New-York : Fresh kills

BASE + agence TER landcsape designers


Staten Island, NY / USA
surface / 40 ha
concours / 2001


Symbolic and monumental (1)
In the next fifty years, the site of the world largest household landfill will stage the progressive transformation of the landfill and its scientific decontamination.


Subject Matter
The closure of the Freshkills landfill and the political will to carry its transformation calls for a double questioning.
How can the manifestation of fifty years of New York’s residual consumption be turned around from its negative perception to a positive consideration?
Towards which concept of space should we tend, at a time when new questions about the man/nature relationship emerge, when the pace of technological mutations and the hedonistic behavior of our society render obsolete any preset use of space ?
This site, when excluded from the area of life and conscious guilt of New Yorkers, creates the opportunity of an open transformation of the land. It should both allow for mutations, following the ever-changing needs of its people, and respond to the quest for stillness by reinventing a balanced man/nature relationship.


New York, Freshkills, New Jersey : link, landmark, boundary
Freshkills appears as a landmark between New Jersey and New York states. The geographical limit between the two states lies as much with the ridge line as with the Arthur Kill river. Because it is located beyond the watershed, the Freshkills site is not visible from Manhattan. Its wetland system and its bowl shape would tend to create a natural link to neighboring New Jersey when the Islanders are attempting to part from New York City.
But the mounds of fill alter the topography and disturb its geographical logic, revealing new horizons (the industrial plain of New Jersey) and shape new confrontations (oil tankers crossing, wetland, shopping mall).


Geology of the deposit
As they withdrew from Manhattan, glaciers left large Canadian rocks in the middle of Central Park and deposited a voluminous layer (moraine) which today forms half of the underground of Staten Island (covered by the Tourette forest).
A portion of the developed land on the island, essentially its western shore, exists thanks to the draining and filling of former wetlands; the landfill is yet another layer. Open in 1948, it received 9000 tons of New York City garbage a day, giving birth to four mounds ninety meter high. Today a new coat is deposited, a new layer of soil which puts a lit on the landfill, much in the manner of the layer that had covered the swamps fifty years ago. This last coat will develop, reinventing itself season after season, taking shape at the pace of decontamination, at the pace of birds migrations (carrying seeds necessary to the formation and permanence of the wetland), at the pace of plants absorbing toxic fluids, and at the pace of garbage decomposition. Its material will determine possible recreational uses.

So far, so close
The site has a complex status, at the limit, both far away and close, small and large : Freshkills represents the largest open space available in the five boroughs. Its low density surroundings and the scale of the site do not justify the creation of a city park to merely respond to the needs of Staten Island. Too small it cannot play the role of the nature state parks (such as Bear Mountain Park, e. g.) accessible within an hour or two from New York City. Alternatives to the traditional landscaped park must be found where activities that require a lot of space can be envisaged.
The site bears a withdrawal logic, as much space wise (limited access points) as socially (little social mix). On the contrary, the island (through its western shore) represents an important entry point for New York City and the site calls for an urban interpretation. By creating a happening event drawing a large public coming from the tri-state area to this faraway borough, a new impetus could be given that would alter the island’s which today forms half of the underground of Staten Island (covered by the Tourette forest). A portion of the developed land on the island, essentially its western shore, exists thanks to the draining and filling of former wetlands; the landfill is yet another layer.
The evolution of the site lies on an ambivalent (2) foundation. The mounds of garbage are covering a layer of drained wetlands (layer over layer). Today, a natural reserve is contemplated, but already parted by a freeway it will soon be threatened again by misuses and degradations of visitors. It is a continuum of reverse long term movements.
Our goal is not to repair(3) in order to reach a definitive state while overlooking the past and pollution, but to make the remediation work apparent and demonstrate the decontamination process on an expiatory memorial, taking into account the paradoxical nature of the site which constitutes its identity and stage the act of repair day after day (gardening the landscape) : park, nursery, agriculture, work, leisure activities.
To guarantee maximum security at key points, particularly at the bottom of the mounds, handling of surfaces will be managed with special care. In this logic, teaming with engineers who will control the decontamination process and monitor the evolution of the landfill, will contribute creatively to the project/design.
tending the soil substance and staging its transformation (through soft draining technologies, sponge plants, green filters, silting…), if in touch with the specific requests and uses of Staten Island, can give birth to a collective and concerted practice of the land, i.e. a “paysage(4)” (a landscape).

1 monumental : out of scale, disproportionate
monument : large structure built to remind people of an event in history or of a famous person
2 ambivalent : made up of contrary values
3 reparation : let’s make a difference between the act of repairing, which is a positive process of transformation, and the being repaired,
which is a static accomplishment
4 paysage : French word for landscape. The Latin languages make a difference between the land (territoire) and the way one looks at it