In New York, a high-rise for a wetter world

Melting glaciers mean rising coastlines, and consequentially, an uncertain future for the world’s coastal cities.

Some architects have risen to that challenge in recent years by turning their attention to buildings that float. Others — such as HWKN Architects of New York — have go on to imagine how more conventional forms of architecture might become more responsive and resilient in the face of high water.

The Skygrove high-rise concept (which comes to us via eVolo) draws its inspiration from the mangrove tree. The vertical office park was designed to house corporate employees and commercial operations for the long term, responding to rising water levels in much the same way as the world’s mangrove trees and shrubs respond to inundation by coastal waters during periods of high tide. 

Mangroves, which grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics, develop complex root systems that branch out over an unstable and constantly-flooded landscape. In a corresponding fashion, the Skygrove high-rise distributes its weight over a series of points, as opposed to a single traditional foundation.

Mangroves are unique for their resilience in the face of disaster, holding up in the face of both flooding and drought, high winds and heat. The Skygrove, likewise, was designed with disaster in mind, with a structure that takes rising sea levels, persistent coastal flooding, storm surges and tsunamis in stride.

Each floor is laid out in a way that protects against possible climatic threats. Every floor, for example, is self-sufficient, designed to survive even the worst of disasters.

The building’s floors are connected via a compartmentalized infrastructural façade that contains all the services necessary to sustain basic survival for its occupants, including vertical circulation, plumbing, electrical lines and air supply. This arrangement provides lateral support for the building while creating some interesting formal and programmatic relationships.

This 1,000,000-square-foot building, designed for New York City by Matthias Hollwich of Marc Kushner of HWKN, was conceived of encapsulating a new type of high-rise typology tailor-made for a wetter world. Designed to carry on with “business as usual” in the face of disastrous scenarios, Skygroves not only offers corporate clients the peace of mind associated with a building proof against the worst that nature has to offer, but cities a measure of protection as well.

Comprising a key bit of “environmental infrastructure” for costal cities, we imagine that a number of buildings designed to these specifications might help to provide a measure of protection for buildings further inland, not unlike the role played by mangrove swamps themselves.

“Today’s binary coastal relationship of dry land opposing the sea will become blurred by rising sea levels, persistent coastal flooding, storm surges and tsunamis,” the architects state, on their website.

They go on to note that they see Skygroves occupying this “newly nebulous coastal zone” in a way that’s carefully calibrated to both protect against its dangers and to capitalize on its potential. Which is to say, such high-rises can boldly go where no others dare to tread.

Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling