Embracing sea level rise with resilient design

With sea levels rising fastest on the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and in California, finding ways to stem the tide is increasingly difficult because shrinking glaciers continue to add water to the world’s oceans and increased global temperatures are expanding seawater. That’s why some of the brightest and most creative architects, designers and engineers from around the world are now innovating solutions that embrace water by integrating infrastructure that works with the ocean’s projected rise rather than just trying to stop it.

In fact, some notable examples of this emerging philosophy known as resilient design are currently on display at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) gallery. The winning submissions from the Boston Living with Water competition are being shown through June.

A Google Earth image of the Fort Point Channel and Boston Seaport shows what the landscape looks like today. The artist's rendering above shows the same landscape after the 100-acre neighborhood is raised about 12 feet to combat sea level rise. Both images courtesy of Architerra.

A Google Earth image of the Fort Point Channel and Boston Seaport shows what the landscape looks like today. The artist’s rendering above shows the same landscape after the 100-acre neighborhood is raised about 12 feet to combat sea level rise. Both images courtesy of Architerra.

Similar to the Jacques Rougerie Foundation’s International Architecture Competition and San Francisco’s Rising Tides competition, Boston’s version challenged members of the international AEC industry to design ways to shield the city from sea level rise. These competitions are evidence that the seeds of innovation are being planted right now, to account for sea level rise and that cities such as Boston and San Francisco are giving this crisis the attention it deserves. After all, a report released last year said that Boston could see its harbor rise by as much as seven feet by the year 2100. Just last week, city officials announced that they might allow developments in coastal floodplains to build taller than is currently permitted so that electrical, mechanical and HVAC systems can be designed into the midsection of buildings rather than in the basements. This would not only protect mechanical systems against flooding, but it would mean owners don’t have to sacrifice valuable square footage.

The 50 teams in Boston’s competition completed at least one of three challenges focused on mitigating coastal flooding at three local sites: 1) The North End’s Prince Building, 2) the Fort Point Neighborhood and 3) Dorchester’s Morrissey Boulevard. One winner from each of the three challenges won $13,000 while honorable mentions took home $5,000, thanks to funding from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Barr Foundation. The competition was sponsored by the City of Boston, the BSA, the Boston Harbor Association and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

With that, we say “Hail to the victors”:

SITE 1: North End’s Prince Building 

WINNER: “Prince Building Piers” led by Stephanie Goldberg AIA & Mark Reed AIA, Boston.

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Artist’s rendering of the Prince Building in the North End is courtesy of Stephanie Goldberg AIA & Mark Reed AIA.

This innovative approach (right) recognizes that staving off the water might be futile and therefore emphasizes ecological reclamation by inviting the water to be part of a new “urban seashore” that features boardwalks for recreation and cultural experiences.

SITE 2: Fort Point Channel

WINNER: “ReDeBOSTON” led by Architerra, Boston.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 12.27.05 PM

Artist’s rendering of Fort Point Channel courtesy of Architerra.

Also shown in the rendering at the top of this blog post, this mind-blowing submission (left) creates an urban playground on the water by raising an entire 100-acre area of the Fort Point neighborhood by approximately 12 feet. That would place the channel level with the elevation of the neighborhood’s main artery, Summer Street.

SITE 3: Morrissey Boulevard

WINNER: “Total Resilient Approach” Thetis S.p.A., Venice.

Naturally, one of the the winning teams hails from Venice, Italy. Thetis’ submission (below) also accounts for the rising sea by elevating land, in this case Morrissey Boulevard by about 18 feet, but it also uses a network of waterways to keep water away from significant pieces of infrastructure such as a transportation hub. Habitat restoration and sustainable urban landscaping are also critical to this plan.

water3

Artist’s rendering of infrastructure along Morrissey Boulevard is courtesy of Thetis S.p.A.

For more information on the winning submissions check out this Boston Globe story

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