As sea levels rise and superstorms become twice as likely in densely populated places like the East Coast, a new photography exhibit shows how people around the world are responding with resilient architecture–from multi-billion-dollar sea walls in Japan to floating schools in Bangladesh.
The show, called Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change, which will open in December at the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A., is equally focused on sharing solutions and reminding people about the scale of the challenge that humanity must meet.
“I’ve used the phrase ‘shock and hope,'” says curator Frances Anderton. “We don’t want to pretend that there aren’t some real problems that people have got to get their heads around–we have images that will support the shock, and statistics. But we also want to include hope. This is an architecture show, and architects are by definition optimistic, because they believe in solving problems.”
Four photographers were commissioned to travel the world for the show, along with another based in Los Angeles, capturing examples of how different communities were responding to a changing climate, from low tech to cutting edge infrastructure. But the focus isn’t the technology as much as the communities that are using it. Every photo shows people, not just the architecture itself.
“When it came to developing the exhibit we wanted to get down on the ground and into the human story,” Anderton says. “That became a process of getting up close and personal with our photography choices.”
The exhibit also doesn’t claim that all of the solutions included are actually good; instead, it hopes to start a discussion. “We are not saying that every solution in the show is the perfect,” says Anderton. “We do want to pose the question, is it appropriate to build vast seawalls to keep water out, or are their other answers that might be more integrated to the natural landscape?”
Ultimately, the show also raises questions about the limits of technology–at some point, should we stop trying to hold back the water and move further inland? “We’ve become an increasingly coastal global community, and there are implications to our choices to live so close to the water’s edge,” Anderton says. “This is not simply about climate change and rising seas, it’s about where we choose to build.”