An Architectural Membrane over New York

THURSDAY: AR(t)CHITECTURE

Now imagine, ice blocks melting and crushing into the sea, the sea level rising, devastating disruptions, cities submerged, citizens on the escape, mountain regions becoming over populated.. I don’t want to call it “Global Warming”, it’s rather the ever changing meteorological phases of our planet earth, ice ages short or lengthy alternating to warmer periods.

It has been predicted that if ice melts as fast as it is doing at the present time (even though the freezing weather we are experiencing now in Europe might stop that!), Manhattan could look like Venice in just 200 years!

But instead of devastation, New Yorkers running for their lives and all that “Hollywood” paranoia, two students from the University of Pennsylvania,  Tingwei Xu and Xie Zhang, designed an idea for protecting certain areas of New York against water by wearing a “membrane”.

The “membrane” is created by a surface system that can reveal a continually changing expression. It combines the multiple functions such as waterproof, lighting and agricultural planting. The structure could be best described as an architecture which is alive, and lives and adapts to the environment around, adapting to different weather and different pressures. The many natural disasters we have experienced recently, the Japanese earthquake and Katrina just to mention a few, made it glaringly obvious that traditional “hard infrastructure” (i.e. a levee system) fails. Many architects and engineers now believe that instead of trying to form a bulwark against flooding, cities should embrace it, while trying to soften its effects. They propose doing that with what they call “soft infrastructure”–spongelike sidewalks, marshes, manmade islands, and other absorbent surfaces that can slow storm surges and soak up excess water.

The “architectural membrane” for New York would serve as a waterproof protection for the buildings, in turn, the building provides structure support to the surface. To blur the boundary, the surface seamlessly dissolves the old and rigid layer system of the buildings. Thus, the space between the old building and the new surface is fluid. All sufaces form a new lattice system on the site and the system simultaneously evolves into an unprecedented ecological area in New York.

But even though it is absolutely true that we have to change our architectural practices to adapt more and more to the surrounding environment, let’s just say.. we’ll have to convince New Yorkers first!

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