New York is forever on the verge of some kind of collapse. We worry about the next big storm. Or a the next economic downturn. Or just a good ol’ rat tsunami. But last year, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (or NYCEDC) called our attention to a very immediate—and underreported—crisis: The decay of thousands of piles that support the city’s riverfront.
Pilings are the wood or steel columns that hold up the piers that edge the city. They're often anchored a dozen or more feet below the waterline, and they need to withstand pummeling by storm surges, sea salt, and plain old wear and tear. The problem with the rotting pilings is that it’s mind-bogglingly expensive to repair them—far more costly than whatever’s being built up top. Over the next few decades, the city will probably spend billions of dollars reinforcing the 300-odd miles of riverfront land they own. It’s either that, or let it all fall into the sea. It’s the kind of unglamorous problem that’s going to confront the city more and more often as it ages.
In December, the NYCEDC launched an open call for alternative ways to fix up the pilings, asking the hivemind of local engineers and designers to come up with cheaper, smarter methods. Several weeks ago, the group announced an unlikely winner: D-Shape, the famed Italian concrete 3D printing company, which received $50k for a concept that would 3D scan the old pilings and 3D print concrete reinforcements.