Archive for August, 2010

Field Trip Friday: Motor Vessel Red Hook Sludge Boat

Yesterday, OHNY’s staff got to tour the Motor Vessel Red Hook, one of three sludge boats in D.E.P.’s fleet. The tour started at the North River Plant (one of New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants) with Steve Askew, the Plant Superintendent.

Located on the Hudson River, west of the West Side Highway from 137th Street to 145th Street, the plant provides wastewater treatment for a third of Manhattan’s waste (from residents from Bank Street in Greenwich Village to Inwood Hill). North River, which Steve described as a ‘mega’ plant, treats about 125 million gallons of wastewater every day during dry weather and can handle up to 340 million gallons a day when the weather is wet! 150 people work at this facility and it is basically a 24 hour operation.

North River Plant lobby

Built on a 28-acre reinforced concrete platform over the Hudson River, the roof is home to Riverbank State Park, making it the only wastewater treatment in NYC to have a public park built on top. Planning for the plant began in 1962 but it did not open for advanced preliminary treatment until 1986. (Before then, untreated wastewater flowed into the Hudson River.)

Designed by Phillip Johnson, North River has been widely recognized for its innovative design. Johnson’s utilized plain geometric shapes in order to create ‘a modernist sculpture.’ The design was modified during the following two decades while the foundation, made up of hundreds of caissons put directly into the bedrock, was built. The resulting concrete facade of arches spans ten blocks and faces the river.

Boarding the M.V. Red Hook

After learning about the North River Plant, we boarded the Red Hook, a 1.2-million-gallon sludge vessel that took three years to build and is the newest and largest vessel in D.E.P.’s fleet. Captain Chris Reil led us through the boat, which is more than 350 feet long, about 53 feet wide and weighs more than 2,098 tons. The Red Hook is ~1 1/2 years old and the lifespan of the sludge boats is typically 30-40 years. Named after wastewater treatment plants, the Red Hook is joined by the Newtown Creek and the North River. In 2007, the Owls Head was retired after more than 50 years in service and sold in West Africa.

Captain Chris Reil shows us around

The Red Hook’s eight storage tanks can accommodate 150,000 cubic feet, or 1.2 million gallons, of sludge. Sludge is most of the residual material removed during the treatment process. (Another portion of this is called centrate, a liquid heavy in nitrogen that looks like crude oil.) Eight of the 14 wastewater plants in NYC have dewatering facilities and six do not. The sludge boats transport liquid sludge from those six plants to the eight wastewater treatment plants with dewatering facilities, to complete the process.

The Captain shows us the controls

The first step involves the “digestion” (hence the digester eggs at Newtown Creek) of raw sludge in oxygen-free tanks, where it is heated and mixed for several days. This process stabilizes the sludge by converting most of the organic material into water, carbon dioxide and methane gas. The “digested” sludge is then pumped through giant hoses onto the sludge boat, to be taken to one of the eight dewatering plants. At the dewatering facility, the sludge is sent to centrifuges which remove most of the water. Once the sludge is treated and dehydrated, it turns into cake and either gets sent out to landfills or beneficially re-used as fertilizer. As Steve told us, NYC’s wastewater treatment plants use physical, chemical and biological processes to remove more than 90% of the organic material in the sewage.

Read more about the wastewater treatment process and how sludge is treated here.

The engine room

A crew of six, including Captain Reil and an Engineer, Assistant Engineer, Mate, and two Sailors, make 7-10 trips a week, and spend quite a lot of time on board. In addition to the Captain’s office where he mans the boat, the engine room, and the control pump room, the boat also has a fully equipped galley and conference room.

Our favorite color (see our new OHNY Weekend buttons)!

Before 9/11, the North River Plant had regular public tours on Tuesdays but has since had to stop those tours. Lucky for you, the Motor Vessel Red Hook will be docked (although not at North River) and available to tour during the upcoming 8th Annual OHNY Weekend! Look for the tour in the OHNY Weekend event guide and online listings, coming in late September!


OHNY Weekend buttons!

