State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Designing the Future at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Industrial Park

By Kristina Alnes andErin McNally

BNY Project - 1
M.S. in Sustainability Management students pause for a photo at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s student design showcase, “Designing the Future.” (From left to right: Steven Burke, Professor Lynnette Widder, Kristina Alnes, and Erin McNally)

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was once considered America’s premier shipbuilding facility, but after the naval base was closed in the 1960s, the sprawling 300-acre space fell into a state of neglect and decay.  More recently, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation has set out to redevelop the abandoned lot with the objective of turning the site into a paragon of sustainable industrial development.

The Navy Yard recently was the site of a student design showcase, Designing the Future, featuring industrial and architectural design, and urban planning inspired by the up-and-coming industrial hub. Two groups* from the M.S. in Sustainability Management program presented their work at the exhibit and engaged in discussions revolving around sustainable design ideas for the burgeoning site. The term projects were completed in the context of Professor Lynnette Widder’s fall 2012 Responsibility and Resilience in the Built Environment course, which included a design charrette with graduate-level architecture students, on the Brooklyn Navy Yard site.

The Navy Yard is the largest piece of unoccupied industrial real estate in the dense metropolis of New York City and is located on the waterfront with spectacular views of Manhattan. The site offers an ideal opportunity for sustainable development.

From one perspective, the waterfront location of the Navy Yard can be seen as an asset, but this location also poses a serious threat to businesses. Located at the water’s edge and in a flood zone, the site suffered significant losses from Superstorm Sandy and will have to accept flooding as part of its regular operations for years to come.

BNY Project - 2Can flood waters be seen as anything other than a damaging force for the site? What would have to change for flooding and storm surges to be seen as a natural component of this industrial park? These are the questions M.S. students sought to answer in MORE YARD: Designing a Sustainable and Flood Resilient Industrial Park by redefining how the Navy Yard occupies its current space.

The project re-imagines the Navy Yard to better receive and accommodate flooding, instead of resisting it, while flourishing as an industrial park. The recommendations address how the edge of the site interacts with the shoreline and how the elevation of the buildings and entire campus could be altered without losing productivity or functionality.

The project proposes the creation of a soft, living edge such as an artificial reef habitat on the shoreline of the site that will slow and rebuff floodwaters while at the same time providing an environmental and aesthetic improvement. In addition, the project suggests shifting the focus of commerce, including key business assets and mechanical systems, to an elevated location that lies above flood levels in order to protect them from incoming floodwaters.

Shifting these assets up and out of the first floor might initially seem like a loss of valuable real estate space, but the first floor of a building could serve a function that is minimally affected by flooding, such as a parking garage. These proposed parking garages allow space which is currently being used for open-air parking lots to be developed into additional real estate for new businesses. Employing such strategies will allow current and future businesses to thrive at the Navy Yard by reducing the risk of damage from flooding events.

The second project, Reclaiming a Space with a Living Machine, also focuses on how the site interacts with the surrounding community, infrastructure and environment. The project addresses an existing environmental challenge: the site is the location of one of New York’s largest Combined Sewer Overflows, CSO NC-014, which discharges 666 million gallons of raw sewage a year into the waterways. The sewage discharge is costly to the city, the environment, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The area around the combined sewer overflow outlet is currently unusable, and 12 acres on the northernmost dock is not being utilized. The project proposes building a vertical living machine that emerges from the dock — a three-story structure that cleans the waste effluent from the overflow water with a man-made wetland. This wetland-based wastewater treatment plant reclaims the land’s value, and helps keep the local waterways clean.

BNY Project - 3The overflow treatment structure also includes a space for a data center that could be leased to develop this area of the yard into a “tech park.” A thin-film photo-voltaic skin on the building would help generate energy for the center, improving environmental performance and reducing energy costs. Waste heat from this data center would be used to heat a semi-outdoor “industrial model space” where the yard’s tenants can develop large prototypes year round. Finally, the project attempts to reconnect the yard with the surrounding Hasidic community by creating a passive design Mikveh.

Both of the Sustainability Management projects offer solutions that reinforce the business and development goals of the yard’s Development Corporation while also creating positive interactions with the environment and neighboring community. The projects also use sustainable design principles, while reviving the detritus of former industries aligns the functionality of the overall site with the goals of the green industrial and manufacturing businesses that the yard seeks to attract today. Approaching the redevelopment of the Navy Yard with this type of integrated approach will support its standing as a model of sustainable industrial development.

*MORE YARD group members: Rachel Futrell, Saami Sabiti, Laura Humphrey, Erin McNally; Reclaiming a Space group members: Henry Gordon-Smith, Casey Granton, Justin Hardy, Kristina Alnes

Kristina Alnes is a student in the M.S. in Sustainability Management program, and Erin McNally is a recent graduate of the program. 


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Harold Nielson
Harold Nielson
10 years ago

The commbined sewer issue needs to be resolved. This is 1950’s technology that must be updated environmentally.

Harold Nielson, PE