Richmond, British Columbia
A collaboration with Margaret Gallagher
Fall 2020 Design Excellence Nominee
Situated just one meter above sea level and home to more than 200,000 people, the island of Richmond, British Columbia, is an urban suburb 30 minutes from Vancouver at risk of disappearing under rising seas by the end of the century. With this uncertain future in mind, The Case for Flux takes a cue from the ever-evolving nature of delta landforms to propose a new type of solution to this coming crisis—a hybrid strategy that embraces uncertainty while also planning for protection.
The Case for Flux comprises a protective series of linked systems informed by shifting water levels and changes in salinity in the Fraser River Delta. The project is designed to protect the densely populated urban core from the threat of rising sea level while drawing attention to transitional moments caused by seasonal rhythms and climate change.
Since the turn of the 20th century, Richmond has been protected by a levee system that creates a hard, inaccessible barrier that renders these moments of incremental, gentle flux and large-scale environmental change largely invisible—often until it’s too late.
Understanding that some levee raising is still necessary to protect the island’s developed urban core, we propose a multifaceted plan intended to:
Rebuild Ecosystems
Engage People
Utilize Sediment
Protect the Urban Core
The Case for Flux achieves these goals by reclaiming underutilized farmland to create an aquatic park for recreation; reclaiming sediment for levee raising and land formation; and building a protective sand barrier island and tidal marsh along the coastline for wave attenuation as well as observation and scientific study—all while respecting, and restoring, some of the delta’s natural flux.
Climate Change: Designing for Flux
The Fraser River Estuary is a system where the delicate balance of salt and freshwater shifts with the changing water volume of the Fraser River and Pacific Ocean. As increasing temperatures release water stored in snow and glaciers into these bodies, salt and freshwater push against one another in unpredictable ways. This project responds to this situation through the selection of a number of indicator species, chosen to offer information about the salinity and overall health of each habitat type on the island.
Hydrology: Restore the Delta’s Flux
Study of delta formation reveals that the system is constantly in motion, meaning there is no static “before” situation to restore. Instead, The Case for Flux makes the conscious decision to no longer raise levees around underutilized farmland, allowing for the creation of new wetlands, the reclaiming of carbon-sequestering peat bogs, and new connection between the river and its floodplain and lessening the pressure on levee ring protecting the island.
Equity: Economics of Flux
As one of the most diverse cities in all of Canada, Richmond is a dynamic city with a growing population in one of the world’s most high-priced housing markets. By densifying the urban core, The Case for Flux limits the need for relocation while creating opportunities to subsidize affordable housing and light industry. In addition, this project creates a wealth of job opportunities through the circular economy of sediment, which is harvested and “cured” to become usable material. In this way, what was once waste becomes the foundation of the protection of the city.
Perhaps most importantly, The Case for Flux aims to make natural cycles visible, creating spaces where people can appreciate tidal fluctuation in a safe way, opening the way for a dialogue about the realities of climate change and reconnection to the systems that sustain us. 
Fall 2020
Landscape Architecture Design Studio III: Module 03
Instructor: Maggie Hansen
Created in collaboration with Margaret Gallagher

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