Competition Report: Stormproof

One year ago today, as Superstorm Sandy moved on from New York City’s shores, our region was only just beginning to understand the severity and extent of the damage inflicted on our city. Since then, systemic vulnerabilities, flood zone designation, and the pros and cons of hard versus soft infrastructure have become topics of conversation for a broader public. Among architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers, and designers, the storm has awakened with new urgency a desire to bring their particular expertise to bear on the challenges at hand. The past year has seen a wide variety of prevention, adaptation, and recovery initiatives. These range from federal government-led initiatives that promise actual, on-the-ground implementation; to design studios tapping the minds and imaginations of students; and to international competitions that seek to mine experiences and perspectives from around the world.

One such effort is this year’s ONE Prize, an annual competition led by Terreform ONE, a non-profit design group based in Brooklyn that focuses on research and education in the socio-ecological design of cities. Maria Aiolova is one of the co-founders of Terreform ONE, with Mitchell Joachim, and serves as its director of education. They established the ONE Prize in 2010 to encourage broadly interdisciplinary teams to “explore the social, economic, and ecological possibilities of urban transformation.” This year’s theme, Stormproof, asked entrants to consider how cities can adapt to future challenges of extreme weather. Maria Aiolova recently sat down with us to talk more about the prize and finding a balance between pragmatism and big thinking, and to look at this year’s winners, announced yesterday, which address coastal conditions from Staten Island to Tokyo to Sumatra. –V.S.

The winners of the 2013 ONE Prize
The winners of the 2013 ONE Prize
Urban Omnibus (UO):

Tell me about the ONE Prize.

Maria Aiolova (MA):

ONE Prize is a design and science award. Every year we invite professionals worldwide from all different fields to address a single topic, and we thereby aim to create a forum for discussion. A lot of the ideas come from living, learning, and experimenting in New York City but are applicable to many different locations. Our first competition, in 2010, was called “Mowing to Growing” and focused on urban agriculture. In 2011, the theme was “Water as the Sixth Borough,” and last year we looked at the idea of “Blight to Might,” repurposing former industrial spaces in the United States and around the world.

ONE Prize is an ideas competition. We don’t specify a particular site for the teams to work on but rather ask them to select their own location to study. At the same time, the jury is very New York-based. I think a major difference between this and other professional competitions in our field is that we compose the jury not just of design professionals — architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, and former winners — but also politicians, community organizers, and nonprofit and NGO leaders. We further craft the brief to raise questions about the natural systems and social infrastructure of cities in addition to the design of the built environment, and we instruct the jury to make sure that the winners have addressed all of those components.


Though you frame the prize as an ideas competition, you also note in the brief that you will explore the possibilities of implementation of the winning projects. What balance do you hope entrants strike between developing grand ideas and proposing realistic, implementable designs? And what are some of your strategies for encouraging the realization of the winning ideas?


For us, it’s not about direct involvement in getting the projects built. It’s more about making connections and helping ideas grow. That’s why we make sure to have a very diverse jury every year, comprised of people who are decision-makers, influencers, and big thinkers.

For example, the chair of the jury for the “Mowing to Growing” competition was Adrian Benepe, who, at the time, served as the Parks Commissioner for New York City. One winner proposed allowing urban agriculture on public housing land, which at that point was not permitted. Mr. Benepe became a real advocate for the idea and worked with the New York City Housing Authority to create gardens and small farms on their land. And now, only four years later, it’s happening. Last year’s winner of the “Blight to Might” competition, Made in the Lower East Side (MiLES), is now taking over empty storefronts and lots for community use. Christine Quinn headed the jury that year, and she was very supportive of the idea. David Belt, a developer who was also on the jury, ended up helping connect MiLES with a lot of networking opportunities.

The ONE in our name stands for Open Network Ecology, so we see our role as a connector and sharer of ideas. All of the submissions become part of this Open Network Ecology, and they’re available for other people to take on and continue to develop. When you enter the competition you do so with the understanding that these ideas will be shared with and accessible to everybody.


Tell us about this year’s theme.


This year our theme is “Stormproof.” At Terreform ONE we have been working on the idea of the soft edge for many years, and after seeing the impact Superstorm Sandy had on New York City, we began to think about where we as a city failed. We wanted to provide an opportunity to invite ideas from around the world about how to protect and adapt our cities. This isn’t just about what happened during Sandy, but also in Japan and Indonesia and other areas hit hard by tsunamis and other major weather events. Not surprisingly, submissions came in from around the world.

Many of the finalists focused on soft infrastructure solutions, the idea of having a permeable edge to allow the water in. As Mayor Bloomberg put it, if you live in the water you have to get wet. The jury ultimately selected one winner and then, because the three runners-up were so difficult to choose between, they decided to give three second place awards in place of second, third, and fourth prize designations.

