Building Better Beaches After Sandy - Best of Summer Week


By Matthew DeMello
Image courtesy of Garrison Architects.

With every tragic natural disaster comes a silver lining, a chance to rebuild the world for the better and more responsibly. When the City of New York began looking for plans to rebuild beach facilities damaged by the unprecedented surge of Hurricane Sandy, they wanted to do so sustainably, efficiently, and not to mention on a tight deadline.

In awarding Garrison Architects the $106 million contract, the city did so under the stipulation that 19 of the 35 structures would be complete by Memorial Day weekend, not that they wouldn’t be available to help.

“I can’t begin to describe all the people who put tremendous effort into this,” says Jim Garrison, the head of the Brooklyn firm of same name. He lists the Department of Design and Construction, contractors, and the mayor’s office as major players coming together to accomplish what tends to be bureaucracy’s more pervasive weakness that is sticking to schedule.

“New York’s an interesting place, it’s a city that takes great pride in its ability to respond and pull together after these kinds of events,” he continues, commenting on the sense of community spirit after Sandy. “It is unusual in its degree of urgency and cooperation to get these things underway.”

While rebuilding New York City beach facilities swept away by Sandy posed practical benefits (the bathrooms had dipped ‘below grade,’ to put it politely) they also provided an opportunity to build more resilient and efficient structures – goals that aren’t mutually exclusive by any stretch, according to Garrison.

“It’s the same proposition. If they are resilient, they are sustainable from an environmental standpoint,” Garrison tells BTR. Though there a number of challenges for sure, but say, in the case of trying to build water systems less dependent on the city’s infrastructure, what is greener also alleviates damage caused by Sandy-like storms.

Another example: the steel-framed modular stations pictured above are elevated above FEMA-standardized storm surge levels. The unique industrial design (complete with solar paneling) of these various comfort and lifeguard stations also lend themselves to minimal energy consumption, taking advantage of the natural light and ventilation of their beach front location.

As attendees make the most improved bathrooms, skylights help the summer sun illuminate the common area while a fresh breeze from the ocean is allowed to trickle in, in manageable doses, thwarting any potent odors.

“That’s how we start to make a long lasting structure,” says Garrison. “[We] eliminated as much of the modern fossil-fuel fed energy source requirements as possible and simplify these things through design, so that they really are effective environmental devices.”

When Garrison’s firm pitched their design for the city, they proposed a set of modular buildings, or structures put together from individual sections, called modules. Their factory-like aesthetics may be unglamorous, but who needs a classic, home-y beach house wood finish when unpainted stainless steel keeps the daily erosion of sandblasts and saltwater at bay? Plus, such simple standardization makes manufacturing that much easier – a must if the structures were expected to be complete in five and a half months.

While construction continues on the remaining structures on Staten Islands, the Rockaways and Coney Island, Garrison hopes the model will influence how other cities approach rebuilding after a natural disaster.

However, as mentioned in a recent interview with LiveScience, super storms like Sandy should prove to be the rule, rather than the exception.

“A large conversation in the community has to do with what our city is going to be like as we start to deal with these types of issues,” said Garrison. “I imagine other cities will want to look at this approach as a means of responding to extreme weather.”

For now, tourists and locals can check out new eco-friendly lifeguard stations (and improved bathrooms) at beaches throughout the New York City area.