Rising Seas and a Thriving North End
07.29.15 / JACK COCHRAN
By 2100, the outer edge of Boston's North End will be inundated with two feet of standing water, swelling above a person’s head during major storm events.
The North End is not unique in this regard. Many areas of Boston, as well as cities around the country and world, will be inundated, with many faring far worse than Boston, a city in part protected by its harbor and nearby islands. The City of Boston has held an international competition called Living with Water to preemptively prepare the city for rising seas and increased storms, with the North End and its Prince Building one of the chosen sites. ARC, in collaboration with AKF Group and Pate Adams Landscape Architects, were selected as finalists in the two-round competition.
Prince Building Weathers Storm in 2025
Our final design for the North End sought to turn rising seas into an opportunity to make the area even stronger than it is today. Many approaches to sea level rise have utilized berms or levees, protecting but separating residents from the water. We tried to develop an alternative approach, one that allows the water to come in, but provides a new framework for life above and on the water. In essence, we proposed doing what Boston has always done: building out and building up, but now letting the water in – so that Bostonians can thrive with it.
To enable this shift in the city fabric, we developed three main approaches that work synergistically:
1) Block Co-Ops
2) The Mezzo
3) Living Waterfront
First, Block Co-Ops bring adjacent buildings together in a resiliency strategy, combining and sharing renewable energy production. This helps shift the North End away from dependency on grid-based energy production, limiting CO2 emissions in the process and providing self-sufficiency. The Block Co-Ops are also the platform for vertical expansions in the area, allowing residents to move upwards as the water comes in and helping to fund infrastructure improvements in the area.
Block Co-Ops Tie Buildings Together in Resiliency Strategy
Strategies Available to Homeowners as Buidlings Adapt
The Mezzo, a network of raised streets that connect buildings together, are created over time as the water comes in. These raised streets fully revive the activity of the ground-level streets, providing storefronts and lobby connections at roughly the current third level, fluctuating as needed to accommodate changes in height. New typologies emerge to make this raised street engaging and functional: new front stoops, raised parks, and amphitheaters that dip down into the water.
Mezzo Typologies Develop in Time
Lastly, a Livable Shoreline reduces the effect of storm surges and flooding through biodiverse and active parks and landforms. Canals are dug in the former streets to facilitate boat access under the Mezzo, and living breakwaters dot the shoreline to protect the area from storm surge intensity. The combination of the Mezzo and shoreline parks allows residents to retain access to the waterfront, now a resilient and diverse ecosystem combined with recreation.
North End Waterfront Park and Amphitheatre in 2100
All approaches, linked together as a system, are also deployed in tandem, targeting the most critical needs at first and building over the coming century to provide full protection and a new way of living by 2100. The deployment and funding strategy, which we call the Water Fun(d), is rooted in community engagement, allowing the North End to self-fund infrastructure improvements through targeted development, thereby limiting the need to solicit federal funding.
Funding Mechanism for North End - Water Fun(d)
With these systems and strategy in place, we propose the North End could adapt to rising sea levels in an affordable and timely manner, enabling the community to self-direct their evolution and giving them the tools to do so.