Lots of people have ideas on how to revitalize the Gowanus Canal, and earlier this week one team of architects won a thousand smackers with theirs.
The winning teams concept for remediation of the fetid canal's surrounding area took top honors in an international ideas competition hosted by the non-profit group Gowanus Urban Design Community Advocacy (formerly Gowanus by Design).
The Gowanus Lowlines: Connections competition invited participants to speculate on the value of urban development and the possibility of dynamic, pedestrian-oriented architecture that would engage with the Gowanus Canal and the surrounding watershed.
188 applicants from 14 countries and 14 states submitted projects. Twenty-five of the submissions hailed from Brooklyn alone.
“I heard about the competition from a colleague, also an architect,” said participant Tyler Caine. “He knew me well enough to know that I would be excited about the opportunity to engage this kind of design problem that revolves around ideas of sustainability.”
In fact, Tyler's team (Tyler Caine, Luke Carnahan, Ryan Doyle, Brandon Specketer) won first prize for their idea Gowanus Flowlands, which proposed “a very sophisticated layering of the canal, real estate, green roofs and commercial space,” said Dave Briggs, co-founder of GUDCA. Specifically, oyster beds used to filter polluted water and fields of wheatgrass to remove toxic chemicals, which abutted a Starbucks and an H&M.
“We decided early on that natural systems of remediation could be a cornerstone for how to restore an environment so badly damaged,” explained Caine, which led his team in the direction of different combinations of wetland systems. “At the same time, we wanted this to be more than just a park — more than simply a landscape installation. The density achieved through homes and businesses alike help populate streets and serves as the lifeblood to a city. As a result, our proposal tried to integrate two ecologies commonly thought to be diametrically opposed: the natural wetlands and the constructed cityscape.”
The jury judging submissions deemed the result “gutsy,” and said it “represented very enlightened thinking about what the future of the canal could be.” The first and second-place winners, as well as four honorable mentions will be on display this September in a month-long exhibit hosted by GUDCA to engage the community and provoke dialogue.
“Our team will definitely be at the gallery exhibition,” said Caine. “Design is a collaborative process and we could only touch on so much within a limited amount of time."
"We're all eager to hear the opinions and critiques of other designers, residents and colleagues to press the ideas further along,” he added.
“The idea is that these competitions will build on one another and new ways of thinking will float to the top,” echoed Briggs. “Then, eventually we will go to the city with the best concept.”
And for those committed to resisting over-development and promoting the natural integrity of the surrounding neighborhood, thankfully there is time, said Briggs.
“The Superfund designation has given us all time to pause,” he said, referring to what will be a decade-long cleanup period. “Now that that has slowed down development, we have time to think about a new urban strategy before it goes into a rezoning review.
“How do we shift the paradigm?” he continued. “How do you clean this land? Heal this scar? And still make it an attractive place to live? I don’t want this to sound flip, but many entrants thought that if they planted more flowers, that it would clean up the site. It’s not as simple as that.”
For that reason, GUDCA will continue to feature information from forthcoming design competitions and news stories on its site so residents and interested parties can use it as a resource to learn more about the canal and what might be possible.
“Hopefully we can use accumulated knowledge and wisdom to represent the common good," said Briggs.