2010 L'Enfant Lecture on City Planning and Design

Barry Bergdoll on "Rising Currents"

Barry Bergdoll speaking at the Chicago Cultural CenterBarry Bergdoll, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, presented this year's L'Enfant Lecture on City Planning and Design, held July 15, 2010, at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Bergdoll talked about MOMA's current exhibition, "Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront," which brings together five interdisciplinary teams to address the challenge of sea-level rise resulting from global climate change. The teams have produced visionary schemes for five sites along the New York–New Jersey coastline.

APA cosponsored the lecture with the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., as part of an annual series named for Pierre L'Enfant, planner of the capital city. The goal of the series is to draw attention to critical issues in city and regional planning in the U.S. AICP members earned 1.5 Certification Maintenance credits.

Ruth Knack, AICP, executive editor of Planning, interviewed Bergdoll before the lecture.

Q. Sea level rise seems an unexpected topic for an art museum. How did you decide on it?

A. I think the design disciplines are beginning to realize the extent of the problem. It's really a planning issue, but we took it on as an interdisciplinary challenge involving architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering. It's an issue that blurs professional boundaries.

Q. What was the initial impetus?

A. The genesis of the show was a two-year study of waterfront issues, funded by AIA's Latrobe Prize. We gave our teams a copy of that report, On the Water: Palisade Bay, and charged them to come up with "soft" infrastructure solutions to make cities like New York more resilient in the face of sea level rise. My task was to curate an exhibit that would be more than a study on the wall.

Q. How did you choose the teams?

A. At first we talked about bringing in Dutch experts — because of their experience with water issues. But when the recession hit, we decided to present the problem to talented, young American firms, who with the economic slowdown would have the time for larger thinking. We also decided to use a workshop model for our exhibit: We chose five interdisciplinary teams and gave each of them one site. We plan more shows like this in the next few years.

Q. Can you tell us something about the five projects?

A. They are all extremely imaginative. For their site, ARO and dlandstudio propose converting the streets of Lower Manhattan into spongelike greenways, with porous paving and plantings. New wetlands would act as buffers against storm surges.

A team organized by Matthew Baird focuses on the low-lying postindustrial landscape along the New York–New Jersey shore. It calls for creating a new reef out of recycled glass. The team led by LTL architects looks at coastline behind Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and suggests resculpting the existing landfill into five raised "fingers" to create a Venetian-type landscape.

For a site that encompasses Red Hook in Brooklyn, the Gowanus Canal, and Governors Island, landscape designer Kate Orff put together a team that proposes restoring the oyster industry to New York Harbor. The fifth project, led by NArchitects, covers the biggest area — on either side of the Verrazano Narrows — and is probably the toughest challenge. This team proposes building artificial islands to anchor inflatable storm barriers, and new piers that would, among other things, support housing suspended from gantries.

Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront