#ThrowbackThursday: Sea Level Rise in Boston

The following was originally published on the Sasaki blog in July of 2013. This post will be the first of our #ThrowbackThursday series, in which we’ll share our perspective on topics that remain relevant in order to foster continued discussion and implement change.

After Hurricane Sandy’s impact narrowly missed Boston, the city has begun to investigate what it means to be a resilient coastal city. However, until this point, the conversation in Boston has largely lacked the input of designers — a critical voice in determining contextual, implementable, effective solutions that will not only make our city more resilient, but also acknowledge and enhance Boston’s unique sense of place. Sasaki has been collaborating with the City of Boston, the Trust for Public Land, the Boston Harbor Association, and the Boston Architectural College — encouraging an inclusive dialogue that addresses all of Boston’s neighborhoods and design scales. Read the full summary here.

Sasaki sea level rise team at Castle Island

As a part of this effort, Sasaki’s summer interns are getting their feet wet, quite literally, researching the effects of sea level rise in Boston. The group comes from undergraduate and graduate programs around the country in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, interior design, graphic design, and civil engineering. Unique to the Sasaki intern program, the interns traditionally spend their first two weeks working as a design team on a local design problem. This year, the team focused on analyzing Boston’s urban vulnerabilities and visualizing multiple design strategies for how the city can live with water.

Through an intense analysis process, designers identified vital factors of each vulnerable system that are threatened by sea level rise and storm surge. The team was then able to explore critical short term and long term interventions for the city by asking, “Do we reinforce, retreat, or retrofit?”

The second week of the internship focused on sea level rise design strategies. After studying vulnerable systems at a regional and city scale, teams zeroed in on the project site, which is particularly susceptible to the effects of sea level rise. The site includes the Fort Point Channel, Innovation/Seaport District, Marine Industrial Park, Castle Island, South Boston, and Columbia Point. After developing a framework plan, the group broke into four teams with separate study areas.

Wave Attenuation 
This group surveyed the harbor and edge conditions around the site. With an inventory of bathymetry, dredging, and tidal currents, the team developed a strategy for wave attenuation as a preventative strategy against sea level rise. The strategy proposed development with tactical phasing to introduce new edge typologies including: oyster reefs, land infill, salt marshes, silt bunkers, and surge towers.
Team: Justin Garrison, Benjamin Roush

Wave attenuation

Innovation/Seaport District
This team proposed a creative, phased strategy for the growing Innovation District, also known as the Seaport District. With a theme of “add, convert, floodproof” the group suggested the district add green space to absorb rising water levels, convert vulnerable buildings to be water resistant, and floodproof new buildings with innovative technologies. 
Team: Daniel Xu, Joy Hu, Zhewen Dai

Seaport/Innovation District

South Boston and Columbia Point 
The South Boston and Columbia Point team made key interventions with open space and green streets while proposing new development districts based on the most vulnerable areas to sea level rise. With a large residential population, the team focused on creating habitable, dense zones of development away from new floodable absorbent landscape zones. The team also proposed strategies for new, temporary housing typologies and emergency response in the case of intense storm surge. 
Team: Maureen Lyne, Jessica MacDonald, Xin Zheng

South Boston reimagined

Working Waterfront 
This focused on Boston’s industrial waterfront, proposing strategies for how an industry’s complex infrastructure can be made resilient. By working with an approach of retreat and resistance, the team proposed creative solutions for Conley and Black Falcon Terminals, new waterfront open space with dune landscapes, and new development strategies supporting the creative economy.
Team: Andrew Turco, Rhiannon Sinclair, Jenny Corlett, Kevin Hebard

Working waterfront

Storms are increasingly frequent and intense; sea level rise in Boston may reach six feet by 2100. In total, the interns’ work this summer will supplement a larger, interdisciplinary Sasaki research and design initiative to understand how we can deal with sea level rise. As our work continues, stay tuned for the launch of a mobile app, installations around Boston in the fall, and an exhibit next spring.