Recreating New York City’s Beachfronts With Swedish Design And A “Sand Motor”

Reinventing the Rockaways’ Arverne East neighborhood in preparation for another storm, using the concept of “anti-fragility.”

Almost exactly one year after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York City, a team of Swedish architects has been selected to rebuild one of the most damaged parcels of the Rockaways at Arverne East, a beachfront neighborhood wrecked by the storm. The firm White Arkitekter plans on shaping the 80-acre strip as a vibrant, “anti-fragile” neighborhood and replenishing its beach with something called a “sand motor.”


Earlier this year, the New York City Department of Housing and Redevelopment and a coalition of architecture groups put out a call for firms that could reinvent the New York City beachfront wasted by Sandy.

After judges narrowed the options down to four submissions from 117 proposals across the globe, on Tuesday they announced that White Arkitekter, a Stockholm-based architecture firm, had won. In July, the firm had suggested shaping Arverne East into an affordable, climate-resilient haven for working-class and creative types on the sea.

One of the main themes of White Arkitekter’s proposal that stuck out is the concept of “anti-fragility.” “Our proposal moves beyond resiliency towards what we are calling ‘antifragile,’ where both the design and community benefit and improve after enduring stress,” architect Sander Schuur noted. Instead of just shielding against future disasters, the project outlines an approach that accommodates extreme weather as a surfer might ride a wave.

Inspired by Parisian boulevards, White Arkitekter proposed 23 acres of landscaped parks that cross-hatch the area in a grid. The parkland connects to the boardwalk and a nature preserve that sets the residential and community areas back from a shore ridged with sandbanks. A town square sits at the center of the design, and from there, a pier with a suggested oyster farm juts out into the sea.

Another innovative feature of White Arkitekter’s plan is something called a sand motor, an experiment developed by Technical University of Delft professor Marcel J.F. Stive, and first attempted off the coast of the Netherlands in 2011. It’s not actually mechanical at all, but instead capitalizes on the currents and wind: A sand motor consists of heap of sand dumped just off the shore that can feed the beach with sediment for up to 20 years.

“They were perhaps the only team to consider the site out into the water,” says Rick Bell, American Institute of Architects New York chapter executive director. “Whether there’s money to do those breakwaters or islands…that has yet to be determined.” One thing that could influence the project is the upcoming mayor, Bell says, and whether that leader puts an emphasis on building more affordable housing.


As for the types of housing Arverne East could host, Schuur and his team proposed European-style squares with courts that also function as bioswales, drainage ditches that prevent erosion. Sidewalks are porous, and buildings sprout green roofs and walls. The homes themselves, 20% of which will qualify as affordable for low-income residents at minimum, come in several low-energy or zero-energy varieties: bungalows, multi-family homes, apartment villas, more traditional apartment blocks, large single-family houses, and compact, eco-conscious houses. The community buildings also serve as emergency shelters in the case of ecological disaster.

White Arkitektur also set aside small rental spaces meant to cater to artists and entrepreneurs. The goal, they say, is still to attract young creatives to an area once abandoned by the city. They now have $30,000 and first dibs on meetings with developers to do so.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.