Marlies rohmer Architecture & Urbanism. Amsterdam, NL
The issue of climate change has been kicked around like a political football for decades. And yet, whether we’re prepared or not, the impact of human activity on the planet will eventually rear its ugly head.
Over the next 30 years, global sea levels could rise as high as seven feet, potentially displacing more than 150 million people around the world by 2050, according to a 2019 study. The changes will affect mostly coastal areas at or near sea-level. This means city planners and architects around the world are already preparing for a flooded future, designing resiliency plans for coastal urban centers and buildings made to stand up to the floodwaters.
As the authors of the study wrote, “If our findings stand, coastal communities worldwide must prepare themselves for much more difficult futures than may be currently anticipated.”
Attempting to Prepare Vulnerable Cities
Not content to wait until the problem knocks at their door, urban planners and city leaders around the world have sprung into action, designing and implementing some truly incredible feats of engineering to ensure cities remain inhabitable.
The City of Boston and SCAPE Landscape Architecture are working together on a plan to safeguard the city’s 47 miles of coastline against rising sea levels. The collaboration is part of the city’s Imagine Boston 2030 initiative and includes a wide variety of flood mitigation methods, such as flood-resilient buildings, enhanced waterfront parks, and new elevated landscapes, according to ArchDaily. The plan includes a deployable flood wall in East Boston and will see the elevation raised for numerous prominent city parks to help safeguard the city’s financial district.
Seoul, South Korea, has taken a unique approach to confronting the severe storm surges that have plagued the city. The Cheonggyecheon River was once covered by criss crossing highways and roadways, but the city began the massive project of uncovering it in 2003 to create a new downtown riverfront district. The river not only serves as an aesthetic feature in the heart of downtown, but it also redirects floodwaters during the rainy season.
Venice, Italy, is known for its iconic canal-lined streets, but in 2019 it was plunged into flooding by a seven-foot storm surge. The city has been prone to flooding over the years, but in 2003 it began its MOSE initiative. The network of 78 storm gates would be able to close off the lagoon surrounding the city in as little as 15 minutes in the event of rapidly rising floodwaters. Unfortunately, ArchDaily reports, the initiative has been beset by problems caused by corruption and delays.
Architects have begun designing and planning innovative new structures meant to withstand rising sea levels in an attempt to preserve life and culture. Flood-prone San Francisco’s Embarcadero district is reportedly one of the most endangered historic places in America. Last year, London-based Heatherwick Studio released renderings for a design dubbed “The Cove,” a horseshoe-shaped ecological park and social hub intended to future-proof the area from flooding, making use of two abandoned nearby piers.
A new stand of residential homes built on a flood plain in Stratford-Upon-Avon was designed to stand several feet above the ground, with raised piles giving water access to collect in a safe floodable zone underneath the homes. In the event of flooding, water will rush there, leaving the structures unaffected.
Sitting on two coastal islands, Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen is uniquely vulnerable to flooding after heavy rains. The Soul of Nørrebro, a project by Copenhagen-based firm SLA, is a mix of form and function. The project harnesses the water from frequent downpours to nourish urban wetlands. Besides mitigating flooding issues and cleaning the water, it also creates attractive, usable space for residents. It’s slated for a 2024 completion date.
Europe’s other world-famous canal city is Amsterdam. In 2015, it completed a development of floating houses on a lake east of the city. Dubbed IJburg, the floating housing district contains 158 waterside homes, each on its own artificial island, tethered to the lake bed.
The future of many world cities could be at stake in the coming decades. The plans, designs, and projects underway represent a new generation of architecture and city planning, one that accounts for a future where cities could otherwise become uninhabitable because of widespread flooding.