The Cooper Union
School of Architecture


The tidal strait that separates the Island of Manhattan from Long Island has, for more than one hundred and fifty years, endured the radical transformations that shipping and waterfront industries have imposed.

This body of water, somewhat incorrectly labeled a river, was, and to a lesser degree still is, but one feature of a complex water-based landscape that includes the inundated lowlands of the Long Island western shore. In addition to the swift and turbulent channels that are the lore of the East River, this geographical feature must be understood as but one piece of a local tidal estuary that once included inland marshes, enclosed shallow pools and meandering creeks.

These more tranquil water features occupied the drainages of the Maspeth Creek, the Bushwick Creek, and Hallets Cove, all post-glacial remnants of the retreating pleistocene ice. Water met land at an indeterminate edge of changing depths and multiple shelves, an essential topography, where aquatic and land-based life interacted, and where the complex systems of the brackish estuaries thrived.

The physical forms that supported these biotic conditions changed. Industrialization brought about its extensive environmental impact not only through chemical pollution, but also through morphological transformation that eliminated this complex edge, and substituted the simple, hardened, steep-faced wall of the waterfront bulkheads and backfilled riverwalls.

Topographic transfiguration proposes a strategy of urban planning and environmental reclamation that incrementally reintroduces, within the framework of the existing infrastructure, fragments of a more complex network of water-based natural systems. By cutting into the modern map of the city, Transfiguration, seeks to reveal lost indications of the concealed, archaic land and water forms, and to establish new possibilities for land use, open space and urban ecosystems.

Professor, Proportional-Time Faculty