The renowned, award-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas founded OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture) with three other architects in 1975. Projects designed by OMA currently being built include three in China: the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, the Television Cultural Centre in Beijing and Shenzhen Stock Exchange; three in Doha, Qatar; and one in the Netherlands, De Rotterdam. In 2006, Koolhaas designed a skyscraper for Jersey City’s waterfront, an approved 52-story structure to be built in the Powerhouse Arts District. This tower, not yet built, is comprised of four rectangular sections stacked perpendicular to each other. In 1999, AMO, an interdisciplinary research, branding and publication studio based in Rotterdam was created to complement the architectural work of the practice.
OMA teamed up with a Dutch engineering firm, Royal HaskoningDHV; a New York City-based urban design and landscape architecture firm, Balmori Associates; a real estate and economic development consulting firm, HR&A; plus the branding and design consultants, 2×4 to submit an application to HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. On August 9, 2013, the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force selected the OMA team as one of the ten finalists.
Each of the winning teams picked one of four categories: coastal communities, high density urban environments, ecological and water body networks or a catch-all category of unexpected focus. Since August 9, each of the teams has engaged in an intensive, collaborative process of research, analysis and meetings with local residents and public officials in the Sandy-impacted areas of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Each team produced four to five design proposals that were unveiled on October 28 in New York City and Newark, New Jersey. Today, HUD has announced the one schematic design project that will be fully developed by each team in partnership with local stakeholders.
The OMA team’s design, selected by the jury, is entitled Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: a comprehensive strategy for Hoboken. Superstorm Sandy flooded 75 percent of Hoboken which became the poster-child for Sandy flooding in densely populated urban communities. The OMA team describes its approach as follows: “Our comprehensive strategy deploys both hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); recommends policies to enable the urban fabric to slow down water (delay); a green circuit to trap water (store) and water pumps to support drainage (discharge).”
The team’s initial proposals for Hoboken are on the Rebuild by Design website (see link below). Hoboken’s highly impervious surfaces, clay ground and inadequate drainage make the city susceptible to flash flooding. They propose a green circuit on the Jersey City-Hoboken border to the south and west along the base of the Palisades up to a naturally landscaped Weehawken Cove to facilitate drainage combined with rainwater storage units and water pumps. The design also includes a coastal line of defense that utilizes parks and buildings as defensive elements.
While all of the Rebuild by Design teams promote high-minded ideas and HUD stresses the need for innovation, Hoboken needs to attend to some basic remedies in order to alleviate the annual flooding that occurs in low-lying areas. The antequated combined sewer system, portions of which are still comprised of the original redwood sewer lines, is at the heart of the problem. The pumps, green infrastructure and rainwater retention systems are common sense solutions but need to be combined with a sewer system that works. New large scale development projects should provide an opportunity to begin the separation of stormwater from sewerage lines.