blog post photo

blog post photo

Renderings: GRO Architects 

Picking up where the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project left off, a new plan to harness tidal energy from New York City’s rivers has been proposed by a New York architecture firm.

Using the same idea for underwater turbines to capture the energy of the East River, lead architect Richard Garber of GRO Architects has a plan in the early development stages to both produce energy for local streetlamps and create more open public space for the city.

The firm has proposed early designs of floating docking stations that will serve as platforms upon which green space can sit, but also hold in place the vertical turbines that will protrude down into the water from the underside of these units. The docking stations, as the plan states now, will be tethered to existing piers near South Street Seaport.

Based on the average river current speed of 4 miles per hour, each unit, or module, of a docking station will support three turbines for an estimated 24 kilowatts of continuous energy produced. By GRO Architects’ estimates, that energy should power 300-350 LED streetlamps, which are generally known to be more efficient than the fluorescent bulbs the city currently uses in its street-lamps. Garber says he expects LED street-lamp adoption in the near future.

The vertical turbines will be situated as to collect optimum amounts of energy, as they work with both the ebb and flood tides. Garber said that turbines can spin both directions to collect energy during all four tidal changes per day. Assigning physical dimensions of the turbines, such as the height and width of the turnstiles is still in development.

He and his colleagues designed the plan as an entry for a competition by Metropolis magazine that asked architects and designers to address their area’s sustainability issues and to “redesign broken models of the 20th century.”

“We thought there was an awesome opportunity,” Garber said, referring to the innovation of the RITE project. “The tidal flow doesn’t necessarily exist at the bottom, but it exists near surface. For our scheme, we wanted to find a way to engage with the 4 miler per hour current at the place where it’s most felt.”

The RITE project began demonstrations in 2006 by testing six horizontal turbines that were attached to piles driven into the bed of the East River. The project is currently put on hold while developer Verdant Power of New York, N.Y. waits for a license to build a 30-turbine layout on both sides of Roosevelt Island.

Garber explained that while energy efficiency is a driving force of his project, it is also rivaled by the idea that they can “merge performance with architecture, shape or grammar and an experience for the public.”

The flipside of the docking stations project, literally and figuratively, will result in more space and a social experience, not only a way to produce more energy. Decks above the turbines will be built on pontoons to make the module float, covered with concrete and the final layer of finished decking for three walkways. The entire module will be caged in by rows of arched metal ribs and covered with netting and customizable metal scales to provide shade over the pathways. In the center of each module will be room for optional landscaping. Modules can either stand alone or become pieces in the larger puzzle; they fit together to form bigger docking stations, or what Garber calls “colonizing the water.”

He said that in achieving green design, he was also looking to create “cerebral recognition” with the design of his docking stations, much like the way the Toyota Prius has become the quintessential image of a hybrid vehicle.

[The Prius] has become a form (image) of energy savings. It is our intention to make New Yorkers acutely aware of high-performance design and energy efficiency by creating Docking Stations that have spatial and social effects,” Garber wrote in his entry form.

Currently there are no plans to build the docking stations, but Garber believes that grant money will be available from the New Jersey Institute of Technology where he is a full time professor.