Monday, July 21, 2008

Doing it Right: Mapping the Ecotone

Lifted from Pruned: The Great Climate Change Park

Mapping the Ecotone is Ashley Kelly and Rikako Wakabayashi's winning entry in the design competition Envisioning Gateway.

Gateway National Recreation Area is made up of four units in Metropolitan New York, including the shifting islands and salt marshes of Jamaica Bay - a massive tidal estuary off the southern end of Brooklyn and Queens. I have a perverse fascination with the Google Maps mash-up Flood Maps. Jamaica Bay is among the most vulnerable parts of New York City to changes in sea level [made brutally apparent by Flood Maps] and one of the city's most unique ecosystems. This "saline to brackish, eutrophic estuary" [quoted from Wikipedia, but doesn't it sound like a They Might Be Giants song?] naturally sees average tidal fluctuations of 5 ft.

Kelly and Wakabayashi's park design doesn't simply accommodate for changes in sea level, it embraces them. The architectural interventions work with rather than against the forces of nature.

Pruned's Alexander Trevi says:
There is an important lesson here for coastal cities threatened by sea level rise and even cities such as New Orleans. The prevailing paradigm is to separate urban settlements from the waters, to fortify against attacks from the elements. But it's a catastrophic mistake to think that one can contain something as eternally mutable as the landscape. You cannot freeze the outline of the shores or the riverbanks forever in time and place.

What Kelly and Wakabayashi are saying, then, is open up the city to the waters. Give it a zone of transition - an ecotone -
[or ecological interstitial space] where both land and water can be occupied simultaneously.

In the abstract, replace rigid ideals of form and structure, classical notions of stability and clarity, and the modernist fetish for monumentality with an orthodoxy of responsiveness, flexibility and adaptibility.

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