to transform an 80-acre shoreline site in the Rockaways, and the neighborhood known as Arverne East, into "a resilient and affordable urban development for the community."

Rather than one over-arching solution to storm events, they propose a strategy of interconnected, small-scale interventions. This, they feel, is the strength of the scheme which creates an environment that "interacts, rather than counteracts" with the sea and natural forces. As project architect Sander Schuur explains, "if you rely on one main strategy and it goes wrong, then everything fails. Here we have several steps, and if one doesn’t work as well as we’d like, then there are others." A Series of Interventions Starting with the off-shore environment, the architects devised a new, but organically developing "sandbar landscape" as an initial breakwater. This derives from a Dutch system and uses a "geo-tube," a large fabric tube filled with sand, which will be laid out on the sea floor and, it is hoped, will attract a further buildup producing a natural barrier. At landfall, they propose setting the inhabited development back from the shoreline and creating an ecological zone of calm, shallow water that will be open to leisure activities but in times of storm will help to dissipate force as it approaches land. The idea, says Schuur, "is to take the energy away from the waves," first by the sandbank, then by the beach landscape so that by the time it hits the built area you are dealing mainly with water rise.

A new boardwalk will add another layer of intervention while also providing pedestrian access that is more resilient to high waters as it is elevated where possible and "kinked" in sections to help disperse wind and waves. Though these measures are meant to survive extreme conditions, the plan still embraces the day-to-day seaside lifestyle. Work and leisure are expected to continue at the shore; the new town center located where the boardwalk meets the new pier will accommodate a hotel, theater and sporting activities.

Spreading from the boardwalk inland, two large, landscaped parks, which the architects describe as "boulevards," will cut through the residential and commercial neighborhood. These will be designed to function both as storm-water detainment and retention and as public recreation areas. They will also become a kind of social highway, interrupting the built-up grid and connecting to the boardwalk.

The housing and commercial buildings too are designed to interact rather than counteract with designs that put important services at a higher level and leave the lower levels "openable" so that when necessary, water can move in and out again more easily. This strategy, it is hoped, will mean that the recovery time is faster as the damaged caused by water forcing through barriers and trapped inside buildings will be reduced. Housing and Social Integration The housing program, as Sander Schuur explains, follows the Scandinavian model of "focusing on the people and trying to engage the community." To this end, the architects envision a set of "social nodes," – a school, town square, pier, community center – which will be aligned along a route that travels through the residential and commercial elements.

Housing will be a mixture of mostly low-rise complexes, four-story buildings, and one-bedroom to four-bedroom units. These will be set around communal courtyards, as is more commonly seen in Europe, to encourage social interaction. There will also be single-family housing. Two 12-story towers near the seafront will help to establish the identity of the seaside community and attract visitors; one will be a hotel, the other housing aimed at younger professionals. A substantial percentage of the 1,050 new units will be allocated to affordable housing. Sustainability While the architects hope to produce the apartments and houses to something like Passive House standards, Schuur says the final guidelines are still being worked out. However, the use of the sandbar system and the decision to pull development back away from the shoreline are significant environmentally. Compared to strategies such as dredging to build artificial islands or constructing elaborate jetty systems, this plan is both more nuanced and less intrusive. As New York awaits a new mayoral administration, it remains to be seen how much of the plan’s ideology and social conscience will remain intact.

Source: White Arkitekter