Editors’ Choice
2020 Skyscraper Competition

Jun Peng
United States

The flood hazard of New York City is caused by heavy rainfalls, storm surges, and rising sea-level. Hurricanes primarily result in storm surges. Under a changing climate, a projected sea-level rise associated with hurricanes leads to overall flood elevations to increase greatly. In addition, more intense rainstorms are expected by the NYC Panel on Climate Change to an 11% increase in precipitation by the 2050s. Heavy rainfall will exceed the city’s infrastructure peak load and results in more flooding. The floodplain of the city is expanding greatly from 2020 to 2100 according to NYC Flood Hazard Mapper. Flooding generally causes huge social, environmental and economic devastation. An extreme case is Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Based on the data from the Official Website of the City of New York, its storm surge of 2.8 m above the mean tidal level caused an estimated $19 billion in damages and loss of economic activity across New York City. Thus, to protect the city from flooding is a big challenge.

Facing the current and future flood risk of New York City, the design proposes to place “Sponge Towers” along the edge of the flood risk zones to absorb the flood water which originally would have had the neighborhoods at flood risk zones to be inundated. Manhattan is used as the study area to illustrate the concept. A linear resilient ribbon park is proposed to buffer the entire Manhattan inland from its surrounding water body, with deep channels on its edges to capture storm surges from both Eastern River and Hudson River and surface stormwater run-off from the inland. “Sponge Towers” are placed strategically along with the segments of the ribbon park adjacent to the neighborhoods at greater flood risk. The flood water will be captured by the channel, drained towards the “Sponge Towers”. It will be quickly absorbed and stored for later treatment. In addition, the height of the channel edge can be built up, to adapt to future rising sea-level.

There are five main functional elements of the Sponge Tower:

First is Flood Water Storage. The flood water will be screened, pumped and stored in honeycomb-like cells simulating the structure of a sponge, which can effectively distribute the water pressure.

Second is Flood Water Treatment. Post-flood, the stored flood water will slowly drip into the wetland treatment filter at the below level. The wetland treatment filter exists in between the water storing cells, comprising of four layers – wetland plants, soil, sand, and gravel, which simulates the natural purification process.

Third, is Potable Water Reclamation. The purified water at the gravel layer of each treatment filter will seep through the perforated pipe and travel downwards for further desalination and disinfection. The end of potable water will be exported for the city’s usage. Forth is Hydropower Generation. When the stored flood water and purified water falls down, the energy of the flowing water will be converted to renewable hydrological power. The energy will be saved for compensating the power which is used for pumping water up during the flood events.

Fifth is Public Space. Sky Parks featured by wetland and dripping plants are designed at multiple levels, with a skywalk circling around the core offering an unobtrusive panoramic view of the city. The vertical parks contribute to adding more green space to New York City where the resource is scarce.

This flood protection skyscraper infrastructure is a universally applicable model that can be applied to other waterfront or coastal cities to alleviate flood risk.

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