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Urban Futures: Rethinking Architecture and Infrastructure in View of Rising Seas


Roesler S.

Docente titolare del corso

Balzan S.


Levin N.


Raffetseder J.



Many of the world's megacities and densely populated areas are located in coastal areas that are particularly vulnerable to flooding and rising sea levels. Depending on how much CO₂ will continue to be emitted, sea levels will rise by 30 centimeters to one meter by 2100, according to current scientific insights. If the 1.5-degree climate target is met, the seas worldwide are likely to rise in the coming centuries by up to two to six meters. How would such sea level rise affect existing urban structures and what are possible infrastructural and architectural responses? 

Rising seas and the adaptation of coastal cities are some of the multiple challenges city planners and designers face today. The unprecedented process of global warming introduces new layers of uncertainty to urban and architectural design. Architectural theory is therefore increasingly turning its attention to the future (and thus questioning the primacy of history). As argued by Dipesh Chakrabarty, by diverging from the previously stable parameter climate, the future is put “beyond the grasp of historic sensibility” (2009). In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the notion of “urban futures”. Using this notion, urban scholars attempt to tackle the myriad of challenges cities are facing today by using methods of foresight to anticipate desirable futures and adapt cities to climate challenges. Some of these studies combine the perspective of risk and resilience studies with infrastructure and urban planning, highlighting that cities are especially vulnerable to climate hazards and disasters (Hamstead et al 2021). Other studies suggest that cities should explore future visions elaborating multiple scenarios in order to tackle long-term transformations of the urban fabric (Rohat et al 2021). 

The seminar will focus on the ways in which architects can address the ecological shifts to come and the implications of challenges such as rising seas for architecture, infrastructure and urbanization. Nowadays, future thinking literacy must be part of an effective skillset of architects and urban designers. They require methods and tools to translate predictions on the future into urban planning measures. Although architecture is a future oriented practice, little effort has been made to systematize the approaches to futuring in design practice and to critically reflect them in the field of architectural theory. It has been noted that ever more detailed climate predictions entail the threat of “false precision” (Rodrigues 2022) and that an approximate approach outlining general trends might be more helpful for climate action on a local scale. Deliberate ambiguity instead of precision as a futuring strategy is also highlighted by Aquilar (2021).  


During the seminar, future challenges of architectural design, infrastructure construction and urban development are discussed in light of the expected rise in sea level, which will threaten numerous cities and ecosystems. What strategies and scenarios can architectural design embrace to respond to this threat? Students will be introduced to the practice of research in architecture producing speculative design solutions in conjunction with a written theoretical reflection.  They will work in small groups to develop their own research projects on the given topic – urban futures and rising seas – which will culminate in a final paper and a small exhibition.  

Following anthropologist Donna Haraway’s idea that “scientific facts and speculative fabulations need each other,” urban futures scenarios should be informed by scientific knowledge. Thus, the seminar asks students to challenge themselves by considering the interdisciplinary character of today’s architectural design practice that must take into account science and technology, sociology, urban planning and policy insights. 


Obiettivi di sviluppo sostenibile

  • Industria, innovazione e infrastrutture
  • Città e comunità sostenibili
  • Agire per il clima
  • La vita sulla terra

Modalità di insegnamento

In presenza

Impostazione pedagogico-didattica

Theoretical inputs via collective readings of selected literature on the topics. Reasoned presentation of design strategies instrumental in tackling the challenges presented by the rising sea levels, the main seminar topic. 

Modalità d’esame

Individual 3000-words research paper based on a chosen case study. For the selected case study speculative urban future scenarios can be sketched out in the form of visuals by small groups. The individual research projects and the groups’s scenarios visuals will be presented in a collective exhibition. 


Offerta formativa

Viaggi di studio

  • Venezia, 17.11.23 - 19.11.23 (Obbligatorio)