This is the first time in human history that external environmental conditions will change significantly over the course of a building’s lifespan. In Designing with Water, we have learned five broad design principles:

  • Design for resilience: anticipating and recovering from a disturbance quickly and cheaply
  • Create double-duty solutions: Provide multiple socio-economic and ecologic benefits
  • Strengthen community resilience through resiliency networks and social support systems
  • Incentivize and institutionalize preparedness through insurance standards, zoning laws, market-based approaches, construction codes, and policy
  • Phase plans over time to remain flexible and adaptive over time to meet changing conditions

Our challenge is to evolve with our changing climate and rising seas. Our opportunity is to invest in the future and to become a more resilient, more sustainable, and more beautiful city.

Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston

Although the 50 participating teams took different approaches to designing for climate change, all the submissions treated the rising sea level as a positive design force in Boston’s built environment.

Holly Giermann, ArchDaily

Our competition is not the other teams, it's climate change.

Ellen Watts, Architerra, Boston Living with Water Finalist

Boston is blessed with a highly protective harbor and a substantial tide cycle. Winthrop, Hull and 34 harbor islands substantially dampen and dissipate storm surges. As well, with a 10’ swing in height between low and high tide, unless storm surges peak at high tide, they typically don’t overtop our seawalls. The downside to this is that approximately 30 percent of Boston (our filled tidelands) lie within 8’ of today’s high tide and, without intervention, will be at risk of chronic saltwater flooding by 2100.

Our culture may provide additional challenges to effective preparedness. We’re notoriously averse to change, especially from top-down proposals. We have a liberal libertarian political environment, with strong private property rights and limited government that discourage strong collective action. Market-based approaches tend to socialized loss and privatize gain, making it difficult to amass the resources needed to invest in climate preparedness.

Our Competition

This competition considered the challenges of adapting to climate change and rising sea levels at three sites specifically chosen for their vulnerability and where winning solutions can influence future redevelopment activities.

Ranging in scale from Building to Neighborhood to Infrastructure, each site presents challenges that are representational of common urban conditions and call for scale-specific solutions. Competition solutions address the unique aspects of the selected site while being replicable elsewhere.

Site 1 – Building
Typical of the existing historic urban waterfront fabric of Boston, The Prince Building, located in the North End, embodies the challenges facing multi-owner residential buildings.

Site 2 – Neighborhood
The 100 Acres area of the Fort Point District is representative of large urban mixed-use redevelopment opportunities across Boston. It includes development sites, green and blue open spaces, multi-level infrastructure, and existing historic buildings.

Site 3 – Infrastructure
Morrissey Boulevard, near the outer harbor and mouth of the Neponset River, provides access to the Columbia Point peninsula and a range of residential, commercial, institutional, and open space areas. It exemplifies the critical transportation infrastructure connecting Boston’s neighborhoods.

Our Challenges

Successful design proposals embrace Designing with Water design strategies, solving multiple challenges including minimizing damage from chronic and episodic coastal flooding. They mitigate adverse building impacts on the environment, enhance climate resiliency, are incremental, and implementable. They are economically and social sustainable, inclusive and equitable, and beautiful.

Teams submitted Design Proposals for either one, two, or all three sites; each proposal is specific to a single site and was individually submitted.

Our Jury

The Boston Living with Water Jury brings together local and international experts with a range of perspectives to review proposals, select finalists and winners, and to provide commentary on responses and the competition.

Stefan Behnisch, Honorable FAIA

Stefan Behnisch, Honorable FAIA


Stefan Behnisch is the Founding Partner of Behnisch Architekten. He is a world-renowned advocate and educator of sustainable building design, and has lectured at conferences all over the world. Behnisch’s goal - to connect the forces of human life and the natural environment - fuels the design of every commission his firm receives. Stefan Behnisch has directed the design of dynamic, award-winning buildings that promote sustainability within the built environment.

Mikyoung Kim

Mikyoung Kim

Principal, mikyoung kim design

For the last twenty years, Mikyoung Kim Design has crafted an exceptional body of work, spanning a wide range of landscape typologies in the United States, East Asia and the Middle East. The firm has developed a reputation for culturally significant design work that serve as a powerful tool to heal and enliven the public realm. Their work addresses pressing environmental issues, while celebrating the beauty of our collective human experience through the use of contemporary materials and technologies. Today, Mikyoung Kim Design’s work is defined by a seasoned understanding of material detailing and a whimsical celebration of the transformative and healing power of the natural world.

Jason Hellendrung, ASLA

Jason Hellendrung, ASLA

Principal, Sasaki Associates

Jason Hellendrung, ASLA, is a landscape architect and principal at Sasaki Associates. His work encompasses complex urban infrastructure projects, with emphasis on urban revitalization and resilience. He has led the firm's research and project work around disaster recovery and climate adaptation and resilience in Cedar Rapids, New York, and New Jersey as a part of HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition.

