A Hurricane-Ready New York Waterfront, Built From Sunken Ships

New York City is woefully unprepared for the next Superstorm Sandy. This plan to create a resilient coastline that can bounce back after flooding uses submerged Navy ships to create a buffer zone to protect the city–and a beautiful park.

Superstorm Sandy showed that New York isn’t prepared for big storm surges. When the water started rising last October, there was little in the way to stop or break the incoming flow–and the consequences weren’t good.


Mitch Joachim has an idea he thinks can help: he wants to submerge old Navy ships in the New York Harbor, creating a “riparian buffer zone” that could better handle large volumes of water. In addition to being effective, he thinks it could look nice, too.

“It allows over time the transformation of that landscape. Over years of sediment building up, you would have environments that privilege humans at certain points of the day. But then as tide changes occur, you would have aqueous environments that privilege other life besides humans,” he says.

The concept grew out of work by Terreform, a nonprofit design firm that Joachim co-founded. A few years ago, Terreform considered how to improve transport links for Red Hook (in Brooklyn) and Governor’s Island, two of New York’s least mobile areas. The firm hit on the idea of using ship hulls to create a walkway that rises up from the harbor floor.

“We thought one way to make gabions really quick is to take hulls from ghost fleets, cut them into sections, and then puzzle-fit the geometry together,” Joachim says. Sediment would help infill the structure.

After Sandy, Terreform though the idea could work for flood-protection as well. By cutting the hulls into clam-like shapes, the organization says that New York could “reinstate a diversified profile” to its waterfront, slowing the water before it makes land.

Read about New York’s $20 billion plan to prepare for the next Sandy.

Terreform created a full-scale model, which has been on display on Governor’s Island all summer. In April, the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded it a merit prize.


Joachim points out that dumping junk into New York waterways has a long history. Parts of Manhattan, like Battery Park City, are built on land created artificially from construction waste. Far from an act of environmental vandalism, sinking the ships would be a form of “up-cycling” or adaptive re-use, he says.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.