Architecture of resilience has rarely been brought so sharply into focus as it is today. As architects, we make purpose-built buildings for specific needs. But to reach far beyond functional competence and code conventions, we also have to employ strategies of cultural, programmatic, and material resilience. We must look around corners and over horizons to anticipate the 100-year storm that now occurs on a 10-year cycle, or reconsider the design norms of affordable housing and the family structures that occupy it, or examine what responsiveness really means during a global health crisis.
Veggies, Not Art: This curious headline in a WBUR piece describes the transformation of the Watershed, AW’s satellite location for the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, into a fresh food distribution center for East Boston. Closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum became a community hub supporting the neighborhood as it absorbed the virus’ impact on jobs, income, and food insecurity. The site was repurposed to welcome trucks with fresh food for distribution within its East Boston neighborhood. The loose fit inherent in the design of the Watershed’s large-scale, industrial ethos endows it with the capacity to respond to social calamity.
While many public buildings and spaces possess a passive capacity to adapt to environmental events, the Watershed is designed to actively adapt to the storm surges and tides that are inevitable at its site on the edge of Boston Harbor. Why build in a flood plain in the first place? As an adaptive re-use of a derelict building—itself a form of resilience—the Watershed’s social and cultural value to the community offsets its vulnerability to flooding. In anticipation of storm events and super tides, AW designed a “wet-proof” structure whose large-scale upward-acting doors, concrete floor, strategically located building systems, and finish materials respond to flooding by allowing water to flow through and recede without damage to the structure and systems.
Projects like The Watershed present opportunities to prepare for the unknowable, to render our buildings, our communities, and our cities more adaptable—able to pivot in response to changing social needs—while promoting cultural durability. Veggies, Not Art reminds us that the agency of architecture, while at times unpredictable, nonetheless remains consequential in inspiring the imagination.