JOHN KING, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2008
The impacts of climate change are a hot topic among scientists and environmental activists. Now the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wants to hear from another perspective: the design community.
The state agency is preparing to launch a $125,000 competition that will invite architects, planners and engineers to bring innovative proposals “to climate proof the Bay Area,” in the words of the competition outline.
The aim isn’t to stop climate change from happening, say officials, or to build impregnable levees. The goal is to get designers thinking creatively about how to prepare for a world where the sea level might climb several feet – inundating large portions of the developed region unless something is done
“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” said Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”
The commission approved a $25,000 contract with David Meckel to manage the competition. This means selecting the design jury as well as framing the rules – such as deciding whether design teams will be asked to look at specific sites or respond to broader issues.
“There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” said Meckel, whose design competition work is a sideline to his role as director of research for the California College of the Arts. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”
As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The current timetable calls for the competition to be launched in the spring and conclude by the end of 2009.
Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.
“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”
Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”
“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea said. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”
The competition is the latest sign of how a commission created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking now grapples with the opposite problem: projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.
Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled; so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.
Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.
Another factor that might draw attention: the novelty.
“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” said G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.
“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer said. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”
“What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond ‘protecting the shoreline.’ “