Major weather events and climate changes are leading architects and developers to create interesting new responses to an evolving environment. Innovative ways of thinking about buildings and urban design will be necessary in some waterfront redevelopment projects — especially those integrated within existing urban infrastructure — contends Michael Liu, principal at Boston-based architecture and master planning firm, The Architectural Team (TAT).

Battery Wharf, Boston

Driven by building codes hoping to address rising sea levels and the reality of increasingly flood-prone neighborhoods, architects working in coastal areas or flood plains are often required to raise habitable space above street level. Recent TAT projects in Lynn, Salem, and East Boston, for example, were designed with their first floors seven to eight feet above the surrounding streets, even though many of the structures are several blocks from the water.

Clippership Wharf, Boston

As Liu points out, "Behind any new waterfront project must be the understanding that as sea levels rise, the conditions under which waterfronts and nearby areas presently exist will not be the same as the conditions we'll see long-term, and periodically in the near future." This strategy of elevating living space, he says "is a necessary response to the long-term challenges of sea level rise in order to safeguard projects in these areas."

Harbor Place

However, raising the first floor of a building so far brings new design challenges. Liu cautions that architects and developers will need to formulate strategies for connecting these new elevated buildings to existing street levels so that the façades maintain a relationship to existing context, with particular attention to the quality of the pedestrian experience. In addition to this near-term design concern, designers must consider how projects can remain viable when existing streets become permanently inundated.