Productive Living in the landscapes of inundation

Flooding is the future of coastal living, requiring cities like Boston to grapple with how they either resist or adapt to change. But despite our maps that show sheets of water landing in specific places at specific times, the truth of climate change is that we cannot predict the extent and timing of its effects. The reality is instead a varied, unpredictable ground—messy, polluted, sloshy, and in flux. Addressing this uncertain condition requires adapting to its fluid dynamic, and although that involves loss, it also offers an opportunity to reimagine a more equitable distribution of the city’s housing opportunities, economic investments, available employment, industrial zoning, and open space. Sloshitecture is a design provocation set in the Harborview and Suffolk Downs areas of East Boston that offers two forms of urban settlement that respond to the wet condition and aim to protect this neighborhood’s connection to the wider region, both economically and ecologically: the elevated city (“The Bridge”) and the embedded city (“The Belt”). These cooperative cities together support a new urban metabolism that promotes shared space, communal living, closed energy/waste loops, research and experimentation, and multifunctional ecologies.
A map of East Boston highlighting existing wetlands and predicted inundation that will a collection of future islands

The new inundated landscape of East Boston and opportunities for densification defined by high ground and access to infrastructure

The project began with a concerted engagement with the urban condition, namely its metabolic systems and their manifestation in the shape of the city and its elements. This included examining the various stakeholders and operators in the neighborhood and how they would be impacted by inundation as well as the building of an urban object catalog.
Metabolic diagram showing how energy, people, materials, and capital enter and leave the neighborhood as well as governance inputs and waste outputs

Existing stakeholders and urban metabolism of the Harborview area of East Boston

Urban object catalog of site images, including: row house, parking lot, side lot, gas station, raised planter, alley, bicycle rack, pocket medical office, pad-mounted transformer, tree pit, planted berm, and tool and die manufacturing building

Selections from the Harborview urban catalog

This introductory video uses montage of contemporary site footage to illustrate narratives of future residents of an inundated East Boston

The design is based on an appreciation for how the varied topography of the city will impact future water levels and thus future uses. To express this, I created a diagrammatic section modeled on Patrick Geddes’s “Valley Section” that connects potential productive uses to positions along a continuous slope and thus to degrees of brackish inundation. This slope became the model for the embedded city that occupies the flood plain, a vast agricultural and aquacultural cooperative. In addition to slope and water level, a third dynamic the project considers is time, phasing the ground from industrial contamination to the new productive uses proposed by the section.
Diagrammatic section of the proposed productive wetland modeled after Geddes's "Valley Section," including a linear orchard, shrubbery garden, reed harvesting, shellfish farming, fish farming, and rookery

East Boston wetland cooperative "valley section"

View of a variably inundated field with former oil tanks undergoing preparations for remediation and repurposing as a productive landscape

Remediation and redevelopment of the inundated industrial landscape

Man in foreground tends to his aquaculture plot with the embedded city pedestrian boardwalk and residence set within a shrub and reed planting in the near distance and the linear orchard surrounding the main vehicular road in the far distance

Key to the project is a residential working wetland, connected by logistical roadways and pedestrian boardwalks

The form of the two new settlements is a direct response to maintaining existing regional networks and adapting the urban metabolism to create a more sustainable system. The elevated “bridge” city begins out of a need to maintain transportation connections to the central city. At-risk train lines are coupled with the major highway (Rte. 1A) as well as bicycle and pedestrian traffic and lifted out of harm to create a new raised transportation corridor. This new infrastructural plane is multifunctional, offering opportunities for multiplanar habitation and public space and platforms for conveying people, capital, energy, water, and waste. This elevating gesture enables the second, embedded city, designed to preserve the region’s ecological network by creating room for marshes to migrate as water levels rise. This expanded wetland is not wholly natural, incorporating a constructed series of food production plots and a lower-density, cooperative neighborhood home to the stewards of this new hybrid landscape. 
Site plan of the project in a potential 2070 scenario with elevated neighborhood nodes, the linear cooperative residences, and the various productive landscape uses highlighted, including agriculture, aquaculture, and energy fields

Site plan for the project at 2070 showing the relationship of all planned residential, productive, and infrastructural uses

At Amazon’s Coral office building, a parking lot slated to be turned into a data center is transformed into a tiered parking garage by moving the data center underground. As the parking structure steps back, it exposes long gardens that mimic the elevational plant communities of the nearby Cascade mountain range. Recognizing that many of Seattle’s unhoused residents are forced to live out of their vehicles, gravel parking pads are inserted into the plantings to provide space for longer-term stays, much like a campsite.
Diagrams showing the phasing of landscape and infrastructure projects as directly connected to evolving water levels (2030-2070)
Zoom-in of a portion of the 2070 plan where the cooperative neighborhood meets the elevated neighborhood beside a wetland dock and an elevated train station
Section line drawing showing the logistical networks and connections between the elevated and embedded developments and a sense of the interior layout of the cooperative residences

This plan and section pair shows the relationship of the elevated and embedded cities and the application of the diagrammatic “valley section” to the proposed build, including the various sites of production, recreation, and residential life and the logistical networks that connect them.

Communication is always at the core of large-scale design projects, and perhaps even more so for adaptation-driven urban plans, which require a great deal of change over a long period of time. In recognition of this priority, I created a collection of booklets that highlight the core principles, strategies, techniques, technologies, types, and systems that together comprise the proposal. These booklets focus on the qualities of the inundated ground, the landscape types that emerge from that ground, and the two new city types that respond to those landscapes. A final booklet also uses fictional narratives to evoke what it might be like to live in these new cities.
Multiple Grounds booklet explores the gradient of wet grounds by type and inundation level as well as the shape of the productive landscape types that are appropriate to those inundation levels
Working Plants booklet discusses a selection of the plants proposed for different inundation patterns, including the orchard and the garden as well as plants used for food for wild and domestic animals and as protection from pests and dramatic weather or tidal events
The Bridge booklet discusses the economics and equity of the dense neighborhood nodes along the raised infrastructure that make up the elevated city, or "The Bridge," as well as novel building types
The Belt booklet describes the economic and governance model of the cooperative community that is embedded at the edges of the wetland and wraps existing high points, or "The Belt," as well as its novel building types
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