Gowanus Flowlands | Competition
Brooklyn, NY
Competition Winner | Masterplan
2018 A'Design Iron Award Winner - Urban Design & Urban Planning

The process of finding a solution for the beleaguered Gowanus Canal began with natural estuary that originally formed a series of ponds and creeks. When the outline of the fertile land of the tidal marsh basin was laid over the grid of today, the result boldly highlighted the abrupt change in building scale from tight row houses to large industrial space. This violent shift in built form became the definition of our site for a new urban intervention.

“Flowlands” proposes the co-existence of two ecologies that are often thought of as restricted to markedly different locales. The two systems respond to each other much like a double helix—not combined, but rather intertwined; linked through function, but not homogeneous.

The proposed solution integrated layers of urban activity into a wetlands ecology. Using the elevation difference between the canal and the grid of roads around it, the surrounding lots were terraced into a series of levels that stepped down to the water's edge. Each layer fostered a different micro-climate of wetlands activity that, in turn, provided different methods of remediation. While poplar trees could pull chemicals and heavy metals from the earth by the street, the lowest layer fostered oyster beds that could clean toxins from the canal as one of nature’s most talented water purifiers. Together, the wetland layers work together to clean not only the polluted waters of the canal, but store and filter stormwater runoff to prevent further polluting of the canal via Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).

New pedestrian activity would exist over the more fragile environment of the wetlands by way of a network of elevated thoroughfares that provide access from the streets to the edges of the canal and all points in between. Paths of metal grating allow for movement over natural ecosystems while allowing for air, water and sunlight to penetrate below. Beside each wetland street, strips of greenery are pulled upwards to become green roofs for the retail and commercial space inserted beneath, accessed by the network of public circulation.

The final piece is seven high rise towers of residential space with bases of retail and community program to tie into the green, wetland paths. The towers offer the prospect of a population that can call the neighborhood home, providing a steady stream of pedestrians—the lifeblood of any streetscape. Together, the seven towers can hold enough residents to bring the net population density of the district within striking distance of neighboring Park Slope—yet at the same time operate beneath a layer of greenscape rather than the impervious layer of tar roofs, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks.


Project Team: T. Caine, Luke Carnahan, Ryan Doyle & Brandon Specketer