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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Enclosing the BQE

Robert Moses's Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) did not meet the fate of his proposed roadway bisecting Washington Square Park and the Lower Manhattan Expressway, two well-known failures in the Power Broker's dreams for New York City IN the Automobile Age. The BQE hints at the destruction that would have befallen parts of SoHo and the Lower East Side, but it also illustrates some creative civil engineering and urban design where it passes under Brooklyn Heights, specifically the promenade that offers amazing views of Manhattan.

This stretch of the BQE is mildly perceptible from the promenade above, but the noise of the three tiered levels of traffic makes an obvious impact on the plans of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Plan to the west, where pollution and views are also concerns. To address these, the plan by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates incorporates a sizable berm to reduce the impact of the BQE on visitors to the waterfront and its "lawns, recreation, beaches, coves, restored habitats, playgrounds and beautifully landscaped areas."

As an architectural alternative to the landscaped berm, Daniel Rattner from the Studio for Civil Architecture, along with Hage Engineering PC, is proposing the Brooklyn Bridge Connector, a structure of steel arches spanning the different levels with coverings of translucent sound baffling acoustical shells and photovoltaic fabric.

[perspective view | image source (PDF link)]

The extent of the proposed connector reaches from Joralemon Street on the south (near Pier 5) to roughly Pineapple Street on the north (near Pier 2), a little under a half mile.

[site plan | image source (PDF link)]

The diagram below shows: 1) The Brooklyn Heights Promenade above the two levels of the BQE and Furman Street at the bottom, 2) The steel arches spanning the different levels, 3) the translucent sound baffling acoustical shells adjacent to the BQE, and 4) the photovoltaic fabric creating the overall enclosure.

[connector diagram | image source (PDF link)]

Rattner's proposal is reminiscent of a couple recent completed projects: OMA's McCormick Tribune Campus Center at Chicago's IIT and ONL's Acoustical Barrier in Utrecht. The first encloses the elevated train running over the building to mitigate its noise, and the second is a one-mile, glass-and-steel wall next to a highway. This proposal can be seen as a hybrid of these two types, as it tries to enclose the highway for its stretch, while at the same time admitting light in and views out.

The proposal is timed to the Obama administration's push for infrastructure improvements and the scheduled repairs to the BQE (scheduled for 2018). A number of practical concerns need to be addressed if this architectural alternative is to be taken seriously, namely how to maintain the panels and fabric spanning over three lanes of traffic. The translucent panels will certainly pick up their fair share of dirt, and the photovoltaics, in order to maintain their functionality, will require maintenance as they are repeatedly damaged over time.

Aesthetically the design looks to be rather pleasing, though the perspective reduces the fact it is nearly a half-mile long. Ideally this fact should be taken into consideration in how the design is presented, as well as in the design itself, towards breaking the monotony of the repetitive, prefabricated bays.

According to The Brooklyn Paper, "the [State Department of Transportation] will have a chance to examine how the 'Brooklyn Bridge Connector' fits in with its difficult renovation project when the public scoping process begins in the next two months." I'll post an update if and when I learn more on this proposal's chances of being adopted.


  1. Ugh... Great... But can we keep up with the potholes and never-finished roadwork that's already a problem on the BQE?

  2. I agree there are many more worthy locations and projects that are required than the mitigation of the sound of cars for a wealthy area of Brooklyn

  3. Just lovely. Visiting NYC for the first time in 2008, I was horrified at the BQE monstrosity on the cab ride from JFK to the Lower East Side... this will make a stunning approach for visitors to NYC, as well as a great improvement for local residents.

  4. As a resident of Joralemon Street a mere block from the BQE, the traffic noise as it travels down the tunnel of our brownstone-lined street and also on the back side between the buildings and a high rock retaining wall is already unbearable at times. I can only imagine what how much louder it would be as this connector would reflect MORE noise back into the neighborhood. No thanks, I agree with V...fix the potholes instead.


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