2 – SLR Adaptation

Shifting Ground | Redefining Boston’s Landscape Infrastructure for a Changing Climate

Presented as a Thesis in May 2011 in Fulfillment of MLA I at Harvard GSD and recipient of the Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize.

As landscape architecture has expanded beyond its traditional realm of gardens and parks to encompass in some dimension almost all horizontal surfaces that perform economic or ecological functions, the field has increasingly grappled with what oversize infrastructure means for the city.  At the same time, a flood of challenges, both economic and climatic, have altered our society’s perception of externalities and associated risks. In the face of these unprecedented changes, which operate at scale that can be described in the words of Rem Koolhaas as “bigness,” landscape can play a crucial role in shaping the infrastructure that will inevitably be built in the coming years to secure and adapt our cities to sea level rise.

Shifting Ground redefines the topographic, hydrologic, ecologic, and socioeconomic relationships between Boston’s Charles River, artificial basin, regulating dam, and engineered harbor. By exploring multi-scalar passive and active strategies at the land-water interface, this thesis advocates a suite of resilient landscapes that leverage hard infrastructure to extend and increase the existing areas of protection from storm surge.  A proposed barrier between South and East Boston, elevated attending seawalls, improved outlying coastal defenses, and expedited wetland accretion enable augmented recreation opportunities, re-envisioned urban districts, and restored ecological functions.  Ultimately, the design intersects with the Olmsted and Eliot plans for the Basin, Emerald Necklace, and Metropolitan Park System as it adapts Boston to the 21st Century’s projected rise in sea levels.

Shifting Ground was the cover feature for the Fall 2011 newsletter of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The thesis was advised by Charles Waldheim and Daniel Schrag, emerging out of a 2008 Ideas Boston presentation.  The research continued on as an interdisciplinary Spring 2012 course at the GSD.

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