Date of Award
Master in Interior Architecture [Adaptive Reuse]
We are in a new era, one that will require the most radical transformation that coastal communities have seen yet. Starting mid 21st century, subsequent generations will be witness to a time in which sea level rise manifests within the urban fabric, not only in the form of storm surges, but also in an increasingly permanent manner within the projected floodplain. Rising tides will create a shift from solid ground plane to a fluctuating one. Encroaching sea levels will bring marine life and hydrologic conditions that the built environment hasn’t been designed or prepared for. Urban circulation, infrastructure and ultimately community life will have to adjust to accept this new sea level. It’s is imperative to be proactive now, as the impact of sea level rise on areas of human habitation will be determined by their position and ability to adapt. With 400 miles of coastline, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to this future.
Rhode Island’s waterfront communities developed out of the typical opportunities that a vicinity to water provides, like access to food, industry and trade; the result is a built environment which evolved with its inhabitants and their use of waterways. In the case of Providence, urbanization of the city resulted in a series of expansions and adaptations to the Providence River. Initially the river was used as an early settlement, food source and means of transportation, and was developed for energy and manufacturing use during the Industrial Revolution. During the twentieth century use of the river for heavy transit ended, but as a higher value for land was established a large portion of the river was defiled to give way to expansion of the city’s infrastructure. More recently work was undertaken to peel away and reveal the river, which was obscured by the widest bridge in the world at the time, and to reinvent the spirit of this historic industrial city.
The Rhode Island School of Design, whose campus lies largely along the Providence River, has been instrumental in the effort to embrace the city’s past and has become part of the riverfront identity. Former textile warehouses and colonial homes have been adapted to studio spaces, galleries and classrooms. The most prominent of these historical structures is the Hospital Trust Bank Building, on 15 Westminster Street. Standing tall at the riverfront, 15 West is an emblematic point of convergence for RISD. As the main residence for students, it also houses a dining hall and the Fleet Library, making the building’s dominant role as an instigator for social life.
In adapting 15 West to withstand the projected forces of sea level rise, much of the activity that previously existed on the ground level must move to higher floors. A void is left in the structure of our community that is filled by a life amidst water. It will then be necessary to tailor a new type of ground level in all buildings which addresses resilience. This new ground level is to serve as a transition space, reconciling people with their newly defined surrounding and encouraging a functional habitation of marine life with structures intended as riverine filters. A vision for a new living scenario is presented as potential methodology for a wet urbanity in which buildings promote social sustainability, estuarine restoration, and sea level adaptation.
Morataya Quan, Anna, "Building as reef" (2017). Masters Theses. 172.
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