Sludge City

Designer: Weishun Xu
Critic: Renata Sentkiewicz
Year: 2013
Location: New York, NY, USA
Project Type: Urban Design

Strip Perspective Small

Project Brief

     At the level of architecture, energy use improvement is usually supplemented with methods that focus on the subject itself rather than its context due to limited capacity of the designer to change the constructed environment. Re-visiting one of the most polluted water-bodies on the other hand, allows designers to step back and examine what external conditions caused the current situation, and what can be utilized through a profound mapping of energy with Odum’s Energetic System.

The proposal of transforming Gowanus Canal concerns deeply a conflict between its status as a natural watershed and the fact that water has to be kept out of site due to New York’s integration of storm relief control and sewage system. The design attempts to solve the conflict by breaking this systematic linkage, allowing water and sewage treatment to form a network in an urban context in order to facilitate power generation. Thus, a site of massive consumption can be transformed into a site of production, of which the agricultural component further remedies the site and releasing more land for the expansion of this development model.

Site Conditions


Site Transformation

     The site planning strategy utilizes Odum’s Energetics System to generate a reading of total energy possible with the re-planning of sewage treatment plant. The design proposal attempts to capitalize on the potent energy generated by sludge treatment and solar power harnessed by decomposed matters.

Due to the status of the rising flood line, the site’s physical transformation focuses on the re-mapping of conventional sewage treatment process in relation to what can be potentially submerged and what can not after separating overflow control from the sewage treatment system. This move allows the sewage treatment plant to become a linear infrastructure that integrates other buildings on the site through energy and water use.


Site Strategy


Site System-01


Mapping Energy on Site

     The re-mapped sewage treatment system has two major outputs: water and butane (from sludge). Thus two separate systems are put into alternating building sections to deliver the two resulting infrastructures based on density. The energy delivery system focuses on engagement with smaller businesses especially restaurants on the bottom floor. The direct usage of butane can generate a re-harnessing of heat which further benefits the residential units. On the other hand, the water usage cycle focuses on engagement with the urban farm/garden industry on the river bank, which contains a wetland ecosystem to treat the polluted canal.



Creating a Procession

     A procession of spatial sequence needs to be aligned with the procedures of waste water treatment. This project of spatiality offers not only a layered vision of the design scheme, but also multiple spots of sensual intervention. Sludge treatment tank feels warm, while clear water oxidization pool provides sound experience of the space.

Sketch Sections Hori Site Procession

Layered Community

     Due to different relationship with the energy network set up on site and the necessary artificial level change for flood control, the ground floor of the site is layered as topography in order to host the diversity of programs as well as form dynamic programmatic relationship.

Model white Site Layers