Squibb Park, Brooklyn: Prototype for a New Generation of Sustainable Bridge Design:

After receiving a generous amount of funding, Brooklyn has commissioned a pedestrian walkway to connect Squibb Park and the Brooklyn  Bridge Park. The 4.9 million dollar bridge will be designed by Ted Zoli, a MacArther Genius Award-winning structural engineer, he is not only one of the nation’s “it” engineers but also among the nation’s foremost experts on “terror-proofing.”

As a New York green builder we were interested in this project based on their choice of material. Metal? Nope.

Zoli’s vision of this sustainable design is grounded in an old-fashioned material: wood. And not just any wood: Black Locust. Zoli attempts to create a prototype for modern sustainable design techniques. Long-lasting, rot resistance materials are a pivotal element for the future of sustainable and green bridge designs.

The Black locust grows fast and strong, making it a great green builders material

Eco Brooklyn loves black locusts because they are native to the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Black locust is known for its rot-resistance, durability and its sustainable nature. The rough-sawn decking and wooden structural elements will be coated with a natural finish that changes color and often warps slightly when exposed to natural elements.

In many places the tree is actually considered a pest and they regularly cut them down along roadways. Using something that normally is considered garbage is the ultimate green green builders goal. New York green contractors constantly reuse discarded brick and old joists. By using black locust Zoli is continuing that tradition.

Zoli did not only choose the Block locust building material because it is native to the  Northeast but also because is a prominent feature in the Brooklyn Bridge Park landscape. Zoli is attempting to expand upon the language of the Brooklyn Bridge Park by incorporating some of the materials like Black Locust and wire into his own design.

The combination of natural, durable materials and smart design seem to be the foundation and future for this new generation of bridge designs that center around sustainability. The Squibb design is just one stepping stone for the use of rot-resistant natural building materials in vernacular bridges.

The 396-foot-long bridge, with two main spans of 120 feet will connect a small-paved park at the north end of the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park, originally designed by Michael Ban Valkenburgh.

This bridge, which will hover above Furman Street will zig zag through the existing tall oaks and between two buildings while descending 30 ft in elevation from its starting point to its endpoint in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The bridge will be supported by poured concrete pillars and suspended by steel cables; the primary construction material will be 6- and 10-inch diameter pieces of Robinia pseudoacacia or black locust.

Despite the detachment from the typical urban bridge, which is usually metal and gritty, Zoli’s design is a seamless combination of the rural and the industrial.

This bridge is an incredible addition to the Brooklyn community for multiple reasons. It functions to reconnect pedestrians to the Brooklyn Bridge Park which is currently isolated by roads but will also serve as a prototype for urban design using natural material rather than metals and synthetics.

Bridge connecting Squibb Park to Brooklyn Bridge ParkOne major component of sustainable design is finding long lasting materials. If we are able to learn about and utilize some of trees in our own regions then green builders will be able to save energy through shorter transportation distances and become less wasteful in the creation of new manmade materials.


Time is Money?

One thing a sales person wrote to me the other day caught my eye since it is a very common theory
in almost everything, especially in the western world. And that is the concept of spending more to save time. Time is money concept etc. Like many companies he used the theory to sell his green building walls.

He writes: Now, our foundations panels ARE more expensive than the foundation pour…. Time vs. cost tradeoffs of labor versus expediency.

I am learning that it is better to go against this logic in increasingly more cases. I have experimented and concluded that I would rather spend a little more time and thus more money on labor cost. And likewise build a system that is cheaper in materials. It keeps the money more local, as in immediately local to the workers, and it slows the process down a little.

But because you are saving money in materials you have more money to spend on labor. So you can throw more workers on the job and speed things up that way.

I understand that building is a mad race to finish, but it’s a throwback to a different way of building. As a green contractor in Brooklyn I renovate 100 year old houses and it is amazing how much labor went into them using simple materials. Now it is the opposite: complex materials and as little labor (read time) as possible,

I am increasingly concluding that more labor and less/simpler/cheaper materials is a greener way to go. I do realize this goes against the logic of the MANY companies offering very effective and time saving green products.

And my concept of course can be merged with those products. But a lot of the time I rather build the product in house with simple materials and more labor. This is not just a cost issue. It is an extension of the the 500 mile LEED point for regional materials where you get rewarded if you shop locally, thus reducing carbon transportation footprints and keeping commerce local.

By building in house with simple materials you are taking that a step further. You can’t get more regional than ON SITE.

We are doing this a lot at the Brooklyn Green Show House. We are making our stair treads, counter tops, flooring, and a lot more. It takes time. But it costs less. So I simply have more workers. I think it is a better trade off.