Sea Change: Boston



Boston, MA, USA | Sasaki Associates, Inc.


Sea Change: Boston is a research initiative on sea level rise that advocates for long-term coastal resiliency in the Greater Boston area. The Sea Change team, led by landscape architects, collaborated with experts in science, academia, advocacy, and policy-making to engage in preparedness planning at the building, city, and regional scales. Designers curated an exhibition to showcase this research, highlighting Boston's vulnerabilities and demonstrating design strategies for resilience. The exhibition shared the Sea Change research with the broader Boston community in an engaging and accessible format, rich with graphics and interactive media. Events and digital media associated with the exhibition catalyzed a conversation among designers, city officials, real estate leaders, and academics about a specific call to action: to develop a regional resiliency plan for the Greater Boston area. Outcomes of Sea Change have included authorship of Designing with Water with the Boston Harbor Association, advising for Boston Living with Water Competition, and implementation of Climate Ready Boston, Boston’s climate change vulnerability assessment.


It is projected that sea levels will rise two feet by mid-century and six feet by 2100. This new tide line will transform the landscape of coastal cities and increase the probability of a major storm devastating many metropolitan regions. After Hurricane Sandy's impact narrowly missed Boston, the city began to investigate what it means to be a resilient coastal city. However, until recently, the conversation in Boston had largely lacked the input of designers—a critical voice in determining contextual, implementable, effective solutions to make Boston more resilient while acknowledging and enhancing the city’s unique sense of place. Advocating for a long-term resiliency strategy for the Greater Boston area, designers launched a research initiative on sea level rise called Sea Change: Boston.

The Sea Change team, led by landscape architects, tapped into the submitting firm's interdisciplinary practice to engage in preparedness planning. Partnerships were built between allied organizations including the City of Boston, The Boston Harbor Association, and the Boston Architectural College -- encouraging an inclusive dialogue that spanned Boston's neighborhoods and design scales.

Research for Sea Change was conducted over the course of a year and a half. During that time, the team collaborated with experts in science, advocacy, and policy-making. In addition, academic partnerships emerged as a productive model for idea generation. In June 2013, during the submitting firm’s annual intern charette, students researched sea level rise implications and design solutions specific to the South Boston neighborhood. During Fall 2013, the Natural Systems Design studio within the Boston Architectural College’s Landscape Architecture Department built upon the interns’ research and offered resiliency strategies for the East Boston neighborhood. Throughout the charette and studio local guest critics—including coastal engineers, designers, and Boston Harbor experts—provided insight and expertise.

The research generated as part of Sea Change highlighted both Boston's vulnerabilities to sea level rise and design strategies for resilience.

Sea Change emphasized that critical urban systems must be considered beyond municipal boundaries. From transportation routes and energy grids, to commercial districts and historic neighborhoods, Boston’s urban systems are intricately entwined and vulnerable to rising water. Research included the mapping and diagramming of sea level rise in Boston and its effect on land use, demographics, and transportation systems, among other vulnerable systems.

In addition to documenting the threat of sea level rise, Sea Change featured proactive design and planning strategies at the building, city, and regional scales. From floating apartment buildings to floodable parks, designers and engineers around the world are imagining and constructing resilient solutions to rising sea levels. Research explored how resilient design strategies can allow Boston’s buildings and infrastructure to bounce back from storms and adjust to rising tides. The strategies and case studies were cataloged and illustrated an array of tangible solutions for how the Boston region can protect its edge while introducing greater vibrancy, connectivity, and economic opportunities along the water.

In the Spring of 2014, the Sea Change research was presented as an exhibition at District Hall in Boston. District Hall, recently constructed by the City of Boston, serves as the heart of Boston’s Innovation District with public workspaces open 24 hours a day. District Hall’s mission, to house citizen-led innovation, and it’s close proximity to the Boston Harbor made it the ideal location and partner for the exhibition.

