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On Coast (Winter 2013)

The flooding of segments of Boston's HarborWalk and waterfront during the January 2014 Nor'easter makes the Winter 2013 issue of ArchitectureBoston must reading for Boston's new mayor, Martin Walsh, and his administration. Boston once again missed a close call. Had the storm's surge hit at high tide midday rather than closer to low tide, flooding of waterfront neighborhoods could have been devastating.

Cities such as those cited in "Coast" are looking at the built environment very differently to meet the challenges of sea- level rise and storm surges. Green infra-structure and adaptive buildings will be key to waterfront cities of the 21st century. As he organizes his team and agencies, the mayor has the opportunity to integrate climate-change adaptation into all aspects of city planning and management in an effort to create more resilient neighbor-hoods and to protect critical infrastructure.

The design community can play an important role in helping to reduce the risks from coastal flooding and sea-level rise. Hopefully, urban development during the Walsh administration will draw on inter-disciplinary expertise, involving not only planners and engineers but also architects, landscape architects, and designers.

Vivien Li
Presiden‚Äčt, The Boston Harbor Association
Boston


In the "Coast" issue, "adaptable," "flexible," "resilient," and "temporary" are recurring themes used to describe building, public realm, and infrastructure design in our 21st-century world of climate change. These are not words we have used when describing our civic infrastructure for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Great societies build memorials to permanence, stability, and grandeur—or at least that has been the story. Until now.

I see a future where a society's health and wealth will be measured by its ability to adapt quickly to changing weather, technology, settlement patterns, and social needs. In the 2013 report Places in the Making, my research team at MIT found that tactical urbanism, ephemeral events, and temporary interventions that celebrate flexibility and adaptability have great power to shape physical spaces, build communities, and empower people. This power is as great, if not greater, than what comes from the permanent and unchangeable bricks-and-mortar products we have traditionally espoused.

There is a growing alignment here between tactical-urbanism placemaking and climate-change design: Both push back on rigid and often outdated regulations and encourage an embrace of flexible and often unpredictable space design and use. This flexibility will be the key to how our cities and our societies thrive. And much will depend on the ability of public officials, design professionals, and academics to collaborate and cooperate as we envision a new future. May we be up to the task ahead!

Susan Silberberg AIA
CivicMoxie
Brookline, Massachusetts


Renée Loth challenges architects to deepen their attention to building design, since "buildings contribute more than one-third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions." I urge architects also to focus on integrating alternative-energy systems, passive and active, more completely into both residential and commercial building design.

The American Planning Association, in six solar briefing papers, begins to address some of these issues, including the installation of roof and ground-mounted solar systems in historic neighborhoods and on historic buildings. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has begun to address siting issues but not design issues. The nearest mention is a requirement to show the location of vegetation or structures for screening solar collectors in a model-zoning bylaw the department prepared.

Net-zero homes requiring solar orientation with numerous panels on the roof are still not mainstream enough, although some good designs exist. For retrofit of existing homes, groundmount design is driven by the installers and are minimal structures at best. The metal structure supporting the panels on our own household groundmount temporarily caused anxiety among our neighbors. We installed extensive landscaping in response.

We can all do better. A discussion between designers and planners on what constitutes good site and structure design would be an important start. We need to make the existence of solar panels in our neighborhoods an acceptable design feature. There are enough challenges to solar power regarding financing and subsidies—let's not add to those with poor structural design and difficult siting demands.

Carolyn Britt
Community Investment Associates
Ipswich, Massachusetts