They’re here! We are excited for the new button colors for the 8th Annual openhousenewyork Weekend, October 9 & 10, 2010!

OHNY staff, board and District Coordinator button

OHNY volunteer button

OHNY Weekend Passport and VIP button

Press/Media button

Field Trip Friday: Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza

Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza has a myriad of distinguishable monuments, fountains and architecture. Recently, OHNY intern Kathleen took a closer look at the intricate design of the Memorial Arch.

Looking towards the park

The Memorial Arch commemorates the defenders of the Union and was the original gateway to Prospect Park.  Designed by John H. Duncan in 1889—the same man who designed Grant’s tomb–the classical style nods to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, while the enormous bronze sculpture and reliefs represent the various key players in the Civil War.  To view some of the earliest photographs of the Memorial Arch and Prospect Park visit the Prospect Park Alliance website.

Abraham Lincoln

Looking up at the Memorial Arch

The Arch was officially unveiled by President Grover Cleveland in 1892.  In light of the City Beautiful Movement, McKim, Mead and White proposed to accentuate the arch’s classical style by extending the plaza, while Frederick MacMonnies was asked to contribute the 9 sculptures, finally completing the project in 1901.

Another view of the Memorial Arch

Interestingly, the has Arch served another purpose—it previously housed the New York Puppet Free Library. Primarily consisting of larger parade puppets, the Puppet Free Library creatively utilized the space within the Arch for several years. Unfortunately, rain damage to the roof of the structure a few years ago forced the puppets to be relocated to Brooklyn College. Hopefully the roof will be patched up soon and visitors will have a chance to explore the interior of the arch again!

Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY
Get subway directions via HopStop

Field Trip Friday: Red Hook

A few months ago, OHNY staffer Hae-In spent her Sunday morning exploring the Red Hook waterfront. Walking down Van Brunt there are various shops and restaurants, but there is also a sense of quiet and calm, as Red Hook is not as easily accessible by train compared to other neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Red Hook is named for the red clay soil and the point of land projecting into the East River and was originally named Roode Hoek (‘hoek’ means point or corner in Dutch).

Streetcars by Fairway

Down by the waterfront area and Fairway grocery store, there are old streetcars on display, courtesy of the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association (BHRA). Along with running the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tours, the BHRA is also dedicated to returning trolleys to the streets of Brooklyn. These streetcars are actually originally from the Boston Green Line; but the ironwork, paint color and type fonts were restored to reflect the way Brooklyn streetcars looked in the 1950’s. They have been sitting outside of Fairway since May of 2007.

Inside a trolley

Bob Diamond of the BHRA has been lobbying for the project since 1989 and with the development of the Red Hook waterfront and neighborhood, the trolley project has picked up interest again. We’ll see how it goes — it would certainly be fun to have a trolley line servicing areas of Brooklyn, especially those that are harder to reach.

Streetcar exterior

A day spent exploring Red Hook isn’t complete without a taco (and horchata) from the vendors at the Red Hook ballfields. They can also be found at Brooklyn Flea on weekends!

Red Hook ballfield vendors

Fairway & Red Hook waterfront
480 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY
Get subway directions via HopStop

Ennead Architects: New York Designers Design New York

Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership) will lead intimate tours of buildings throughout New York City that showcase the diversity of the firm’s acclaimed portfolio.

The Frederick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space
Wednesday, August 25
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Rose Center for Earth and Space redefined the American Museum of Natural History for the 21st century. Housed within a glass cube, the 87-foot in diameter Hayden Sphere is an immediately recognizable icon of the institution and New York City. Inside, an articulated spatial experience inspires visitors with an understanding of the wonders of the universe and the power of scientific inquiry.

The Rose Center “brings us face to face with something commensurate to our capacity for wonder” and is “an aesthetic apparition as well as a major civic event…unafraid of revealing the deep roots from which modern architecture arose,” according to Herbert Muschamp of The New York Times.

Ennead Architects will lead visitors on a tour of the Rose Center. Tickets available here.

