If you happened to stop by the Lynn Museum this past April, you would have seen what a handful of students at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) proposed as solutions to the threats of climate change faced by so many of the coasal cities up and down the U.S. Eastern seaboard. Their ideas may very well inform not only the redevelopment of a city like Lynn, but also serve as inpiration for cities throughout the country.
As cities and institutions begin to plan for the projected risks associated with climate change, the concept of resilient design is taking hold. As instructors at the BAC, we have developed our advanced architectural studio as a way to test the potential for resilient design to transform the vulnerabilities of a given site or program into positive design opportunities.
As an institution founded on practice-based education, the BAC provides a unique balance of real-world experience and provocative research. We have taken advantage of the BAC’s flexible advanced studios as a chance to propose our own research agenda and provide students the opportunity to bridge the gap between theory and practice by focusing their studies on real world issues. As colleagues at Perkins+Will, we are involved with the firm’s Resilience Lab and have used our studio as an additional forum for advancing the ideas of resilient design.
The studio specifically considers gateway cities as case studies to build awareness of, and test potential solutions to, the vulnerabilities and dependencies those cities face due to climate change projections. Through their research and by developing resilient design strategies, students created vision plans and building concepts that can not only survive significant storm surge events but can also recover, grow, and flourish in a resilient manner. By engaging with the local communities each studio considers, the research is making an impact that stretches beyond the walls of the BAC.
Past studios have focused on cities such as Lynn, Chelsea, and Everett in Massachusetts as well as Atlantic City, New Jersey. Each studio and site presents its own series of challenges, and addressing the issues has been a rewarding process.
These studios are already making an impact. For example, the Fall 2016 Resilient Lynn studio has garnered support within the community and local media coverage, raising awareness of this timely problem. The work from the studio is currently on exhibit at the Lynn Museum, in downtown Lynn, and a recent symposium at the Museum brought community members, city officials, local business leaders, and regional planners together to discuss the challenges and opportunities inherent to resilient design.
In fact, the city of Lynn is considering a proactive response to climate change as an opportunity for economic development, and is now hiring a city planner that will have a partial focus on this effort. Thanks to the support of James Cowdell, Executive Director of the Lynn Economic Development Industrial Corporation (EDIC), the students in our studio received specific insight on the site and its development challenges. Jim highlighted that the city of Lynn has been struggling to find a new use and identity for their existing waterfront for the past few decades. The waterfront site is separated from the city center by a multi-lane highway – the Lynnway – that limits opportunities for engagement with the downtown. The Lynnway is also a major transportation route serving the North Shore of Boston that is highly susceptible to potential future flooding. The students proposed a series of design concepts in the form of a vision plan (image below) that not only addresses this barrier, but also considers resilient design opportunities to address sea level rise, increased precipitation, extreme temperatures, and storm surge events.
The students used the city’s new Coastal Resiliency Assessment as the benchmark and starting point to understand the risks and vulnerabilities. Instead of completely blocking rising sea levels, the students adopted a strategy of “Making Room for Water,” which has gained traction in places like the Netherlands. They then explored the potential of key sites and strategic program types within the vision plan as smaller scale testing grounds for their ideas. One team re-imagined high school education through the lens of resilience. Another challenged the notion that infrastructure typically turns its back on the community and redesigned the existing water treatment plant as a hybrid facility with constructed wetlands that can double as a public park. The third team proposed an emergency response center that would become a hub of emergency resources, a regional training center, and a community amenity on the waterfront. This work has been documented into a book format, which is available on issuu.com/resilient-lynn and can be searchable through #resilientlynn via social media.
The challenges of resilience require the participation of many diverse partners, as the case study of Lynn shows. To advance this cause, designers, engineers, planners, and local communities must collaborate to build a collective consciousness and bring positive change in the face of the threats imposed by climate change.