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Think tank proposes creating wetlands with scrapped ships

Protect Brooklyn’s coastline with … Navy ships?

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A futuristic design firm wants to bring Navy ships back to save Brooklyn from the next natural disaster — but first it wants to sink them.

Mitchell Joachim and his team of mad designists at the Navy Yard’s architectural think-tank Terreform ONE have come up with an otherworldly plan to break down old US warships and submerge the parts to create a man-made wetland in the Buttermilk Channel that the team says could protect the borough from future deluges.

“It’s beautiful to give this shadow-like evidence of former glory of the United States a semiotic pulse serving a second job as a buffer zone for the edges of our city,” said Joachim, a professor, architect and TED fellow who co-founded the non-profit.

The plan calls for some ships from the Navy’s “ghost fleet,” — aging warships that date as far back as World War II that the military keeps docked in places like Suisan Bay, CA., Beaumont, TX., and James River, VA. — to be sliced into cross-sections that will be broken in two and submerged around the vulnerable coastline, reconfiguring the waterway to approximate a riverbank, and in so doing, encouraging natural sedimentation that will create an environment capable of absorbing great ocean swells.

This “riparian buffer zone” off the Red Hook waterfront would even allow Brooklynites to walk over the one mile gap between Brooklyn and Governor’s Island.

“The recreated meandering stream course will establish a salt marsh ecosystem once common to this area,” reads the plan, which proposes a 100-year timeline.

The bold design is quickly gaining fans. Reported in the blog Curbed, it recently won a merit award from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter’s 2013 design awards, who chose to spotlight it because the plan provided a uniquely sustainable approach to dealing with a potential future of climate change-related flooding.

The project also attempts to address the environmental and social-justice issues around ship-breaking, where the giant, toxic hulls of discarded ocean ships are left on shorelines in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to be stripped down for scrap by migrant workers toiling under deplorable conditions. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Joachim and his team, who said they were partially inspired by the images of photographer Edward Burtynsky.

“We should take responsibility for things we create in the first place by upcycling them to a different use,” said Joachim.

The project is largely aspirational — part of a post-recession uptick in imaginative theoretical work that’s not necessarily designed to draw financing, according to Rick Bell, the executive director of AIA New York.

But that’s part of the point, says the project’s creator.

“We need to imagine — that’s part of our job,” said Joachim. “If we didn’t have Jules Verne, we wouldn’t have Kennedy taking us to the moon.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. Follow him at

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