High And Dry: Architecture In the Age Of Climate Change
Designers are starting to take global warming into account when planning buildings, particularly in seaside locations like Miami.
BUENOS AIRES —As you read this, the level of the world's seas may be rising by a fraction of a millimeter, slightly but inexorably. I don't mean to be alarmist here. It could take years for the sea to rise by a meter, and one meter isn't that much at the end of the day. But if the water does keep rising, places like Buenos Aires will certainly face problems.
This is all happening thanks to climate change and global warming, which is caused by our exorbitant fossil fuel consumption. Most of you know that already, even if President Donald Trump insists it's all a hoax.
And yet, while many in the United States prefer to look the other way, there are signs that the Americans aren't as distracted as they seem. In Miami, for example, buildings are already being constructed several meters above ground level. Last year, in south Miami Beach, the French architect Jean Nouvel presented a seafront block of flats he designed in which the ground floor stands a full four meters above the beach. I kid you not.
New building codes in Miami are already calling for structures to be built two meters above ground level. But in Nouvel's case, he decided to raise things further still to protect the underground parking from "once-in-a-century" type events that could flood the property.
Nouvel is by no means the first or only designer concerned about climate change. In Argentina, the Pérez Art Museum — owned by billionaire Jorge Pérez and opened in 2013 — is built on a system of piles and raised three meters above ground, allowing any floodwaters to pass underneath.
Flooding is a big issue in Miami, especially given the vigorous tides that storms provoke, both back and forth.
Pérez is also building two towers and a luxury hotel in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires's waterfront district, but without the same precautions. Why? For one thing, because Buenos Aires is less vulnerable than Miami to flooding, but also because Argentines don't like to think beyond the end of the month.
Two years ago, NASA painted a fairly optimistic picture of what sea-level rise could look like by the end of the century. It's impossible to say with any certainty, however, what will happen, and if those numbers are off — if the waters rise more than 0.9 meters, a level experts see as being "manageable" — there could be devastating consequence for the tens of millions of people who live in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rosario and other coastal cities. The expansion of warm oceanic waters, melting mountain glaciers and loss of ice in Greenland and the Antarctic may prove decisive.
Flooding is a big issue in Miami, especially given the vigorous tides that storms provoke, both back and forth. One historic mansion had to be lifted onto higher ground in March 2016 to save it from floods. And in Miami Beach, the mayor, Philip Levine, has vowed to spend $400 million to raise streets and pavements and install pumps to drain flood zones.
Argentine developer Alan Faena, the man behind the Faena Art Center in Puerto Madero, hopes Authorities in Argentina will take similar precautions.
And yet, the three buildings Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is designing for Faena in Miami don't seem to take climate change into account. Strange, but perhaps there's more to Koolhaas's approach — or apparent lack there of — than meets the idea. For a Dutchman, after all, "anticipating floods is as ingrained in one's mind as riding a bike," as Koolhaas says.
There's a reason for that: floods killed thousands in The Netherlands in the 1990s and thousands more had to be evacuated from their homes. Now the Dutch are sharing their expertise with U.S. cities like New Orleans and with cities along the Norfolk coast in England. So what is the Dutch strategy? The prevailing opinion right now is to let the water in, through and out, and learn to live with mother nature instead of dominating it. Those are the people, after all, who designed big parking lots that double as flood reservoirs.