As worthy a cause as a recycling facility is, it's hardly the most eye-catching civic project. Until now, that is. The Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility in Brooklyn, which opened its doors this week, sets a new standard in sustainable design - thanks to a masterplan and processing centre created by Selldorf Architects.
Located on an 11-acre pier on the South Brooklyn waterfront, the facility will serve as the principal processing plant for all New York City's curbside plastic, metal and glass; it has the capacity to address 1,000 tons of material a day.
With an investment of $110 million from New York City and Sims Metal Management, the Sunset Park Facility is the largest recycling plant in the United States and keeps in line with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's goal to create a more sustainable Big Apple by 2030. Selldorf's response includes circulation pathways that separate visitor flow from operational and delivery routes, and a new swath of greenspace, which makes up 20 per cent of the site. Surrounding brownfield land has also been replanted with native flora.
The site dates back to the 19th century, when it was developed as a manufacturing and shipping terminal, becoming an NYPD vehicle-impound lot most recently. It now incorporates a 125,500 sq ft recycling facility and a visitor centre that will champion conservation-related programming. For the former, the architects designed a pre-engineered box construction, a design challenge with little wiggle room. The successful result now includes a Tipping Building, which receives material by barge, and a Processing and Bale Storage building.
'The experience of determining what parts in the kit [we used] was really very interesting. These are big-box buildings, and working with a pre-engineered system was something I hadn't done before,' admits Annabelle Selldorf, the founding principal. 'It very quickly turned out that [everyone] was more than willing to rethink how the skin sits to the structure. So we turned the structure to the outside, which gives you this Prouvé kind of memory.'
Selldorf's modern aesthetic is the perfect match for the facility's industrial purpose. The buildings brim over with quiet details: interior structural elements have been placed on the exterior, and the choice of slim corrugated steel allows light to reflect off the walls with greater impact. The sloping roof also cuts an imposing figure. In the visitor centre, due to open in spring 2014, large portrait windows - akin to Selldorf's Chelsea gallery projects - make the most of the facility's waterside location.
The stunning vistas of the Brooklyn coast and the Statue of Liberty in the far distance reinforce the city's commitment to a greener future - what other public project would be granted such prime real estate? With the added bonus of Selldorf's stylish design, Sunset Park will reap rewards for years to come.