PennDesign to combat natural disaster with innovation

In an effort to reduce future destruction, the School of Design looks to restructure Philadelphia sites such as the tunnels under Penn Station

· January 23, 2013, 1:53 am

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Penn’s School of Design is working to create more sustainable cities in response to Hurricane Sandy.

This semester, the school is concentrating on tackling a multitude of urban problems that arose from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in Red Hook, New York and Pennsylvania Station in New York City.

“There was an incredible response from across the disciplines toward storm Sandy,” Megan Schmidgal, director of communications at PennDesign, said. “We decided with that to open the semester with an open-ended conversation about what designers’ responsibilities were and how we can plan cities more smartly.”

The new courses will allow students to help redesign infrastructure and discover new ways to build and restructure cities in response to the ever-changing environment.

Dean of PennDesign Marilyn Taylor is teaching one of these courses, which will focus on restructuring of the tunnels under Penn Station, specifically the tunnel between New York and New Jersey. Penn Station was shut down for several days in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as its tunnels were flooded.

Matthew Moran, a final year design student in the city planning program and a TA for Taylor’s studio said that the course is designed to get students to think on a broad scale about sustainable passenger flow in Penn Station and how to create a better system to move people around.

Taylor said her goal was to get students and policy makers to realize that the country needs room for additional movement of people in order to support industry and the economy.

“This is a multi-year effort but each year a new group of transportation students keep building on important public policy issues,” Taylor said.

She wants her students to realize that design can make a difference in public policy and that one doesn’t have to be a politician or lawmaker to influence change.

The other course, which is being taught by Professor Marion Weiss, focuses on Red Hook, New York, which was also devastated after Hurricane Sandy. The studio course is working to propose an alternative to the typical concepts of surface and perimeter and focus on a more reciprocal collaboration between water and inhabitation, according to the class syllabus. The students work on proposals for the first few weeks of class and then are able to take those proposals and test them at Red Hook.

Kyle O’Connor, a final year dual architecture and landscape design student currently taking professor Weiss’ class said, “it’s nice to have something immediately topical in design courses. Red Hook is a neighborhood that has a lot of vitality and potential but has also been plagued with problems.”

“This design studio is starting off by looking at existing engineering techniques dealing with storm surges and hurricanes and taking that information to design with those things in mind, and rethink their use, manipulate them and repurpose them,” O’Connor said.

Moving forward, both courses will look into financial and governmental capabilities in order to create a program that can actually be implemented in the future.

“We need to accept that nature is going to be this way and design in a smarter way,” Schmidgal said.

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