Surviving The Storm

Written by Daniel Horn on 3 June 2013

Let me paint a quick picture of what a typical coastal community looks like before Hurricane Sandy hit. Take Lindenhurst, NY for example. A small coastal hamlet on the southern Long Island, NY coast adjacent to the Great South Bay protected by a barrier island.

"Normal" flooding conditions on Shore Road, Lindenhurst, NY. Photo from lindenhurst patch.

A very mellow and low key town that appears normal from street level - but has underlying problems and inconsistencies that still to this day have not been addressed. Deteriorating canals. Low bulkhead lines. A severely vague and undefined waters edge. As it is now, this coastal community has an infrastructure that is very out of date and cannot keep up with flood and storm water when it is inundated. The larger problem is that every coastal community on the southern bayside coast of Long Island is the same. Even during a minor coastal storm (otherwise known as a "Nor'Easter") water infiltration and flooding occurs in low-lying areas.

Streetscapes act as 'catch-basins' for storm water runoff and bay water collection. Cars need to be moved to higher ground. Objects in both unfinished and finished basements need to be moved up off the floor. Water pumps need to be placed in holes cut into basement floor slabs to prepare for the inevitable. It is a constant unsustainable cycle that must end before we lose our shores for good.

Now fast forward to October 29, 2012. An established Category 1 Hurricane named Sandy barrels up the Eastern seaboard targeting the coasts of Long Island, New York City, New Jersey and southern Connecticut. A storm surge as high as 14' is predicted for Lower Manhattan, and 6-10' is predicted for Long Island. Whats worse - there's nothing we can do about it. We can only sit and watch as the water rises slowly, changing millions of lives forever within a few hours time. And it does. Homes act as fishbowls - filling up with saltwater as much as 6 feet, destroying everything it touches. The power grid is susceptible to salt water and all wires need to be replaced. Neighbourhood scale fires erupt as a result of wire masts being broken off homes because of heavy winds. Cars are flooded and destroyed. Sand from nearby beaches inundates streets leaving several feet behind making streets impassible. All low-lying coastal communities become disaster zones in the aftermath - and these same communities - now more than 7 months after the storm are ghost towns because people cannot live in a home with no heat, water, walls or floors.

Homeowners now face three basic options if their home is deemed 50% or more damaged: raise the existing home above the FEMA Base Flood Elevation (BFE), relocate to a new location away from water, or demolish the existing home and rebuild with a FEMA compliant modular home. While these solutions are being implemented in the short term, there is a major problem with them. The combination of all three of these vastly different scenarios will disrupt the unique character and cohesion of once pleasant communities and it leaves these communities still hanging without a comprehensive plan that is very much needed. One home may be below the BFE that was unaffected by the flood, while a home just down the block is raised 8 feet or more above the street with unattractive monolithic concrete steps needed just to get into the front door.

New ideas are needed now to address this problem. The 3C competition aims to gather ideas from around the world, which will focus on two main things: New resilient coastal home typologies and fitting that new prototype into a newly developed neighborhood block context. The combination of both things must be thought of and developed in tandem. A new and successful idea will rethink both homes and existing and outdated zoning codes, building codes, site planning, and master planning of an entire neighborhood within a coastal community.

Click here to find out more about the 3C competition

Categories: Risk, Architecture, Design