The UN Studies have claimed that by 2025, three fourth of the world’s population will live in coastal cities. At the same time, the severity and frequency of floods have gigantically multiplied in the past decade putting major populations and cities of our world at alarming risk. Flood architecture is not just today’s necessity but an opportunity for a better tomorrow to build cities with enhanced biodiversity and eco-sensitive placemaking. This article aims to bring forth some of the best contemporary ideas, strategies, and projects in the field of flood architecture to sensitize and educate professionals towards the untapped capacity of architecture to be a game-changer in tackling the climate change paradigm.
Flood Architecture – Strategies:
In the paper, “From water sensitive to floodable: defining adaptive urban design for water resilient cities’, Elisa Palazzo of the UNSW Built environment discusses how flood architecture encompasses a transdisciplinary approach towards urban flooding translating adaptive management theory into the design process with science and practice. The paper also outlines seven strategies vital in flood resilience which includes multifunctionality, transdisciplinarity, multi-scalarity, evidence-based design, co-management, decentralized and off-grid systems, and regenerative urban design. Similarly, Edward Barsley of The Environment Design Studio and author of the book, “Retrofitting for Flood Resilience: A Guide to Building & Community Design” enlists six strategies towards flood architecture: attenuate, alleviate, restrict, realign, create and embrace.
The examples below showcase how flood architecture in varying scales have been interpreted to make our cities flood resilient.
City Scale Examples of Flood Architecture:
The central idea of these projects is to embrace flooding instead of resisting it. This involves creating adaptable spaces and built form in the city that can act as contextual sponges at the time of extreme flooding. Architects can create new landforms in and around water bodies to be assigned to innovative uses that can adapt to flooding.
Qiaoyuan Wetland Park, Tianjin, China
Employing the strategy of multifunctionality in flood architecture, the project combines various ecosystem strategies with social and economic functions in the same space. Most cases of urban flooding can be attributed to mismanagement of stormwater run-off. The park includes a stormwater purification and retention system, an ecological park supporting native vegetation, and community gardens for environmental education and social interaction.
BIG U, New York
Here, architecture has been used to restrict the heavy water flow from reaching habitable areas by creating soft and hard spaces as front-line warriors. The innovative firm BIG proposed the project BIG U in New York where a 16 km long system employing multiple water retention technology is being developed along the Manhattan River. The system further branches into neighborhood-level interventions, creating a wholesome protective blanket for the city.
Hans Tavsens Park, Copenhagen
Adopting a “safe to fail” strategy as part of flood architecture in Copenhagen district, the Hans Tavsens park is a network of sunken basins and water management systems designed by SLA Studio and Ramboll engineering firm. Here, the aim is to develop spaces that can attain ‘evolutionary’ resilience during severe flooding acting as floodable fields or storehouses of excess water. Interestingly, Chennai city in India was also originally designed on a similar concept as a city with various sponges that would soak in the extra water in times of heavy rainfall. However, over the years, concrete-filled natural lakes expose the city to the wrath of multiple flooding.
Neighborhood Scale Examples of Flood Architecture:
Flood resilient design can meaningfully minimize the exposure and vulnerability of communities. These projects in the domain of flood resilience have an added component of urban placemaking and providing community spaces for encouraging neighborhood resilience.
Climate District, Copenhagen
An attenuation strategy in flood architecture uses a natural or artificial built form to minimize the force of water thereby delaying the impact duration. The “Climate District” envisioned in Copenhagen by TredjeNatur follows this strategy where streets are designed as “Cloudburst Roads” that would channel, accommodate, and eventually discharge excessive water during floods into the harbor. In non-flood seasons, these lifelines would act as green routes for cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles.
This small-scale plaza in a civic center is aimed at protecting the groundwater quality to reduce flood risk in this flood-prone area of the city. Here, transdisciplinary strategy along with regenerative and evidence-based urban design methods was employed to create flexible spatial layouts for the plaza. The topography directs surface run-off to grounds with permeable pavements enabling groundwater recharge. The project considers three possible recurrent rainstorm events, based on the historical flooding data of the area: regular rain, 10-year heavy rain events, and 100-year flooding.
Building Scale Examples of Flood Architecture:
Realign is a flood architecture strategy where land use classification is modified such that critical infrastructure and spaces can be shifted away from flood vulnerable areas in the city. The “managed retreat” strategy undertaken in Oakwood Beach in Staten Island saw several buildings being taken down to free the natural floodplain areas from the built form. Similarly, designers have gone vertical freeing the ground floor of habitable spaces.
Kiht’han House, Long Island
This private residence designed by US Firm Bates Masi architects presents an alternative to endure periodic flooding in a seaside village. The entire house is elevated and broken into sets of vertical volumes placed at varying angles and inter-connected with glass corridors. On the ground floor battens form a screen to ensure an unobstructed passage of floodwater with reduced hydrodynamic pressure. This way the design combines the surrounding natural wetland ecosystem with the architecture of the house embracing the phenomenon of floods instead of obstructing it.