October 11, 2009

Photo Essay: Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (Open House NY)

On many a summer evening, I have stood on Sebouh's roof in Greenpoint and gazed longward, away from the Manhattan skyline, towards the teardrop-shaped orbs, eerily lit in blue in the distance. Like something out of the 1964 World's Fair, or a sci-fi novel from the same era, the bulbous, shiny shapes seemed to pulsate in the distance, attracting my eye and my inquisitiveness.

They are...the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Digester Eggs.

It's increasingly more common in the U.S. for something so utilitarian and industrial to take on a second function, of design and beauty - thereby making it somewhat of a tourist attraction and a new addition to the Open House New York annual schedule.

view from the creek

front entrance

We had the joy of talking with one of the architects from Polshek Partnership Architects, the design firm that worked with engineers to completely rehaul the sewage treatment plant on the famously polluted Newtown Creek, at the northernmost point of Brooklyn, up Greenpoint Avenue. The digester eggs are only one small part of an entire complex of tanks and tubes, much of which functions heavily several hundred feet underground.

dirty windows

This plant processes the waste of about a third of Manhattan, as well as some of Queens and Brooklyn.

We climbed to the top of the digester eggs, and walked down the catwalks that connect them for a bird's-eye view of the whole process. After aeration, heat, and bacteria break down the solid waste, and the resulting "sludge" is removed, the eggs break the, ahem, "material" down even further, resulting in what they call "cake" - which gets shipped off to the midwest to be used as fertilizer.

We got to see everything except one walkway...

...making for a surprisingly satisfying trip to something we would never be able to see otherwise.

The eggs have only been finished for about a year and a half, and the plant itself is still an active construction site that won't be completed until 2014.

For a slideshow of the eggs, especially at night, visit the DEP's website.

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