Willett's Point Sea Level Study: Harvard University Design Studio

Queens, NY

Urban waterfront architecture, historically created for economic productivity, can be designed to become environmentally productive. Slips, warehouses, ferry structures and mills are all water dependant. They draw upon their environments but do not exist in balance with their locations. The investigation of the Flushing Creek Waterfront will focus on the question of whether economically productive architecture can be made to not only reduce impacts on but also benefit the environment.

Flushing Creek Waterfront in Queens was first settled as Vlissingen by the Dutch in 1645. In the 19th Century the area became an ash dumping ground as famously described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Over the last century natural functions of the creek and surrounding ecosystem were degraded by landfill, filling of marshes, bulkheading, and dredging. Robert Moses transformed the area in preparation for the 1939 World’s Fair and expressways now crisscrossed the creek. Pollution from the Willets Point industrial area adds toxins to the Bay, which is also subject to routine CSO discharges. This study will explore how built industrial, commercial and residential programs might be made to enhance environmental productivity of this contested ground.

Considering past and present conditions of resource management, the creation of new cyclical urban infrastructure systems to manage resources is clearly needed. The term infrastructure itself should be re-considered so that its connection with the concrete and steel entanglements of highways and sewer systems can be reduced, coordinated, or even eliminated. At a time when priorities are refocused on infrastructural investment, we must remind ourselves of the real meaning of the term: systems that manage resources within cities for the people that inhabit them.

Engagement of resource-based strategic thinking beyond the limitations of current finite constructions can help facilitate design of sustainable overlapping urban systems that improve the quality of life within cities. Design projects have the capacity to be economically, ecologically, and socially productive by actively engaging in addressing current resource management issues. The following project represents a holistic approach to providing a productive landscape that serves as infrastructure by managing multiple resources. By recognizing opportunities for innovative infrastructural design, landscapes become the systems which complete the resource cycle.