Liliane Wong: Good morn­ing. And I want to thank Damian for invit­ing me to his jam­boree. I believe I prob­a­bly fit into the line­up because of our focus in the depart­ment on adap­tive reuse. And so today I’m going to switch scales from the oth­er pre­sen­ters and show you a project of one of our grad­u­ate pro­grams which is not so much about design and the pow­er of our designs, but rather about help­ing those who we need to include in design for HR 109 to go for­ward. So, it is about con­vinc­ing the non-architects to give a damn about sea lev­el rise. 

In many ways the con­tem­po­rary rela­tion­ship of cli­mate change and adap­tive reuse can be traced to the ear­ly 2000s. In addi­tion to oth­er find­ings of that time, build­ings were deemed respon­si­ble for almost 40% of the annu­al glob­al green­house gas emis­sions. Organizations such as Architecture 2030 and their chal­lenge for the build­ing indus­try to reach net zero includ­ed a con­sid­er­a­tion of the exist­ing build­ing stock. The recog­ni­tion that two thirds of the two and a half tril­lion square feet of build­ings that exist today will still exist in 2050 set the stage for Carl Elefante, future pres­i­dent of the American Institute of Architects to make his 2007 state­ment that the green­est build­ing is one that is already built. 

The ped­a­gogy of INTAR, or the Department of Interior Architecture at RISD focus­es on exact­ly that, build­ings that are already built. And while the reuse of exist­ing struc­tures has been with us since time immemo­r­i­al, its pro­fes­sion­al recog­ni­tion as adap­tive reuse did not come about until the first decades of the mil­len­ni­um, through the advo­ca­cy of those such as Elefante. A recent study of the National Trust finds that it takes ten to eight years for a new build­ing that is 30% more effi­cient than an aver­age per­form­ing exist­ing build­ing to over­come through effi­cient oper­a­tions the neg­a­tive cli­mate change impacts relat­ed to the con­struc­tion process.

As the antithe­sis of demol­ish­ing, the act of reusing an exist­ing build­ing is a com­mit­ment not only to the envi­ron­ment but to the many embed­ded his­to­ries and social con­texts of that struc­ture. The cou­pling of envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns with social ones is a char­ac­ter­is­tic that adap­tive reuse prac­tice shares with the Green New Deal. The pas­sage of HR 109 in the near future will depend on many fac­tors, includ­ing pub­lic opin­ion on cli­mate change. A sur­vey tak­en a few months after the intro­duc­tion of the Green New Deal indi­cat­ed what we all know, espe­cial­ly in an elec­tion sea­son. And that is that cli­mate poli­cies vary by polit­i­cal party. 

But, par­ti­san­ship aside, the Pew Research sur­vey showed us two impor­tant pieces of infor­ma­tion. First that 49% of all US adults believe that poli­cies aimed at reduc­ing the effects of glob­al cli­mate change gen­er­al­ly either do more harm than good to the envi­ron­ment, or make no dif­fer­ence. Second, that 60% of all US adults believe that poli­cies aimed at reduc­ing the effects of glob­al cli­mate change gen­er­al­ly hurt or make no dif­fer­ence to the US econ­o­my. A suc­cess­ful pas­sage of the Green New Deal requires a sea change of such attitudes. 

Sea and change are the sub­jects of a project I would like to share with you today. Sponsored by the Van Buren Foundation and the Newport Restoration Foundation, Projecting Change was part our post-professional MA in Adaptive Reuse pro­gram. It was inspired by the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which turned Newport, Rhode Island into a lake. Since then, Newport’s old­est neigh­bor­hood, The Point, and our site, floods from the storm surge of every heavy rainfall. 

Built on grade and char­ac­ter­ized by close-set two-story hous­es, the 17th cen­tu­ry neigh­bor­hood lacks preser­va­tion guide­lines for flood man­age­ment. Without such reg­u­la­tions, those who can afford to raise their homes any­where from three feet to six feet above ground do so, and with­out regard for its impact on their close to 400 year-old neigh­bor­hood and their neighbors. 

This action cre­at­ed a phe­nom­e­non, termed lol­ly­pop­ping, which changes the char­ac­ter­is­tic of the his­toric com­mu­ni­ty. The objec­tive of our stu­dio was two-fold. The first was to pro­pose inclu­sive alter­na­tives for this his­toric com­mu­ni­ty as they look into a future with sea lev­el rise. With this first objec­tive in mind, the stu­dio exam­ined the term preser­va­tion,” clas­si­cal­ly defined by James Marston Fitch as the main­te­nance of the arti­fact in the same phys­i­cal con­di­tion as when it was received by the cura­to­r­i­al agency. Nothing is added to or sub­tract­ed from the aes­thet­ic cor­pus of the artifact.

