‘Water World’ – Can aqua-architecture safeguard cultural heritage against global climate change?
‘Water World’ – Can aqua-architecture safeguard cultural
heritage against global climate change?
Many of us in the heritage sector have felt the pressures of climate change in recent years and expressed our concerns regarding the conservation, preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage in the face of an often overwhelming global challenge. We have worked tirelessly at our own projects or those of others to protect sites, monuments, buildings, features or collections of objects effectively and sustainably against the ill effects of climatic stresses. I only recently learned of a ‘new’ practice that I personally hope may also be integrated into the wider discipline of heritage preservation: aqua-architecture.
Many aqua-architecture specialists will say that the practice has already been applied as a practical solution for centuries in regions prone to flooding and high rainfall or resting at low elevations, including the Netherlands, Thailand and Indonesia. The Netherlands alone—a third of which lies below sea level—has been managing water since the Middle Ages and is considered a pioneer in the field.
Presently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that several coastal cities—including London, Bangkok, Tokyo, Jakarta, Sydney and Shanghai—will lie totally or partially under water by the end of this century as global warming boosts sea levels.
Architects and city planners across the globe are exploring ways humankind and water may co-exist as incidents induced by climate change, including rising sea levels and extreme, irregular floods, threaten land-based living. Many practitioners are proposing sustainable, flexible alternatives, building new or adapted “hydro-cities” on water using floating platforms, raised or amphibious structures and other solutions to create and maintain aquatic metropolises of hotels, villas, luxury apartments, recreation centres, shopping malls and even golf courses and other outdoor facilities.
But what I would like to know is, if cultural heritage has a place within these new urban landscapes? Or even beyond them into other, more rural areas? How can aqua-architecture serve to not only safeguard vulnerable cultural monuments and sites but to sustain positive cultural identities?
It seems that in certain places some steps are already being taken to include traditional craftsmanship and architecture in the planning and construction processes: severe weather patterns in Thailand, including last year’s devastating floods, are prompting many Thais to consider integrating up-to-date design with more traditional stilt or raft architecture rather than the concrete buildings that have permeated Thailand’s urban landscape and inhibited the natural flow of water.
I would love to see the fantastic and creative field of aqua-architecture continue to grow and evolve within a heritage framework: preserving sacred monuments and sites; constructing new and/or sustaining established museums, cultural institutions and research centres; integrating marine heritage and conservation into construction. Of course, there will be several questions and concerns to follow: will this be purely limited to coastal areas? Or could riverine landscapes also be considered? What are some plausible solutions and what costs and labour would be involved? What would the ultimate return or output be?
For my part, I am ready to learn, to listen, to engage, to innovate and to change perceptions. So come one, come all: architects, interior designers, conservators, marketers, heritage professionals, community members and other creatives… Let us realize together the true potential for modern design concepts and create connections between modernization and tradition that will develop dynamic global solutions.
Posted by: Kelly Krause