To Defend, Retreat or Adapt? Design Responses to the excess and disappearance of water

Seth McDowell

Extract from Water Index, ed. Seth McDowell. Published by Actar.

Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Hell and the Flood”, a panel from the triptych Deliverance from the Deluge painted on the inside of an altarpiece, reveals an image of a post-apocalyptic landscape. The water has subsided, and rotting corpses of drowned sinners litter the land. This Old Testament narrative depicts water as a device for ethical cleansing. Yet, if the moral connotations are set aside, the Deluge in Genesis 8 is essentially a story of human’s technological adaptation to imposing natural phenomena. The ark, as a response for survival, has become the paradigm for humanity’s response to ecological disaster: construct a mechanism for deliverance. This paper is a catalog of mechanisms that enable the control of, escape from, and adaptation to water. Two hydrological crises are examined here, the rising and the disappearing of water, which present fundamental complications for humanity’s dependence on the natural resource. Each of these extreme conditions for water is evaluated relative to design strategies for defense, retreat, and adaptation.

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Hieronymus Bosch, The Hell and the Flood, panel from Deliverance from the Deluge (circa 1450–1516). Oil, 27.2 x 15.4″. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
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Notes
[1] The defense readiness condition (DEFCON) is an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces. The DEFCON system was developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and unified and specified combatant commands. It prescribes five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) for the U.S. military, which increase in severity from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe) to match varying military situations.
[2] Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young, The Rising Sea (Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2009), xi.1 The defense readiness condition (DEFCON) is an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces. The DEFCON system was developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and unified and specified combatant commands. It prescribes five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) for the U.S. military, which increase in severity from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe) to match varying military situations.
[3] Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young, “People and the Rising Sea,” in The Rising Sea (Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2009) 132.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bost, Travis. “The Spectacle of water and machine: The Ideologies At Work In The Bonnet Carre Spillway Openings Of 1937 And 2011” 2012.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Project text from West 8, to be published in upcoming book, Water Index, ed. Seth McDowell. Actar, 2016.
[9] Isaac Cohen, Kate Hayes, and Jorge Sieweke’s “Swamp Thing: Smart Grid, Smarter Water Management in New Orleans, LA,” project description from designers. University of Virginia, 2012.
[10] “Water: Our Thirsty World,” National Geographic (April 2010) 217, no.4: 52.
[11] Ibid, 54.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Moorish, William. “The Urban Spring: Formalizing the Water System of Los Angeles” Modulus. University of Virginia, 1985.
[14] "Sietch Nevada « MATSYS." MATSYS RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
[15] MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center collaborated to address one of the most urgent challenges facing the nation’s largest city: sea-level rise resulting from global climate change. “Though the national debate on infrastructure (was at the time) focused on “shovel-ready” projects that would stimulate the economy, the joint effort enabled new research and fresh thinking about the use of New York City’s harbor and coastline.” An architects-in-residence program at P.S.1 (November 16, 2009–January 8, 2010) brought together five interdisciplinary teams to re-envision the coastlines of New York and New Jersey around New York Harbor and to imagine new ways to occupy the harbor itself with adaptive “soft” infrastructures that would be sympathetic to the needs of a sound ecology. These creative solutions were intended to dramatically change residents’ relationship to one of the city’s great open spaces.
[16] Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream was an exploration of new architectural possibilities for cities and suburbs in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis. During summer 2011, five interdisciplinary teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers worked in public workshops at MoMA P.S. 1 to envision new housing and transportation infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the country’s suburbs. Responding to The Buell Hypothesis, a research report prepared by the Buell Center at Columbia University, teams—led by MOS, Visible Weather, Studio Gang, WORKac, and Zago Architecture—focused on a specific location within one of five “megaregions” across the country to come up with inventive solutions for the future of American suburbs. This installation presented the proposals developed during the architects-in-residence program, including a wide array of models, renderings, animations, and analytical materials.