Should architects and urban planners consider the possibility of rising water and climate levels in the future as a part of their design program today?
Water World may have been Kevin Costner's biggest mistake, but the movie does stand out as one of the only water-soaked apocalyptic visions (most involve neutered landscapes devoid of all but a few humans battling it out on land). Rising water levels may pose the true threat. The last year has seen an increased attention to a new type of design dubbed "aquatecture," a hybrid way of building that embraces water rather than merely eliminating or containing it (as in the levee approach).
The Dutch company Dura Vermeer made news last year for a series of homes built on water in the Netherlands. They constructed a row of amphibious houses on the waterfront of Maasbommel. Each uses a hollow concrete cube at the base to give it buoyancy. "Electricity and water are pumped in through flexible pipes," the BBC reported. "In all, the houses can withstand a rise in the water table of up to four metres (13ft)."
"We are trying to develop new types of more sustainable buildings which have no adverse impacts on the environment," architect Chris Zevenbergen told the BBC.
An article in the March 19 edition of The Architect's Newspaper, Water Works by Jeff Byles, looks at the impact of climate change on New York, where sea levels rise an average of 1/10 " per year. Columbia University professor Michael Fishman, founder of consulting group Urban Answers, teaches a studio class on waterfront building. "Coastal cities around the world that intend to be around for the next hundred years have done incredible work," Fishman told The Architect's Newspaper. "In North America, we have very little to show."
Low-lying harbor zones: Areas flooded by Category 1 storms are shown in dark green, Category 2 in light green, Category 3 in orange, and Category 4 in red. Courtesy 2007 Latrobe Prize Team. Reprinted from The Architect's Newspaper.
Byles examines the work of firms around the country designing future wetscapes (all renderings from his article):
A subsurface wetland centers the design for a project in Queens (above), and storm water runoff is captured to irrigate a rain garden (below).
A high-density housing complex in New Orleans by Praxis3 breaches the levees in order to better build along the Mississippi.
Architects incorporate rising water levels around Bass River Park in Massachusetts to create a new marsh.
Beyond building with just water, Architecture 2030 advocates changing the way we build altogether. The group was started in 2002 by Edward Mazria, who wrote the book on passive solar energy and its implications for design in the 1970's. The goal of Architecture 2030 is to achieve a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed. With 48% of all emissions in this country attributed to our buildings, that's no small endeavor. PBS is running a series on the environment and you can view a full episode about Architecture 2030 for a limited time at www.design-e2.com. Click on the webcast tab on the top of the page, then scroll down through Season 2 and click on the episode titled "Architecture 2030."