Skip to Content

Designing for Flood Risk: European Strategies for Climate Adaptation

December 11, 2018 | 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM

Presenter: Adria Boynton, Resiliency Specialist, Weston & Sampson

'Designing for Flood Risk: European Strategies for Climate Adaptation', BSA CORE's second event of Fall 2018, engaged participants to consider adaptation measures at the smaller scale: individual buildings and even individual pieces of art.

Adria Boyton, winner of a Harvard University Sinclair Kennedy Traveling Fellowship and a graduate of Harvard's Master of Design Studies Risk and Resilience concentration, focused on design strategies for climate change adaptation, using the 1966 Arno River flood in Florence as a case study.

This map shows the extent of the 1966 flood and the locations of flood plaques in Florence.

Examples included: 

  • Fondazione Querini Stampalia - Famed architect Carlo Scarpa's compelling 1961-1963 interention  (image on left) anticipated the future by intending water to enter the building, using it as a source of light and reflection to enliven the historic interior.
  • San Giobbe + 160 - Retrofit of an existing historic home by Italian architects act_romegialli, featuring a raised entry foyer and wet-floodproofing to allow new floor and wall surfaces to be easily cleaned following "nuisance" flooding
  • Flood Resilient Repair Home, Watford, England (hey, it's still Europe, at least for now...) - Following disastrous 2013-2014 flooding along the Thames, Baca Architects designed a home with elevated electrical outlets, flood-resistant materials, and doors and windows with waterproof seals. The firm has gone on to design 'amphibious homes'.
  • Giorgio Vasari's 'Last Supper' (1546) - Lovingly restored after the flood over 50 years - this Renaissance painting is now mounted on a system of cables and counterweights, able to elevate it within 11 seconds above the heads of visitors, and out of the clutches of floodwaters.
  • 'Support' - This engaging site-specific installation by Lorenzo Quinn demonstrates how art can sometimes be more immediate, visceral, and communicative than architecture.

During a post-presentation discussion, the presenter, participants, and organizers explored a variety of themes around climate change, resilience, and adaptation. These included:

  • Internalization / psychological resilience - Have Europeans internalized - or come to terms with on a personal level - the need to adapt to a changing climate better than Americans? What personal actions are possible, likely, or reasonable? Which ones are unreasonable?
  • Momentum - After an extreme event, as people forget an original catastrophic event and life goes on, things slow down. How to maintain momentum to adapt over years and generations? What about slow-onset events (such as sea level rise) that are harder to perceive?
  • Equity - Pricless works of art and wealthy residents aside, what about those unable to adapt?
  • Maladaptation - As some adapt while others struggle to keep up, might this result in a poor fit - a maladaptation - which is a risk in its own right? Are temporary walking platforms erected in Venice during seasonal flooding, for example, maladaptations which give a false sense of security, or something we want to see more of?
  • (Managed) retreat - This adaptation strategy appeared to be as unpopular as it is in the U.S., with few interviewees willing to consider relocation. How to grapple with this difficult topic?
  • Bottom-up or top down - Ms. Boynton noted that she was pleasantly surprised by local responses, but expected more large-scale examples of implementation.
  • Replicability - What lessons could be applied to the U.S context, specifically Boston?

Two questions + one challenge

At this event, we asked two questions and issued a challenge. BSA CORE is asking all of you - especially our colleagues in the design professions - to brainstorm with us, too!

Think of examples of things or actions which are:  

  1. Sustainable, but not resilient
  2. Resilient, but unsustainable

Also, we challenge you to think of

  • Adaptations (or maladaptations) to a changing climate that you can influence at different scales/levels: 
    1. personal (actions)
    2. building
    3. site / block
    4. neighborhood / city / town

Summary by Dave Hampton, Co-chair, BSA CORE