Completion Date: June 2016


Rockaway Boardwalks, New York City, United States
WXY Architecture and Urban Design

Rockaway Boardwalks
Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, destroying thousands of businesses, homes, public amenities and regional infrastructure, including the iconic Rockaway Boardwalks in Queens, New York, a peninsula known for attracting surfers and beachcombers from around the world.

The necessity of reconstructing the boardwalks proved the impetus for the Rockaway Boardwalk Reconstruction and Rockaway Parks Conceptual Plan, and established a new planning and urban design framework in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It aimed to define a unified and sustainable vision for the Atlantic coastline with complementary, specific plans for rebuilding the Rockaway peninsula’s parks and open spaces. The new elevated boardwalk is a model for innovative climate adaption infrastructure, rebuilt above the 100-year flood plain and situated on newly planted dunes that will stabilize and replenish new beach infill. The boardwalk reconstruction will also help restore natural habitat and reinvigorate a historic landmark with new recreational and educational amenities. 

To replace the iconic boardwalk, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, alongside the Army Corps of Engineers, commissioned a team to reimagine the six miles of beachfront with a resilient, creative vision. About $480 million was allocated to the project by the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Hurricane Sandy relief bill in early 2013.

Out of an extensive community planning effort, a cohesive vision for the boardwalk and parks emerged, featuring playgrounds, skate parks, lounges, performance spaces, and shade structures tailored to the beach environment. With significant neighbourhood input, a plan for a new elevated boardwalk was unveiled by the Rockaway community in 2014, and the first two sections are now open to the public.

The 40-foot-wide Rockaway Dune Walk comprises of sand-coloured concrete planks cast in wave shapes and speckled with coloured and tumbled glass, buttressed by seawalls, dunes, and natural plantings. Framed by graceful steel railings and boasting contemporary bench seating and other amenities, the pattern made by the planks mirrors the sinuous coastline. The use of the blue planks as the pixels of new supersized font announces the identity of this bustling beach community in giant letters visible from far away. In the evening, the idea of being on the shore is reinforced by “glow-in-the dark” aggregate embedded in the blue planks, evoking the bioluminescence in the ocean. 

Newly designed access points from both the street and the beach, together with a unique way-finding system, will improve and clarify circulation around the Dune Walk, while a new graphic identity will add visual texture to the boardwalk and make the park identifiable to travellers approaching JFK by airplane. Access points include ramps speckled with colourful recycled glass and curved RPL decking shaped to support the stability of the new primary dunes. 

In June 2016, the new 5.5-mile Rockaway Boardwalk opened to the public much to the delight of the community and all beach-going New Yorkers.

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