Almost a year to the day after Hurricane Sandy hit New York, it is fitting that HKS Urban Design Studio in partnership with Langan held a workshop entitled ‘Waterfronts Today,’ addressing the needs and limitations for future development along waterfronts of all kinds. Whether building on the banks of the Mississippi or directly next to the Atlantic Ocean, Associate Principal Randall Morton and his team emphasized the fact that waterfront developments can face particular technical and social issues that rarely trouble landlocked sites.
Morton was quick to point out the importance of building sustainably, noting the damaging effects of Sandy: “A life of work for some people was wiped out in a day.” In the face of natural pressures such as flooding and changing sea levels, the team views urban design as the way to merge a technical solution with the artistic. In many cases, this means building in a way to let the natural flow of water determine development, particularly with regards to the design of open space.
HKS's experience shaping the waterfront stretches well beyond Lower Manhattan, having worked on projects in Memphis in the Mississippi River Delta, for the San Diego Port Master Plan, and a new 1.78 sq km (440-acre) development in Ho Chi Minh City.
The plans for this new project in Ho Chi Minh City evokes images of New York’s Battery Park City thirty years ago, as the goal is to create developable land on a site that currently sits in or at the waterline. As the first step of development, plans involve raising the land 4m in order to have a base of land solid enough to build on and above the level facing a daily threat of flooding.
The most important element to achieve this goal then becomes the intentional water channels shown in the master plan. These channels are designed to follow the paths where the water naturally tends to run, making the end result a crisscrossing network of what can be seen as ‘water streets.’ Design elements like these channels highlight the main goal of the designers and architects at the HKS Urban Design Studio for any waterfront project, namely that creating functional, beautiful waterfronts is simply about ‘shaping water rather than shaping land.’