Gowanus Waterworks | Infrastructural Competition
Brooklyn, NY
Competition Exhibition Selection | Masterplan

The chosen site is a full city block and once the home of one of the three coal-gas plants that bordered the canal which are largely responsible for the layer of coal tar that remains at the bottom of the waterway to this day. Moreover, the site itself is a brownfield with some estimates putting the degree of contamination up to 100 feet below street level.

When looking to the future of our cities, what becomes of the countless sites that remain victims of the post-industrial era? While most clean-up efforts would need to resort to merely capping the damaged soil to protect residents from its interaction, that doesn’t dislodge it from the water table and greater environmental influence. The design team pushed further to propose the removal of all of the contamination, 100 feet below the surface. The result redefines the understanding of an urban redevelopment “site”: not only a two-dimensional, planar canvas, but an urban volume that inherently questions people’s relationship to the street and its role as a barrier between occupancy and infrastructural support.

The void itself is defined with sloped concrete walls to channel rainwater to the base below a series of stormwater retention tanks meant to displace millions of gallons of sewage and rainwater overflow from emptying into the canal during a storm event. Inside, a grid of buttresses and piers rise up to carry services and support from the bottom of the basin to the top before culminating in a structural honeycomb to support the groundplain above. Public program is then hung at different heights above including ball courts, fitness facilities and community offices, connected by a series of suspended pathways. These protected spaces can be used throughout the year while always in open view of the essential services that maintain them–be it HVAC ducts, electrical conduit, or sewage mains below. Yet just as important are the views to the passing pedestrians on the parkscape above and access to natural light that pierces into the space throughout the day.

Project Team: T. Caine, Luke Carnahan, Ryan Doyle & David Villar