Summary: The federal department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition challenged international teams to think about protection from climate change and violent storms on a regional level. The BIG team, awarded $335 million at the end of the competition, envisioned a 10-mile ribbon of protective features encircling the Manhattan shoreline from West 57th Street to East 42nd. The resulting “Big U” combines protection elements (walls, berms, flip-down barriers) with amenities that improve the quality of life in New York’s idiosyncratic coastal neighborhoods: improved parkland and new cultural attractions at The Battery; community spaces, social services, and retail-ready pavilions below the elevated FDR Drive; and expanded recreation areas with programming geared toward local housing residents in a redesigned East River Park.

Starr Whitehouse led the BIG team’s public outreach process, designing a series of community workshops that engaged residents and organizers on the Lower East Side in active debate about waterfront use and access, need for programming and socio-economic opportunities, and design concepts. The workshops put design tools (such as models, maps, and markers) into stakeholders’ hands, enabling them to directly affect the team’s design choices. Developing protection schemes for City-owned housing campuses in particular required designers to overcome a long history of contentious interactions between residents, developers, and officials. Over 150 area residents participated in the meetings, which Rebuild by Design officials praised. The City of New York is currently pursuing implementation of the BIG U’s proposals for East River Park.

Role: With Starr Whitehouse, I assisted in the planning, organization, and execution of four public workshops, designed workshop exercises, and created multimedia workshop materials. I wrote and edited materials for public distribution, with particular responsibility for the Lower East Side, LES Visioning, and Participatory Design Process components of the final jury report. As an independent consultant I am working in an advisory capacity with the City’s project team to develop a series of community outreach events and ensure that the final project enhances environmental, economic, and cultural security for local residents.

Final Jury Report: Part 1
Final Jury Report: Part 2

Awards and Recognition:
Winner, Rebuild by Design competition, with award of $335 million
2015 American Planning Association National Planning Excellence Award for Urban Design
2015 American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design
2015 American Society of Landscape Architects NY Chapter Honor Award
2014 NY Metro APA’s William H White award for creativity and ingenuity in planning
2014 Holchim Awards’ North American Silver prize for sustainable construction

Arch Daily
The Verge

  • Project Type: Large-scale urban infrastructure
  • Client: HUD, Rebuild by Design
  • Project Team: Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners, BIG Architecture, One Architecture
  • Project Year: 2014
  • Website: