by Stephanie Goldberg
Architectural competitions are usually launched to generate new building solutions; rarely are they created to start a conversation. A refreshing change is Boston’s Living with Water Competition. Facing a rising sea, increasingly extreme temperatures, and more frequent storms, the city of Boston, along with the Boston Harbor Association, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and the Boston Society of Architects, decided to create an ideas competition. Because of its importance to Boston, my partner, Mark Reed, and I entered the competition with the aim of being part of the dialogue about the future.
The competition stemmed from an already fruitful series of community workshops, including a charrette at ABX. In a discussion with Marilyn Schairer of WGBH on June 11, Austin Blackmon, Boston’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, noted that the competition “assures that we’re engaging the private sector and community partners to come up with innovative concepts to be more prepared and resilient with climate change.” The jury was drawn from a wide range of disciplines: landscape, transportation, public policy, civil engineering, and architecture. The goal was to bring forward ideas that were financially feasible, replicable, scalable, phaseable, and dynamic.
(l-r) Prince Building Piers, Stephanie Goldberg and Mark Reed (Winner Site 1); ReDeBoston 2100, Architerra (Winner Site 2); Total Resilient Approach, Thetis, S.p.A (Winner Site 3; Resilient Linkages, NBBJ (Honorable Mention)
The first stage drew a wide array of entries for three scales of sites from teams from all over the world and from many design schools. Formally judged by an official panel, the competition was put online for public viewing. Seen by thousands, the competition had a category award called “people’s choice,” which encouraged public participation. The jury selected three teams from each site to advance as finalists to a second stage of the competition. In the second stage, several avenues for collaboration were brought into the mix.
The first was a series of workshops hosted at the Boston Society of Architects where both finalists and members of the community got together to discuss the pertinent problems that were brought to the surface by the competition entries.
The second was a physical and virtual round table discussion of the individual projects within each category between the entrants and judges. Both of these events encouraged discussion of both the issues and the designs. Rather than isolating the finalists in their own competitive corner, they were encouraged to share the projects, the issues faced, and to ask questions of the group. The importance of the problem at hand inspired this kind of communication and teamwork.
As Ellen Watts, AIA, LEED AP, principal at Architerra, whose entry ReDeBoston 2100 was the award winner in the Neighborhood site, noted, “Our main competitor wasn’t one firm or another, but climate change itself — a serious adversary. Through our work, we progressed through an overwhelming number of options and constraints to arrive at conceptual solutions that we believe can work.”
The awards ceremony highlighted the importance of sharing all the ideas that came from the competition, not simply those of the selected finalists and award winners. The variety of design solutions responded to Mayor Walsh’s goal of creating a “beautiful, vibrant, and resilient Boston that is prepared for end-of-the century climate conditions and rising sea levels.” In speaking about the competition, judges synthesized what they thought were compelling solutions, drawing from all entries.
The mayor spoke about embracing these solutions, looking at redefining the ground level with regard to expected water levels and storm surges, thus moving the conversation toward real implementation. After the ceremony, the three awarded firms met over lunch to talk about continuing to work together to help move these solutions forward, learning from each other and drawing on the ideas generated to create a more resilient city that does not shy away from its relationship to the water. It was a particular pleasure to meet with Francesco Lanza of Thetis whose team from Venice drew upon real-life solutions to control sea-level rise in beautiful and naturalistic ways for their submission, “Total Resilient Approach.”
Continuing collaboration is critical to the success of Living with Water. “Now that the competition is complete, it is important to engage the city and community, businesses, and individuals to figure out how to realize these solutions and prepare the city of Boston for the next several generations,” observes Mark Reed. Other finalists agree. As Ellen Watts notes, “There is precious little time until seawater inundation and storm surges threaten our carefree way of life. We can not only survive but thrive with water, but only if we act now and make haste.” Living with Water showed how competitive collaboration can be successful, engaging, and creative; now we need to get to work.
Stephanie Goldberg, AIA, OAA, LEED AP, was a member of the winning team for the Site Category, The Prince Building Piers. All the final submissions are currently on view at BSA Space.