Using Design to Address Sea-Level Rise

The architectural, engineering and construction industries are looking at ways to mitigate sea level rise and climate change in coastal communities.

The architectural, engineering and construction industries are looking at ways to mitigate sea level rise and climate change in coastal communities.

People love being near the water — beach front homes, offices on the Bayfront, cultural and entertainment centers on an ocean or lakeside. The water’s edge is always alluring. In fact, 40% of today’s U.S. population lives on or near the water

Unfortunately, as recent climate-change experts point out, nature seems to have other ideas. What is now perched on the water in many areas, will likely be under water in the foreseeable future.

Even if carbon emission targets and other benchmarks set at the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 are met, sea levels will likely rise 20 inches by 2100. If we continue emitting greenhouse gases, it is more likely to be a 29-inch rise. And, according to a January, 2017 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, some US coastal areas, will experience as much as a 6-foot rise in sea levels by 2100.

If unaddressed, this phenomenon poses an unprecedented human and economic threat. Already, current sea level rise has contributed to more damage in extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy, causing massive flooding and infrastructure damage.

Mitigating the Effects of Sea Level Rise

While government and community agencies are now addressing sea level rise issues in coastal areas with plans for levies and sea walls and other means of circumventing water rise, the architectural and engineering community has begun to seriously develop strategies and tactics as well.

Fighting sea level rise from a design perspective boils down to either keeping the water out or designing around it.  Preserving views and water access and maintaining aesthetically pleasing design however can be challenging under the circumstances.

For new and/or existing buildings, resilient design is critical. Using materials that protect buildings from wind and water damage, even elevating buildings above water are certainly valid strategies for addressing sea level rise, but what about entire streets or neighborhoods that are submerged?

As Construction Dive points out, architects, engineers and contractors need to understand the issues and be on the forefront of advocating for design that anticipates and counters potential rising waters on our coasts.