SIMS Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility

Architects: Selldorf Architects; Architects of Record: Steven Gambino Architects; Landscape Architects: Mark Vaccaro; Location: Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY; Completed: 2013.

Like many cities, New York is built on a vast, often unnoticed network of infrastructure.  Its citizens and visitors are more likely to notice the iconic skyscrapers looming overhead than the everyday processes and machinery that keep a city of millions functioning.  Last weekend I had the privilege of touring one such facility, the SIMS Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility, as part of the Open House New York Preview Program.  Led by Tom Outerbridge, General Manager of Sims Municipal Recycling, and Annabelle Selldorf, Principal of Selldorf Architects, the tour was a fascinating education in the mechanisms of sustainably disposing all of the recyclable waste that such a large city can produce.

The facility is located at the end of the 30th Street pier of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Sunset Park was part of New York Harbor's dominant shipping industry, starting in the late 1800's up until the end of World War II.  During the war, much of the supplies and troops needed for the war effort were dispatched through the ports of the New York Harbor.  With the end of the war and the subsequent decline in manufacturing in the Northeast, the area eventually faded in importance as a shipping port, leaving behind abandoned factory buildings and piers.  When the SBMT closed its container terminal business in the 1980's, the NYPD used the 30th Street pier as a parking lot for impounded vehicles until the recycling facility began construction 

The facilities are built atop four feet of site fill made from a composite of recycled glass, asphalt, and rock reclaimed from the Second Avenue subway construction.  Fortunately, this kept the facilities machinery dry from the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, which impacted New York City during construction, and elevated the buildings above FEMA's new 100 year flood plane. Besides the forward thinking flood plane strategy, the site features many other sustainable elements. Excessive storm water is handled by a gravity-based system comprised of landscape features, bio-swales and a retention pond.  Three artificial reefs are employed to restore a habitat for marine and bird life. Also on site is one of the city's largest solar power installations, producing 600kW of power.  A wind turbine is also slated to be installed at the site in the near future. 

The public plaza leading to the visitor and administration building is partially paved with a multicolored gravel of recycled glass.

Visitors to the site can explore the exhibits inside the Recycling Education Center to learn about the various processes employed to sort each type of material for recycling and the means of transporting those materials to the facility and on to their next destination.  Also within the Center are classrooms, a theater, administrative offices for the 75 full-time employees, and a large outdoor terrace with amazing views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan.  

Connected by a bridge from the Recycling Education Center is the Tipping Building, the first stop for recyclables arriving to the site by barge from SMR facilities in Queens and the Bronx.  Items collected in Brooklyn typically arrive by DSNY collection vehicles.  Most materials will leave by barge or rail once they have been sorted and processed. Construction of this building and the others on site are built of 98% recycled steel.

Materials brought to the Tipping Building are then sent to the Processing Building to be sorted by material type (metal, glass, plastic, etc.) in a multi-stage process.