Big U storm defences "will secretly protect
Manhattan from flooding" says Bjarke Ingels


Movie: Bjarke Ingels explains how the $335 million allocated to BIG's scheme to upgrade Manhattan's storm defences will be used to create a flood barrier disguised as a park in our second exclusive video interview with the Danish architect. 

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

As part of an initiative to revive parts of the USA struck by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, BIG and Dutch firm One Architecture  co-developed the Big U scheme as a protective system that will extend 10 miles around the tip of Manhattan island, shielding buildings from floods and storm surges.

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

The key to the project, Ingels says, is that people will not notice the flood barrier is there.

"You won't see it as a flood wall that separates the life of the city from the water," he explains. "When you go there you'll see landscape, you'll see pavilions, but all of this will secretly be the infrastructure that protects Manhattan from flooding."

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

The idea, Ingels says, was inspired by the success of New York's High Line – the elevated park built on 2.5 kilometres of repurposed railway.

"Instead of waiting for the infrastructure to be decommissioned, what if you could do functioning resilience architecture that also functions as a park?" Ingels asks.

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

BIG developed the scheme over a nine-month period, which included over 60 public meetings and workshops with the different communities that live in lower Manhattan.

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

"For the flood protection you need eight miles of continuous water protection, it needs to be a very holistic overall strategy," Ingels says. "But to make it urbanistically successful it needs to happen rooted in a dialogue with the different communities. Over the last six months we have had multiple workshops with different communities."

Big U Manhattan flood defences by BIG and One Architecture

He continues: "Finally the Housing and Urban Development cabinet decided to fund it with $335 million federal dollars. So it's going to be a really interesting new chapter in looking at a public infrastructure as something that is purely seen as a social or environmental amenity."

Bjarke Ingels portrait
Bjarke Ingels of BIG

This is the second in a series of three exclusive interviews with Bjarke Ingels. Look out for tomorrow's movie, in which the Danish architect discusses his practice's waste-to-energy power plant with a ski slope on the roof.

  • in reality

    BIG is the Kardashians of architecture. Mediocrity, banalisation, cheap symbolics. This trend is over!

  • rd365

    “…the $335 million his practice BIG was recently awarded…”

    Surely this money was awarded to the city, not BIG, by the federal government to be allocated for infrastructure upgrades, with BIG acting as the architect, correct?

    I am assuming that the $335 million is not BIG’s design commission. If I am correct, the way in which this was stated above is very misleading (and incorrect). Details are important!

  • MissJagwired

    Reminds me a bit of the local levee park. It keeps the water at bay while also being a nice spot to walk up to and just watch the river go by. Ours isn’t anywhere near that scale but I could see this being a real good draw for locals and tourists alike.

    • Xnt

      Problem is when you walk or ride your bike along the river, you get no sense of the city. You’re isolated; you can’t be part of the city and the river at the same time. Even the audio connection is limited to a point, not just the visual.

  • Hi rd365,

    Yes, you’re right, the opening line was a bit misleading. We’ve amended it now to make sure there’s no confusion.

    Ben / Dezeen

  • DaBronxY

    Either way this technique must be considered. I bike the lower Manhattan path twice a week and the importance of plan B is necessary when either the project goes to BIG or not. The subways and the Brooklyn Battery tunnel is the arc way to continuing business with the world.