Document Type

Thesis, Senior




Spring 2019


floating infrastructure, New York City, climate change, water centric urban design strategy, Netherlands, Venice, self-built incremental design






Climate change offers myriad challenges to society, including a rising sea level and increasingly intense storms. Resilience to climate change, particularly the reliance on hard barriers, only protects certain areas and raises the risk of catastrophic failure. More deeply, these approaches reflect an attempt to preserve society as it exists today, denying the reality that the multi-millennia process of climate change necessitates a more profound reevaluation of how society operates. Adaptation takes this need as a given, arguing for the retrofitting of infrastructure to regular inundation when possible and the abandonment of at-risk areas when not. However, these strategies are either expensive and technically difficult over the long term or massively disruptive to communities, deeming large stretches of the world’s most densely populated coasts ultimately uninhabitable. I propose a more flexible alternative, the development of a floating infrastructure, allowing for an ongoing habitation of coastal areas while adapting to the deluge of both temporary storm surge and the long-term rise in sea level over decades and centuries. This pragmatic adaptation posits the architectural and urban question of how to reconceptualize water as a new form of ground.

New York City is selected as an urban center that is highly shaped by its waterfront and nautical history, along with the relative scarcity of land to build on. The choice of selecting a city as a site reflects the larger need for shelter from the open ocean as well as the necessity, at least in its ealy development, of integrated economy and infrastructure between land city and water city.

Littoral cities such as Amsterdam or Venice are largely constructed around land reclamation, and thus face their own unique challenges from climate change. However, their intimate connection to water provide a historical analogue for a water centric urban design strategy. The Netherlands represents a society that is increasingly attempting to adapt to the natural transformations of a complex water system and the interconnectedness between the layers of built infrastructure networks and human habitation. Venice reflects a society deeply integrated with water across the levels of politics, culture and economics, replicating and transforming urban typologies typical to more conventional land cities.

Floating architecture, like ships, can be prefabricated in dry docks: this would potentially limit costs while removing size limits imposed by city streets. To counter this tendency to repetitive efficiency, the structures would implement a process of self-built incremental design superimposed on a prefabricated superstructure. This would also allow communities to better shape the built environment to their needs, developing a local sense of community and character for an otherwise new and artificial neighborhood.

Additional Information

Thesis Advisors:

Lawrence Chua

Lawrence Davis

Mitesh Dixit

Advisory Group: Alternative Urbanism


Local Input

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

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