State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainable Solutions for the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Written by Alyssa Dubov

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 5-7, M.S. in Sustainability Management students in Professor Lynnette Widder’s SUMA K4162: Responsibility and Resilience in the Built Environment ventured across the East River to complete an interdisciplinary workshop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The workshop was organized by Professor Widder in collaboration with the Departments of Architecture of the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany and the Rhode Island School of Design.

For the Saturday and Sunday portion of the workshop, M.S. students worked together in a rented studio space at metropolitan exchange with their TU-Braunschweig and RISD peers to propose strategies for “do-it-yourself” urbanism for the area within and around the Brooklyn Navy Yard. On Sunday, the interdisciplinary teams from the three institutions presented their schemes to a panel of experts. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is the focus of the students’ term project, a proposal for the sustainable reuse of the Navy Yard property.

“Our trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard really informed my approach to our semester-long project and clarified the idea that in our role as translators, sustainability managers are helping to create new interdisciplinary global networks of people and ideas,” said MSSM student Saami Sabiti. “By working with the students from TU-Braunschweig and RISD, the workshop became as much about effective communication as it was about summoning good ideas for the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

The workshop served to accelerate students’ knowledge and thinking about how the Navy Yard fit within the context of Professor Widder’s course, that aims to teach students how to develop productive approaches to the physical dimensions of sustainability. Laura Humphrey, MSSM student, remarked about the value of the trip, “The Navy Yards are a great example of how urban spaces can be reimagined and rehabilitated. My team (including the students from Germany and RISD) were all really inspired to see how so many layers of history effected what exists there now and what could be there in the future. It was also really exciting to see the potential for green manufacturing there. It was a great way to combine on the ground, real issues, with the more creative aspects of design and sustainability.”

Throughout the semester, students move from a linear model of how resources are used to a more systematic one that involves cycles and feedback loops to respond to and work with dynamic environmental givens. The class discusses solutions that allow responsiveness and adaptation to change in the built environment, specifically how to allow the physical environment to attain and maintain resilience as a system while still delivering the resources and wellbeing that humans need.

“The workshop was a great opportunity to practice cross-disciplinary collaboration. The students’ different knowledge bases is really shown to an advantage in the projects that resulted. The SUMA students were challenged to think spatially and visually, and to do the broad brush, big ideas work first, then to verify with facts. I loved the fact that the architecture students chose to let the SUMA students do the presentations for their groups. And that so many SUMA students seem to have inner architects just waiting to emerge.”

Students will be reprising their presentations are Thursday, October 25 at 8:15 in 424 Pupin Hall. For more information or if you would like to attend, please email Allison Ladue at

Below yow will find photos from the Navy Yard tour, group meetings and presentations.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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