WINNER | Dynamic Capacities by Kenya Endo
The winner, Kenya Endo, proposed creating a network of protective wetlands around the coast of the Tone River in Tokyo. He began with an in-depth study of the dense urban fabric of the area and identified pockets where that type of intervention can happen. He then developed a whole system of implementation looking at repair and ecology, not just from an urban planning perspective but down to the detail of what local plants and local birds should be reintroduced. He proposed a system for water purification that also creates wave storage and a drinking water supply for the large metropolis. His is a careful study of a challenging site and a plan that enhances the area while buffering the cost. The proposal goes beyond just stormproofing to think more fully about what a city is.

RUNNER-UP | Barrier Staten Island by Cricket Day
One of the second-place award winners is the project Barrier Staten Island, in which Cricket Day proposes a seven-mile artificial island to protect Staten Island’s east shore. The idea is that by building out some of the shallows that already exist and allowing for sedimentation one could create a protective barrier island. This is a site with fast-moving water, so natural systems alone won’t allow this to happen. You have to engineer and intensify the natural processes. So even though the techniques used here are well known — for example, gabion walls and sedimentation interventions — Day identified a very ambitious piece of infrastructure that, because of its specific context and a strategic approach, is also implementable in a relatively short period of time. The US Army Corps of Engineers has the know-how and the ability to do this. Some of the other proposals were equal in their ambition, but implementation would take hundreds of years.

RUNNER-UP | Peripheral Multiplicity by Katherine Rodgers
Peripheral Multiplicity, by Katherine Rodgers, looks at all of Raritan Bay. Rodgers proposes a park system at a vast scale, circling the whole bay across New York and New Jersey, that creates buffer zones where water can swell during storms but that can be used and inhabited at other times. She not only created an interconnected system of parkland that could host a large community but also thought about how to engage local residents and develop a transportation system that would connect people from far away to enjoy that coastal area. This proposal is about creating not just protection but also amenities for people across two states, encouraging collaboration on a larger scale.

RUNNER-UP | Kogami by Ben Deverau
Ben Deverau created a “Tsunami Alert Community” for coastal communities in Sumatra. The proposal stood out because it utilizes a technology of rebuilding coral reefs through methods of electrofluorescence and cathode accretion. The idea is that you can use different metal meshes as a bed that you can seed and then charge with electric current to accelerate calcification and grow artificial coral reefs. Here, old shipping containers are turned into reefs at a vast scale, creating a protective coast that is then coupled with mesmerizing new villages on shore that touch the ground in a very delicate way. It uses technology on a massive scale to rebuild the reefs and occupy them, creating a new ecosystem above and below the water’s edge.


All of the winners proposed very large, ambitious interventions, but some of the other entrants approached the challenge at a much smaller scale. One of my personal favorites was a submission called Origami Zip. The team chose to look at the specific conditions of temporary shelter living post-disaster. People who are displaced and have lost their homes are often forced into very uncomfortable living conditions stripped of any sense of privacy. This entrant has designed a beautiful, sensitive, flexible structure using an origami-like folding strategy that can provide a small private space that can then be packed down and recycled.


How does ONE Prize fit in with Terreform ONE’s work?


Terreform ONE has a new home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With the developer Macro-SEA, we are developing a collaborative design and fabrication space called New Lab in a former 68,000-square-foot shipbuilding factory. New Lab will have state-of-the-art prototyping equipment, with a heavy focus on 3D printing, as well as other digital fabrication resources and different kinds of lab space. We are inviting the design, technology, and making communities to join us here — whether they are furniture makers, entrepreneurs, roboticists, or medical innovators — and share the space and equipment. Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation; it happens in what we call serendipitous interactions. We want to support those by creating a space where they can more easily transpire. We have plans to grow our school, ONE Lab, to become a year-round program where students can get hands-on experience using these facilities.

The potential of New Lab and some of the submissions we received for Stormproof this year are making us rethink where we want to take ONE Prize in the future. New Lab will be all about making and manufacturing, so we hope that ONE Prize can become more of a design/build competition in which winners can construct some element of their projects right here in the Navy Yard. We hope to launch that by the time that New Lab opens in 2015.

Maria Aiolova is an educator, architect and urban designer in New York City. Her work is focused on the theory, science and application of ecological design. She is a Co-Founder of Terreform ONE and Academic Director of Global Architecture and Design of CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange). Maria chairs the ONE Lab NY School for Design and Science and the One Prize Design and Science Award. She is an institutional adviser to New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She won the 2013 AIA NY Award for Urban Design. Most recently, she taught at Pratt Institute and Parsons the New School for Design. Formerly, serving as Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of ETEX Corporation, a bio-tech company in Cambridge, MA, Maria is an inventor and holds 18 technology patents.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.