Sea Change: Boston exhibit shows water knows no boundaries

Jason Hellendrung of Sasaki stands beside a map of Boston and the areas that are in danger of flooding at the Sea Change Boston show at District Hall in the Seaport District. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Jason Hellendrung of Sasaki stands beside a map of Boston and the areas that are in danger of flooding at the Sea Change Boston show at District Hall in the Seaport District. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO

As if a grave climate report released by the White House on Tuesday wasn’t enough to wake people up to the fact that climate change is far from a harmless notion, a new local exhibition is making it even harder for Bostonians to ignore the threat to their city’s vulnerable shoreline.

Sea Change: Boston, an exhibition now on display at District Hall in the Innovation District, aims to broaden the discussion about rising sea levels in the Boston region and inspire ideas on how to prepare for it.

Curated by Sasaki Associates in partnership with the Boston Architectural College, The Boston Harbor Association and the city of Boston, the free exhibit has been on display since April 7, and will remain open until June 4.

“The idea was to introduce the water vulnerabilities that Boston has to sea level rise and look really optimistically forward and start to lay out what some of the strategies are to address it,” said Sasaki Principal Jason Hellendrung. “We hope to build a broader community conversation to start addressing this issue.”

It is projected that sea levels will rise by two feet by mid-century and six feet by 2100. This new tideline will transform Boston’s coast.

An illustration of Boston's flooding vulnerabilities. Photo: Sasaki Association
An illustration of Boston’s flooding vulnerabilities. Photo: Sasaki Association

Design strategies pitched in Sea Change include:

  • A canal street: Existing streets would be converted to floodable channels. Water would be diverted from valuable property.
  • An absorbent street: Planted zones along streets can collect and store rainwater. Vegetation slows movement of water and helps to clean pollutants.
  • Elevated buildings: Buildings would be raised above the flood level, allowing them to function safely even when flooded.
  • Floating building: Buildings are constructed on piers that stay stationary but allow the structure to float, rising and falling with the water level

The exhibition also includes an interactive map, developed by researchers at Sasaki, which allows users to select a flooding scenario and then a city system to see what will be affected by sea level rise and storm surge in the future.

The tool, which is at the exhibit and also available online, lets users zoom in, and even look up specific addresses to understand in more detail how their residences, places of work, or other important locations will be affected.

For example, a rise in sea level combined with a storm surge in 2050 shows many of the city’s vibrant hot spots submerged. Fenway, the South End, the Back Bay and the Innovation District are just a few that could potentially be under seven feet of water, according to Sasaki’s projections.

Sasaki has also released an online video, Sea Change: Boston—Engaging the Community, which features Boston community members’ thoughts on sea level rise, and the need to develop solutions that will make the city and region more resilient.

Sea Change: Boston—Engaging the Community from Sasaki Associates on Vimeo.

“Look at this map right here,” said Hellendrung, pointing to the shoreline of the Greater Boston area. “Water knows no boundaries. You see Scituate, Cohasset, Winthrop and Chelsea and Revere, Gloucester. That’s really the big thing … to advocate for a really strong regional approach to address it.”

The exhibit’s venue is just the place to get the conversation going.

District Hall opened in October offering a civic space for the innovation community to meet to exchange ideas and hold events centered around creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and action.

Learn more about the exhibit at

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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