Lane F. Kelman contributed to this post.
The Brooklyn Bridge is made up of approximately 11,000 tropical wood planks that are exposed to heavy foot and bicycle traffic. Due to the heavy use, the planks require routine replacement. The New York City Department of Transportation faces a difficult task in balancing the competing interests of preserving the look and feel of the Brooklyn Bridge while at the same time utilizing sustainable materials. To date, in order to match the existing walkway, the City has used tropical hardwoods – known for their durability and resistance to rot – for replacement planks. Recently, this practice has come under fire from rain-forest advocates who have put pressure on the City to use alternative materials such as synthetic or recycled product. This issue is common when designing rehabilitation projects.
A Possible Solution: The Brooklyn Bridge Forest
One potential solution to the problem of maintaining the Brooklyn Bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project. This project is the brainchild of Scott Francisco, a Manhattan architectural designer and sustainable-development consultant, who developed the project in an attempt to appease rain-forest advocates while continuing the use of tropical hardwoods to create the planks. Francisco’s project would use money obtained from donations to finance a 5,000-acre forest in a country which has not yet been determined. The City would then use sustainable agriculture principles to ensure that replacement planks continue to come from the forest for the life of the bridge. Rather than use recycled materials, the Brooklyn Bridge Forest involves the protection and maintenance of the source of the materials.
Although the idea is creative, the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project is in conflict with the sustainable materials principles established under the LEED Rating Systems. The current plan runs afoul of LEED criteria because the project does not include plans to:
- Create the planks with recycled materials
- Obtain the planks within 500 miles of the Brooklyn Bridge
- Make the planks out of rapidly renewable materials
The Brooklyn Bridge Forest project illustrates the tension between material specifications issued by an owner and LEED accreditation. If this project was one where a developer was seeking LEED accreditation, it would immediately be ineligible to receive credits related to the use of recycled material, local materials and rapidly renewable materials. This problem would be exacerbated on a public projects where LEED accreditation is not optional, but potentially required by local, state or federal law.
As the project progresses, it will be interesting to see if the New York City Department of Transportation elects to partner with Francisco, or if it will come up with an alternative solution more in line with LEED principles.
We will continue to monitor and report on any developments with the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project.