The “Big U” is a proposed 10-mile-long horseshoe-shaped (social) infrastructure that will guard the southern half of Manhattan from storm surges and rising sea level.
The barrier—which will extend from West 57th Street, wrapping around the southern tip of the island and run back up the other side to East 42nd Street—will, during ordinary times, masquerade as a combination of parks, promenades, recreational zones and cultural spaces.
The Lower East Side would be protected by a “bridging berm”—a level space separating two areas—at the East River Park. Both the berm and the bridge will be wide and planted with salt-tolerant fauna.
This is a project by the Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels.
During the previous ice age, which began 2.6 million years ago, a gargantuan sheet of ice formed over North America, whose southern edge extended as far as what’s now New York, ending in a sharp cliff.
Over Manhattan, this layer was more than 2,000 feet thick, taller than One World Trade. Then, some 18,000 years ago, when the planet began to thaw, it began to melt and retreat.
But the rocky junk that it’d brought along stayed behind, forming a line of rubble in the shape of an intermittent ridge called “moraine,” which runs all the way from Puget Sound to Montauk Point on Long Island, forming the promontory on which the old lighthouse stands.
In the five boroughs, it’s marked by a series of hillocks, which, at its maximum height, is about 200 feet. Many neighborhoods take their names from these elevations as well as its leafy embellishments: Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Bay Ridge, Cypress Hills, etc.
This range once connected Staten Island and Brooklyn. Some 13,000 years ago, floodwaters from melting glaciers upstate, rushed down the valley of the Hudson River, smashing it, creating the Narrows.
The future Manhattan skyline is poised to be more knife-edged and more sparkling with the proposed construction of a number of supremely tall skyscrapers, 1,000 feet or more in Midtown.
These will be along West 57th Street, transforming the perch overlooking the Central Park into what’s being billed as “Billionaire’s Row.” Each will house cloud-hugging homes, priced between $5 and $100 million, with most apartments being a “floor-through,” occupying an entire floor of its building.
They signalize the dawn of America’s New Gilded Age.
These “super-tall” towers are a class of buildings, anywhere in height between 984 feet and 1,968 feet. Anything taller is labelled a “mega-tall” and is prohibited in the U.S. by the Federal Aviation Administration.
These edifices aren’t just going to be dizzyingly tall, but some of them are strikingly skinny as well. The project at 111 West 57th Street is 1,350 feet, but a mere 42 feet across. With an aspect ratio of 1:23—that’s the ratio of the length to the width—it’s like a needle.
Can they go any higher? They can. But that’d require something that no U.S. city has in abundance: land available for development. The taller the building, the broader the base needed to support it.