One Year After Sandy, the Top Designers in the World Assemble at NJIT to Rebuild the Region

A team of NJIT students did research in New Jersey that will help protect the coastline against future storms.

On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the world’s leading designers, architects, planners and engineers gathered at NJIT to discuss ways to make the region less vulnerable to natural disasters and more resilient.   

Ten design teams came to the NJIT Campus Center Monday night, where they unveiled proposals for protecting the region’s natural resources, housing, businesses and urban infrastructures through the use of resilient design.

One of the teams is led by NJIT Associate Professor Georgeen Theodore, who is affiliated with the Center for Resilient Design at NJIT, which is garnering an international reputation for promoting resilient design.  Theodore put forth four proposals that will protect a wide swath of the region that includes a bay in Southern Nassau County; the beaches along the Jersey coast; five creeks in Monmouth County, N.J. as well as the marshes of Staten Island’s Eastern Shore.

The 10 teams are finalists in the Rebuild by Design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Shaun Donovan, the secretary of HUD, attended the NJIT conference, vowing to fund the ideas generated by the 10 teams.   

“Today I announced $5 billion in funds to rebuild New Jersey and New York and here at NJIT tonight are the most remarkable design minds in the world,” said Donovan. “I spoke to President Obama for an hour about this design competition and he said this is exactly what the nation needs -- designers collaborating with government officials and residents affected by the storm. That’s the best way to rebuild and it’s our goal at HUD.”

Earlier in the day, the 10 design teams presented as many as five ideas to a jury assembled by Rebuild by Design, a Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force allied with HUD. The teams had three months to research their design ideas.  Early next month, the jury will select one idea -- the best idea -- from each team. The teams will focus on refining those ideas and the competition will continue into 2014, when HUD will decide which team or teams to fund.    

The design teams led by NJIT’s Theodore is a partnership between Interboro Partners, her New York-based architectural firm, and the College of Architecture and Design’s Infrastructure Planning program, which she directs. Also on the team are Dutch agencies that specialize in land-use planning, coastal engineering and urban water management.

Theodore teaches a master’s class in infrastructure planning, and the 15 students in the class helped her research design strategies. The students divided into seven teams and went out into the field, doing research in towns in New Jersey hurt by Sandy. The students are a mix of majors -- some study architecture while others study design or planning -- and they pooled their disciplines to generate plans on how to rebuild Sandy-affected areas.  Theodore used her students’ research in all four of the design plans she unveiled yesterday to the design jury and to the public.

James Giresi, one of the students, said that Theodore’s class gave him the opportunity to get hands-on, real-life experience.  His team visited the Jersey shore several times, studying the ecology of the lowlands and the highlands, as well as the demographics of the residents living along the coast. After they gathered their research, they shared their findings with Theodore and the Dutch experts on her team.

“This class has given me hands-on experience that is good for my portfolio and will help me get a job after I graduate in May,” says Giresi, who recently won a U.S. Green Council award for the design project he did in Bay Head, N.J., for a previous class called Garden State Studio.  “But perhaps more importantly I got to network with experts from around the world, especially the Dutch experts on Professor Theodore’s team.  That has given me invaluable experience.”

The ten design teams had poster boards in the Campus Center that laid out their ideas, and there was a panel discussion with leaders from each team.  Along with Donovan, others speakers on the eve of the anniversary of Sandy included NJIT President Joel Bloom; Urs Gauchat, dean of the College of Architecture and Design; and Thomas Dallessio, director of NJIT’s Center for Resilient Design.

By Robert Florida