The Standard New York
Wednesday, September 8
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Named the #1 best building of the decade by Curbed NY, The Standard New York is an eighteen-story, concrete and glass structure that provides a sleek, modern counterpoint to the historic Meatpacking district. Already a landmark in the newly re-activated city fabric of the West Village, it has been heralded as “the kind of straightforward, thoughtfully conceived building that is all too rare in the City today.”

Todd Schliemann, Partner in Ennead Architects and designer of the building, will lead the tour. Tickets available here.

Stay tuned for Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, the last tour in the series, continuing after OHNY Weekend.

(Images courtesy of Jeff Goldberg / ESTO for Ennead Architects.)

Field Trip Friday: Brooklyn Bridge Park at Night

In March of this year, Pier 1 — the first newly built section of Brooklyn Bridge Park — was opened to the public. Hae-In recently visited the park at night, for the first time since OHNY’s behind-the-scenes preview back in August of 2009. The park has since developed into a true urban oasis, offering lush lawns, meandering walkways and taking full advantage of the beautiful view of downtown Manhattan and the East River. Move over Central Park!

Brooklyn Bridge Park lawn

Located on Brooklyn’s waterfront, right under the Brooklyn Bridge and right by the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, the park offers a variety of spaces, including grassy lawn, wooden benches and chairs, and stone steps. There is also a new playground and various food vendors. For decades, the site had been mostly empty and used to function as a shipping terminal, built on landfill. One of the main challenges when designing the new park area was how to take advantage of the dynamic and expansive views of the Manhattan skyline, New York Harbor and Brooklyn Bridge from a relatively flat stretch of land. A 30-foot hill was then constructed from rock that was being excavated for the construction of a Long Island Railroad tunnel under Manhattan, which helped create a large, inviting lawn and slopes that can be traversed by walkways.

There are a variety of other spaces that make up the park, in addition to Pier 1. These will include: Pier 6, Main Street Lot, Tobacco Warehouse, Empire-Fulton Ferry and the “cove” which is a body of water between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. The Empire-Fulton Ferry, closed currently for renovations, will be the new home of Jane Walentas’ carousel. The ride will be housed in a pavilion created by prize winning architect Jean Nouvel and is scheduled to open in Spring 2011.

Nighttime visitors admiring the skyline

Many of the park’s details are also great examples of re-use. The benches are built from a supply of long leaf yellow pine timbers, which were found in one of the warehouses on the piers. Dense, old-growth timber, with a beautiful grain, they were able to salvage, work, and finish the wood.

Steps made from recycled granite

The monumental granite steps are also built with stone from the re-cladding of the Roosevelt Island Bridge, complete with iron stains and discolorations from its former life. Old stone from the Willis Avenue Bridge, which is also being renovated, has been used to form terraces that look out over the constructed salt marsh.

Brooklyn Bridge at night

Completed, the park will be a total of 85 acres and will stretch along 1.3 miles off of the East River (estimated to cost $350 million). There will be six big piers, which will be distinct spaces but also connected by a single pathway, incorporating a variety of programming for everyone to enjoy. Go check it out this weekend, the weather’s supposed to be great! And here’s a little tip — go at night, you will be shocked at how many people are there at 11pm!

Brooklyn Bridge Park
1 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY
Get subway directions via HopStop

2nd Annual Volunteer Recruitment Happy Hour

Interested in learning more about the duties and perks of a being an OHNY Weekend Volunteer? Join OHNY and the Volunteer Council for our 2nd Annual Volunteer Recruitment Happy Hour event at SideBAR on Wednesday, August 18th.  Bring family, friends and co-workers out for complimentary drinks starting at 7pm.

At the event, you will be able to speak with OHNY Staff as well as volunteers from the past in order to grasp what the Weekend is all about. Learn about volunteer opportunities for OHNY Weekend and year-round as well as how you can help OHNY raise funds to keep OHNY Weekend free!

Please RSVP by sending an email to Please include your name and how many future volunteers you are bringing!

We hope to see you there!

SideBAR is located at 120 East 15th Street and Irving Place

Sign up to be a Volunteer! Registration Deadline: September 8th, 2010.