Kristina Ford

Kristina Ford

Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kristina Ford’s thoughtful, well-informed and articulate assessments – heard on CNN, BBC and National Public Radio – became the first, public voice of reason to mediate the great storm’s human and civic consequences to America and beyond. Ms. Ford is a frequent speaker on urban affairs, and has appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and in Planningmagazine.

Matthew J. Kiefer

Matthew J. Kiefer

Director, Climate Change Resiliency Task Force Coordinator, Goulston & Storrs

Matthew Kiefer practices real estate development and land use law, with a particular focus on obtaining site control and public approvals for complex urban projects. These include market-oriented and affordable housing, commercial and mixed-use developments, and facilities and master plans for health care, educational, cultural and other non-profit institutions.

Judith Nitsch, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Judith Nitsch, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Founding Principal and Chairman of the Board, Nitsch Engineering

Judy Nitsch is the founding principal of Nitsch Engineering. Her work over the past 38 years in the civil engineering field has focused on the design and management of site development and infrastructure-related projects, with a special emphasis on designing innovative sustainable site solutions. Judy serves on the Board of Directors of CREW Network (Commercial Real Estate Women) and is the 2014 President of this national organization.

Kairos Shen

Kairos Shen

Director of Planning, Boston Redevelopment Authority, City of Boston

Kairos Shen was appointed as the Chief Planner for the City of Boston with the role of formulating a comprehensive long-term vision to guide the city’s economic and physical development, and coordinating planning across city departments. Kairos Shen has been intimately involved in many of Boston’s most important planning efforts in the last ten years.

Henk Ovink

Henk Ovink

Principal, Rebuild by Design

Henk Ovink is senior advisor for Secretary Shaun Donovan of Housing and Urban Development, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Ovink is responsible for the long term planning, design and innovation strategy, the regional design competition ‘REBUILD BY DESIGN’, the connected planning conference and the follow up National program on ‘regional resilience by design’.

Marggie Lackner R.A.

Marggie Lackner R.A.

Director of Design and Architecture, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)

Marggie is currently the Director of Design and Architecture at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), where she is responsible for design direction and standards for all stations and facilities.

An architect with 40 years of practice, Marggie’s areas of expertise is infrastructure architecture design management. Prior to working at the MBTA, she worked as a member of the design consultancy for the Central Artery/Tunnel project, where she was the design lead for the Charles River crossing, responsible for architecture, infrastructure architecture, urban design, landscape design, and integral art.

Marggie has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Vassar College, with minors in Art History and Psychology, and an MArch I from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She has 27 years in private sector practice prior to starting at the MBTA, working primarily on large scale commercial and institutional facilities.

Robert M. Noblett

Robert M. Noblett

Partner, Behnisch Architekten

He has worked in various American practices, including Rafael Viñoly Architects PC in New York, where he served as project manager for projects in Boston, California, Las Vegas, and Chicago. In 2007, he joined Behnisch Architekten, Boston, and has been serving as Partner in Charge there since 2009.

Our Team

The Boston Living with Water Steering Committee is a collective of unique-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds, brought together to discuss the future of climate change.

This design competition is the product of a collaboration among the City of Boston Environment, Energy and Open Space Department, Boston Redevelopment Authority, The Boston Harbor Association and the Boston Society of Architects.  We are grateful for the generous support of the Barr Foundation and Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management for making this competition possible. The steering committee would like to thank the design teams, jurors and other participants for bringing such thoughtfulness, vibrancy and hope to our efforts to reimagine how Boston can continue to thrive in a wetter future.

City of Boston

Carl Spector, Director of Climate and Environmental Planning, Boston Environment Department
Nikhil Nadkarni, Climate and Buildings Program Manager, Boston Environment Department
Leah Bamberger, Greenovate Boston, Mayor’s Office

Boston Redevelopment Authority

Tad Read, Acting Director of Planning, Boston Redevelopment Authority
Prataap Patrose, Deputy Director of Urban Design, Boston Redevelopment Authority
John Dalzell, Sr. Architect for Sustainable Development, Boston Redevelopment Authority
Tajunique Thompson, Graphic Designer, Boston Redevelopment Authority
Jeffrey Ng, Senior Web Architect, Boston Redevelopment Authority

The Boston Harbor Association

Julie Wormser, Executive Director
Chun Zhou, Project Manager

Tania Bronsoiler Hanono, Northeast University Climate Fellows
Payton Wirt Rogers, Northeast University Climate Fellows
Charles Creagh, Northeast University Climate Fellows

Boston Society of Architects

Eric White, Executive Director
Gretchen Schneider, Director of the Community Design Resource Center

The Boston Living with Water Competition is an offering  of the Boston Redevelopment Authority in collaboration with The Boston Harbor Association, Boston Society of Architects, and the City of Boston.