‘Hudson River Theatre’ proposes a process-based protective infrastructure which seeks to imagine how such pervasive elements in our built environment can push beyond their pragmatic duty to take on a more human and poetic character. How can our infrastructures utilize their performative and monumental natures to engage the public and speak to our struggle with and against nature?
One of the most significant repercussions of global warming is the rising of global sea levels: Manhattan is expected to see a sea level rise of up to 2m by 2100, which will dramatically increase the threat of flood surges. In addition to these concerns, rampant industrial growth along the Hudson River has brought about considerable contamination to its water, sediments, and floodplains, destroying the habitats of a variety of fish and bird species. In an effort to remove the contaminated sediment and relieve the Hudson River ecosystem, General Electric has worked with state and federal agencies to establish the Hudson River Dredging project, the largest in the United States. Over the course of the project, over 2 million square meters of polluted dredge material has been removed, shipped on barges, and stored in massive tailing ponds where it will sit indefinitely.
In response to these conditions, the initial phase of the project would be the implementation of a series of six concrete breakwaters inspired by the geometry of typical breakwater modules. These would serve not only as an initial point of contact to disperse and decrease incoming waves, but also house a functioning dredge treatment facility. Here, inspired by experimental techniques developed in Finland, the contaminants in the dredge would be stabilized and essentially sealed. From here, rather than sitting idle in a containment facility, the sealed aggregates would be distributed offshore using a telescopic arm equipped with a gravel belt. This dredge piling process would be guided by a simple set of rules according to the limitations of the arm’s movements and to a collection of site data. Every year, each breakwater would process enough dredge material to pile up one ridge. Using GPS data, the point of greatest pedestrian congregation would be calculated, dictating the starting point of the next ridge. From this new centrepoint, the arm would trace out an arc, rotating 20 degrees in each direction while retracting a total of 5m along this distance.
This piling would be carried out daily over a number of decades: each arm is scheduled a one-hour time slot each day to pile material, until it has completed its task - one complete ridge - for the year. The activation of each arm, much like church bells, will act as a daily clock, a fixture in the daily routines of the local residents and workers, and a sort of theatrical performance for tourists and residents alike. As the years add up, the ridges would form a network of piled dredge rising above sea level, not only protecting the city but offering a new coastline condition for pedestrians, wildlife, and plantlife reminiscent of various geological formations. This network will eventually bridge the gap between the shore and the breakwater structures, making the mysterious, massive structures available for public re-appropriation. In this sense, the infrastructure marks not only the time of each day but also the passing of years as it slowly constructs an entirely new shoreline over the course of the next century.