Designing for a Flooded Future

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Robison Wells
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Climate change poses a threat that governments and city planners are starting to take seriously: according to a 2019 study, the global sea level could rise anywhere from two to seven feet by 2100. At today's population levels, that would displace more than 190 million people, a number that will only go up. "If our findings stand, coastal communities worldwide must prepare themselves for much more difficult futures than may be currently anticipated," the study warned.

It's estimated that by 2100, coastal flooding would cost up to 20% of the global GDP.

This has brought together a consortium of architects and designers to present plans for a world with changing sea levels. Some of their ideas include:

• The London-based Heatherwick Studio has proposed development in San Francisco, reimagining the Embarcadero as "The Cove," a floodproof pier system that would be a social hub and ecological park. (San Francisco is listed as one of America's most endangered places because of flooding, earthquakes, and wildfires.)

• The Norwegian architecture group Snorre Stinessen Arkitektur has test built a collection of cabins on the remote island of Manhausen, near the Arctic Circle. The cabins rest on stilts above the high water line, and each is sustainable, made from wood and clad in aluminum to prevent saltwater damage.

• Bjarke Ingels' architecture firm BIG has proposed Oceanix City, a more science-fiction look at the world. A modular floating city comprised of dozens of floating islands is entirely self-sufficient, as it gathers solar power for energy and has undersea farming. BIG has already constructed an early (and much less showy) prototype consisting of ten floating shipping containers that serve as low-income housing for students in Denmark.

• Pamplona, Spain, has already implemented one flood solution: in a 62-acre flood plain in the center of the city, they cleared the frequently flooded land and turned it into an inner-city farm. It is usable for this work 95% of the year, and when it floods, no people are displaced or buildings destroyed.

• In Shenzen, China, landscape architects Felixx have taken a more defensive approach, building 130 kilometers of dikes.

Whichever direction the world chooses to go, these architects advise moving quickly—at least in the research and development phase—to make sure that we're prepared for whatever comes.

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