Hurricane Sandy: Designing for Resilience, One Year Later

One year ago, Hurricane Sandy—or Superstorm Sandy as it has become known—churned its way up the East Coast, taking more than 100 lives and leaving destruction in its path.  One of the places hit worst was New York City, where areas like Staten Island and Far Rockaway were devastated, and Manhattan lost power below 34th street for days.

Even those of us New Yorkers who were lucky enough to not have our homes flooded or destroyed were still affected in some way.  While I luckily had the lights stay on in my Brooklyn apartment, I was one of the millions of people who attempted to “get back to normal” in the days immediately following the storm. With the subway system still shut down two days later, I took a very expensive cab ride into the city, in an attempt to get to my former job, only to find myself immediately trapped on the island. Unable to find any cab that would take me home through the gridlocked city, I had no choice but to begin walking, more than 9 miles, through the eerie blackened streets of New York, over the Manhattan Bridge, and back to South Brooklyn.

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The darkened skyline of Lower Manhattan, taken Oct. 31, 2012 from the Manhattan Bridge, after Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power. Photo by Cody Calamaio

During my almost 4 hour trek home, I had a lot of time to reflect on the fragility of something that once seemed so powerful—New York City. If this great city could be brought to its knees by Mother Nature, how could we prevent it from happening in the future?

While I had not yet joined the Contract magazine staff at that time, Editor in Chief John Czarnecki recently shared with me the story of how they put together the November 2012 issue, even though the office was darkened by the storm. John shares the story that month’s editorial, “A Wake-Up Call to Design with Resilience,” which you can read here.

The storm has been a call-to-action, not only for the City of New York, but the design community in general. The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a design competition to help rebuild the region affected by Hurricane Sandy. On Monday, Oct. 28, the 10 project teams revealed 41 Design Opportunities across the Hurricane Sandy-affected region. After three months of in-depth analysis, the multidisciplinary teams, shared their visions, which will be narrowed down in the next phase after a series of public forums.

It was also recently announced that White Arkitekter’s design won the FAR ROC (For a Resilient Rockaway) design competition, for their vision to revive an 80 plus-acre site on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, New York, which was damaged in the storm.

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“Small Means and Great Ends” by White Arkitekter was the winning design solution in the FAR ROC competition.

Here at Contract‘s office in Lower Manhattan, the lasting affects of Hurricane Sandy can still be seen everyday. Many shops and restaurants are still boarded up, and the nearby R subway train that runs beneath the river into Brooklyn is in the midst of a 14-month closure to fix damages sustained from Hurricane Sandy. I am amazed by the resilience the city has already shown in getting back on its feet, and excited about the visions that architects and designers have for creating a lasting future.

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