Can It Be? Designs for a 'Humanized' Flood Barrier at The Battery

Rendering of a concept for a flood wall clad with various types and colors of stone that represent the topography of the Hudson River Valley. Credit: Battery Park City Authority and AECOM

Apr. 25, 2021

Flood barriers rarely beautify a landscape, and a 10 foot-high wall planned near an entrance of The Battery is no exception. But in an attempt to make this view-obstructing bulwark easier on the eye, the designers have released two proposals to, at least they say, “humanize” it.

The longest section of the wall, 91 feet, will flank an entrance to the park on Battery Place, surfacing from beneath what will be a planted berm on one end and extending to a raised Pier A plaza on the other. Another, shorter, segment is planned at nearby Wagner Park. The wall will be located above the Battery Tunnel where deployable flip-up barriers can’t be installed. 

(Those measures are just part of the South Battery Park City Resiliency Project, which includes a complex array of flood protections for The Battery, Pier A, Wagner Park and a restructured Wagner Park Pavilion. Separately, another resiliency project will span one-third of a mile along The Battery’s waterfront.)

In a presentation this month to Community Board 1’s Environmental Committee, Hogan Edelberg, landscape architect for the project’s contractor, AECOM, showed two concepts for the wall’s cladding. The look of both would change from one end to the other—from a rough, “warm colored” surface that mimics stone surfaces in the park, to a smoother and cooler-colored stone near Pier A plaza that, he said, suggests sky and water.

The textures and colors and stone types create something that is very interactive and helps to humanize all this flood infrastructure,” Edelberg said.

The more visually elaborate of the two ideas is an abstract interpretation of the topography of the Hudson River Valley, with different kinds of stone representing various elevations. “As you cross the Battery entrance the island of Manhattan is represented, and water flows out for the remainder of the wall,” Edelberg said.

The design ideas respond to earlier concerns that the wall would be “massive tons of grey brick,” as Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, put it at a meeting in March. Price called the revision “much better” but said the cladding is still too flat. She called for a rougher textured, bas-relief stone surface that represents Manhattan. “It’s got to have some gravitas to say, I’m land that’s water.

Laura Starr, a committee member and landscape architect, suggested that the wall could be softened with greenery. “I’m sorry that a stone wall is what people are going to be seeing instead of something like ivy or something that says nature,” she said.

Edelberg said the idea of plantings was rejected because of the height or width that would be needed to add to the wall.

Approvals for the flood wall and the rest of the South Battery Park City Resiliency Project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. (The Battery Park City Authority is responsible for the design, construction and operation of the project.) Construction of the Wagner Park portion of the project and its pavilion is scheduled to start in November; work on Pier A Plaza and The Battery is expected to begin in January. All projects are due to be completed in the spring of 2024.

As for the wall, design details will be refined, according to a Battery Park City spokesman. Those decisions, he said, will be in collaboration with the Authority, the city Parks Department (which has final approval) and the Battery Conservancy. 

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