The Living [Dr]Edge

Lindsay Harkema (website), Seanna Walsh
Rice University School of Architecture
Design Studio
Faculty: Christopher Hight, Michael Robinson


The hard edge is an artificial condition: a bulkhead. The natural edge is a gradient: a wetland. On the bay side of the Galveston barrier island, the natural edge is a habitat, buffer, and indispensable resource. The least stable building foundation is the most desirable building location: at the water’s edge.

Our case study of this is the Bay Harbor neighborhood, located near the western tip of the island. As sea level rises, the hardened edge is forced to surrender to natural processes of wetland encroachment upon private property.

Proximity to water is a desirable condition. The confluence of residents attracted to the edge creates social, visual, and spatial relationships that characterize the Bay Harbor neighborhood. The bay’s attraction creates higher density, higher property values, and stronger communities in the most unstable areas.

In the future, as the hard edge surrenders to wetland growth, the role of infrastructure in unstable zones is called into question. On the natural edge, infrastructure becomes a mediator rather than a fortified barrier.

Wetland banks sell offset credits to developers in the region who wish to build on protected natural resources. Purchasing these credits, similarly to carbon offsets, allows developers to fulfill their legal obligation of no net wetland loss.

The residents of bay harbor have two options for maintaining their land: perpetuate the artificial edge or exploit the natural condition. The creation of a wetland bank will allow homeowners to leave the disenfranchised hard edge without compromising their property investments.

Residents living on property encroached upon by wetlands will need to relocate.
A localized shift from grids to clusters preserves the network relationships integral to Bay Harbor while also making room for the growth of the wetland bank.

This project proposes a model for distributing dredged material as the community wetland bank develops. Implicit connectors are built into an infrastructure that mediates between the individual house and the community bank.

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