The exhibition shared the Sea Change research with the broader community in an engaging and accessible format. The complex research was organized into seven simple themes:

In addition to the physical exhibition, Sea Change lives as a digital body of work. An interactive map invited exhibition visitors and web users to explore sea level rise and storm surge scenarios while simultaneously overlaying vulnerable urban systems analysis. The City of Boston used the online map for their Greenovate Campaign, which informed the 2014 update to the Climate Action Plan. QR codes were also interspersed within the exhibition to connect visitors to the Greenovate campaign. The online “Engaging the Community” video features interviews with local Boston residents and business owners, illuminating their concerns and awareness to sea level rise. The “Reflections on Resilience” blog series featured a broad range of practitioners who shared ideas and insights on how planning and design can help to create a more resilient future. Multiple social media campaigns一#SummerofSLR, #SemesterofSLR, and #SeaChange一also became digital platforms for the Sea Change research.

Events associated with the exhibition included the Sea Change: Boston Symposium. The day-long conference was organized into three panels, based on themes from the Sea Change exhibition, and catalyzed a conversation among designers, city officials, real estate leaders, and academics.

Following the success of Sea Change: Boston, associated designers and planners have continued to engage and influence local planning and design thinking related to coastal resiliency. Team members frequently participate in local workshops, community meetings, and lectures. Events have included speaking at Architecture Boston (ABX), leading workshops at the City of Boston Greenovate Community Summit, participating in the Boston Urban Land Institute “Living with Water” Charette. Outcomes from the Sea Change reserach have included co-authoring the report “Designing with Water: Creative Solutions from Around the Globe” with The Boston Harbor Association, advising the Boston Living with Water Design Competition, and now implementation of Boston’s first climate change vulnerability assessment, Climate Ready Boston. Beyond the influence to allied organizations, the Sea Change research has also impacted the way the submitting firm approaches both sustainability and resiliency in practice. Sea Change research has supported and supplemented master planning and built work projects both locally and internationally.

“The multi-modal nature of this is a great strength. No matter what the capacity of the various audiences might be, they have provided a tool that everyone can use.”

- 2016 Awards Jury


Project Curators

  • Nina Chase, ASLA
  • Chris Merritt, ASLA
  • Ruth Siegel, ASLA
  • Carey Walker

Communications Team

  • Tera Hatfield
  • Emily Junker
  • Liz Juusola
  • Laura King
  • Jay Nothoff
  • Christian Spanring
  • Michael Tavilla

Research Team

  • Jill Allen Dixon
  • Sloan Dawson
  • Kevin Hebard
  • Chris Horne
  • Jessica Kimball
  • Lu Peng
  • Anna Scherling
  • Daniel Xu

Leadership Team

  • Steve Brittan
  • Robert L. Culver
  • Gina Ford, ASLA
  • Jason Hellendrung, ASLA
  • James Miner

Symposium Chair

  • Shaun O’Rourke, ASLA

Special thanks to

  • Seaport Graphics
  • Leah Bamberger
  • Frances Bui
  • Edward Davis
  • Kevin Essington
  • Paul Kirshen
  • Lauren Klonsky
  • Vivien Li
  • Hubert Murray
  • Jim Newman
  • Gavin Schaefer
  • Carl Spector
  • Arlen Stawasz
  • Brian Swett
  • Julie Wormser

Personal Stories Interviewees

  • Brittany Atkinson
  • Bill Bell
  • Rose Di Mare
  • Sebastian Di Mare
  • Linda Gaffney
  • Jay Gray
  • Anna Harrison
  • Ben Lloyd
  • Rob McPherson
  • Frank Patania
  • Maurice Rigaud
  • Michael Riolo
  • Robert Torosian

Sasaki Intern Charette (Summer 2013)

  • Jennifer Corlett
  • Zhenwen Dai
  • Justin Garrison
  • Kevin Hebard
  • Joy Hu
  • Maureen Lyne
  • Jessica MacDonald
  • Benjamin Roush
  • Rhiannon Sinclair
  • Andrew Turco
  • Daniel Xu
  • Xin Zheng

BAC Natural Systems Studio (Fall 2013)

  • Bradly Barco
  • Callum Davies
  • Michael Hussey
  • Lisa Ishihara
  • Susan Karim, Student ASLA
  • Anahita Kianous, Associate ASLA
  • Sandra Larrauri, Student ASLA
  • Matthew Rezendes
  • Betsy Sayer
  • Michal Szymanski


  • City of Boston
  • The Boston Harbor Association
  • Boston Architectural College
  • District Hall