Think tank proposes creating wetlands with scrapped ships

Protect Brooklyn’s coastline with … Navy ships?

The Brooklyn Paper
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A futuristic design firm wants to bring Navy ships back to Brooklyn to save the borough from the next natural disaster — but first it wants to sink them.

Mitchell Joachim and his team of mad designists at the Navy Yard’s architectural think-tank Terreform ONE have come up with an otherworldly plan to break down old US warships and submerge the parts to create a man-made wetland in the Buttermilk Channel that the team says could protect Brooklynites from future deluges.

“It’s beautiful to give this shadow-like evidence of former glory of the United States a semiotic pulse serving a second job as a buffer zone for the edges of our city,” said Joachim, a professor, architect and TED fellow who co-founded the non-profit.

The plan calls for some ships from the Navy’s “ghost fleet,” — aging warships that date back to World War II that the military keeps docked in places like Suisan Bay, CA., Beaumont, TX., and James River, VA. — to be sliced into cross-sections that will be broken in two and submerged around the vulnerable coastline, reconfiguring the waterway to approximate a riverbank, and in so doing, encouraging natural sedimentation that will create an environment capable of absorbing great ocean swells.

This “riparian buffer zone” off the Red Hook waterfront would even allow Brooklynites to walk over the one mile gap between Brooklyn and Governor’s Island.

“The recreated meandering stream course will establish a salt marsh ecosystem once common to this area,” reads the plan, which proposes a 100-year timeline.

The bold design is quickly gaining fans. Reported in the blog Curbed, it recently won a merit award from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter’s 2013 design awards, who chose to spotlight it because the plan provided a uniquely sustainable approach to dealing with a potential future of climate change-related flooding.

The project also attempts to address the environmental and social-justice issues around ship-breaking, where the giant, toxic hulls of discarded ocean ships are left on shorelines in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to be stripped down for scrap by migrant workers toiling under deplorable conditions. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Joachim and his team, who said they were partially inspired by the images of photographer Edward Burtynsky.

“We should take responsibility for things we create in the first place by upcycling them to a different use,” said Joachim.

The project is largely aspirational — part of a post-recession uptick in imaginative theoretical work that’s not necessarily designed to draw financing, according to Rick Bell, the executive director of AIA New York.

But that’s part of the point, says the project’s creator.

“We need to imagine — that’s part of our job,” said Joachim. “If we didn’t have Jules Verne, we wouldn’t have Kennedy taking us to the moon.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. Follow him at
Updated 10:09 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Carolina Salguero from Red Hook says:
A good example of why the uber theoretical AIA should not be relied on for real waterfront solutions in NYC. Get some real water people involved.... and Buttermilk Channel is not one mile wide!
March 18, 2013, 6:05 am
the critic's critic says:
Big talk from a gal who has a boat that doesn't even have an engine. How is that for a metaphor?
March 18, 2013, 8:24 am
Oceanographer from Brooklyn says:
Gulf Coast states use sunken vessels regularly to re-buildreef systems and create current barriers that allow the natural re-establishment of tidal bays, wet lands and other barriers that absorb wave action and reduce tidal flooding. This is not a bad idea, but would need to be fully planned and evaluated to be done properly.
March 18, 2013, 9:18 am
geTaylor from Bklyn Hghts says:
"Forget it, Jake - it's Chinatown."
March 18, 2013, 9:35 am
ge Taylor from Bklyn Hghts says:
March 18, 2013, 9:35 am
bob from bay ridge says:
Interesting idea, but what will the effect be on water traffic? This is still a working harbor last time I checked, and we pay plenty to dredge it out to support huge commercial traffic. How does that figure into this plan?

And if we create "marshland" Bloomberg or one of his spin-offs will find a way to drain it and give it away to developers!
March 18, 2013, 10:22 am
JAY from NYC says:
holy crap this is a stupid as hell idea. some "recreated" marsh land is NOT going to stop a storm surge from a hurricane in an an area like NYC
March 18, 2013, 5:30 pm
ty from pps says:
Good to see "JAY from NYC" is out and about to share his ignorance with the rest of us...

Jay -- You should talk to the Army Corp of Engineers about the CLEAR evidence found in Queens, Brooklyn and other parts of Long Island after Sandy hit. Areas that had 'natural' mechanism either restored or allowed to redevelop over time saw LESS DAMAGE from storm surge. Marshes, sand dunes, etc. etc. Anything that disrupted the energy of the water.

But why would science interest you. You're Mr Ignorant! Do they have a trophy for that?
March 19, 2013, 7:29 pm
pablo from lower. east side says:
History states that buttermilk channel got its name from cows crossing over to governors island at low tide.
March 19, 2013, 11:37 pm
Joe Schmo from Red Hook says:
I don't think all the ships that use the Buttermilk Channel everyday to go to the Ferry Terminal in Battery Park, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and Red Hook Container Terminal in Red Hook, and the coutless other facilities up the East River would appreciate a landbridge of sunken ships blocking their way!

And be fair to Carolina, she has an's just in many little pieces scattered around.
March 21, 2013, 3:26 pm

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