Christo—who is perhaps best known for the fancy drapes he installed in Central Park, in the same shade of orange—has executed dozens and dozens of similar projects which, until recently, were collaborations with his wife and partner Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009.
But in recent years, his attempts to accessorize the natural landscape have been met with criticism. A recent proposal to stretch six miles of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado was halted due to litigation from environmentalists. And, I think, rightly so. At the rate we’re destroying the natural world at the moment, there isn’t a very good reason to experiment with potentially harmful projects. But this sense of frivolity seems to pervade Christo’s work, this notion of shrouding a delicate coastline in the marine version of a Snuggie, just because. Even Christo has admitted this: “I know these projects are totally irrational, totally useless.”
The Floating Piers is something different, though. This is not just a frilly skirt wrapped around an island which you might only admire from your private jet. This represents a major advancement in pedestrian infrastructure, and one that could very easily be adopted for our cities in a climate-changing world. This art is incredibly useful.
Imagine the potential of deploying this type of temporary bridge after a disaster. A pathway like this would allow a city isolated by the destruction of a bridge due to a major storm or seismic activity to be reconnected to the mainland. And it’s not just a poetic solution for post-disaster times. Innovations in floating walkways, and especially ones that look good, have general importance to highly populated coastal areas as sea levels rise.
Another thing to note about The Floating Piers is that the pathways don’t end at the water’s edge. Instead, the orange carpet rolls through onto local streets, creating a wayfinding system that leads walkers up into the town. This could be a model for the way coastal cities integrate emergency routes for tsunamis and storm surges—and what better than this shade of traffic-cone orange to guide them?