Of five total projects in the stu­dio, four rein­ter­pret­ed this def­i­n­i­tion. Accepting that the Point neigh­bor­hood could not be main­tained in its present loca­tion in ris­ing seas, the project Memory Trace chose to retreat as a strat­e­gy. Assuming future inun­da­tion, the project relo­cates the neigh­bor­hood to high­er ground but leaves a memo­r­i­al con­sist­ing of the cast facades of the hous­es them­selves. This pro­pos­al main­tains Fitch’s require­ments for the phys­i­cal build­ings, but on a dif­fer­ent site. 

In con­trast, Grey, Green, and Blue uses an expan­sive strat­e­gy of both defense and adap­ta­tion in order to main­tain the Point neigh­bor­hood in its his­toric moment and in situ. A break­wa­ter is pro­posed to defend the com­mu­ni­ty, a wire­less sys­tem of blue streets and reten­tion ponds are cre­at­ed for accom­mo­dat­ing the water over time. 

Living with Water employed more exper­i­men­tal means to main­tain the neigh­bor­hood exact­ly as it was. Assuming ris­ing waters, the project pro­posed to replace all exist­ing build­ing and infra­struc­tur­al foun­da­tions with buoy­ant ones. Tethered in place, each house would rise and fall in place, and togeth­er with the water as it ris­es over time. 

Upstruct instead pro­pos­es to update Fitch’s def­i­n­i­tion of preser­va­tion in the face of cli­mate change. It posits that if the his­toric com­mu­ni­ty as we know it today is premised on a hor­i­zon­tal con­fig­u­ra­tion on land, why not rede­fine this rela­tion­ship through a con­fig­u­ra­tion defined by the water. Upstruct offered a new ver­ti­cal grid that main­tains the rela­tion­ships of the his­toric hous­es to each oth­er, but through a dif­fer­ent axis. And in this case the Z. 

These solu­tions take The Point togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty into the future, but they did so as draw­ings, mod­els, and ren­der­ings that priv­i­lege those who under­stand such representation.

The sec­ond objec­tive of our stu­dio was to make these designs for sea lev­el rise acces­si­ble to all mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty, many of whom in an ini­tial inter­view cor­rob­o­rat­ed the find­ings of the Pew sur­vey. And I should say that this sec­ond objec­tive real­ly was the pri­ma­ry objec­tive of our sponsors. 

To achieve the sec­ond objec­tive, we used both vir­tu­al and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty to dis­play the four projects to the cit­i­zens. With aug­ment­ed real­i­ty mark­ers placed around the neigh­bor­hood, mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty were able to see right on their phones the streets turn­ing blue, reten­tion ponds spread­ing into their gar­dens, or their house fly­ing into an upstruct con­fig­u­ra­tion. Visualization of this form allowed neigh­bors from mid­dle school­ers to octo­ge­nar­i­ans to final­ly see what sea lev­el rise might look like for their imme­di­ate surroundings. 

The fifth project in the stu­dio did not take on ris­ing seas through designs. Rather, using aug­ment­ed real­i­ty a game was cre­at­ed with the neigh­bor­hood as its game board, and the sav­ing of one’s home as its objec­tive. With one’s home as the game piece, a team of play­ers col­lab­o­rat­ed against a count­down to put the inter­ven­tions in place. 

The game con­tained four lev­el chal­lenges, each imple­ment­ing a dif­fer­ent design inter­ven­tion for com­bat­ing sea lev­el rise. Built on the con­cept of user inter­ac­tions and feed­back, the game holds a set of chal­lenges which can only be mas­tered in teams, and is designed in such a way that it can­not be won by a sin­gle play­er, no mat­ter how capable. 

At the end of the count­down, sim­u­lat­ed water floods the game scene to reveal whether or not the play­ers man­aged to save their neigh­bor­hoods. The greater the col­lab­o­ra­tion amongst the play­ers, the high­er the result­ing score, con­vey­ing the need to col­lab­o­rate if sea lev­el rise is to be man­aged to successfully. 

A Warning From the Garden, Thomas L. Friedman

These projects all uti­lize visu­al­iza­tion to allow one to see beyond what one can under­stand. On a January morn­ing in 2007, daf­fodils bloomed months ear­li­er than they should have. The phys­i­cal pres­ence in the depths of win­ter of these gold­en har­bin­gers of spring was the phys­i­cal proof of the effects of cli­mate change that caused Thomas Friedman to write his now-famous New York Times op-ed A Warning From the Garden and to coin the term Green New Deal.” 

As we look to gath­er con­sen­sus on cli­mate change and push­ing for­ward HR 109, visu­al­iza­tion might be instru­men­tal for allow­ing every­one to see into their future so as to take action now. Thank you.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page