How Can San Francisco Save Itself From Drowning? Six Pie-in-the-Sky Ideas

The Rising Tides Competition–which sought visionary ideas to deal with climate change–has just announced the winning proposals.


We all love disaster movies, right? There’s a certain perverse thrill that comes from seeing the world engulfed in cataclysm, resulting from our present sins. No wonder, then, that Day After Tomorrow was a blockbuster, or that we’re about to see another flick along those lines, 2012–tagline: WHO WILL SURVIVE?


Well, that same thrill grips architects. But when they imagine the apocalypse, they think: “Hmm, what massive thing could I design to prevent it?” Such was the premise of the Rising Tides Competition. Given that sea levels are expected to rise by at least 55 inches in the coming century, they invited anyone to envision a solution for saving San Francisco.

Today, the six winning entries were announced. Among them is a particularly wild-eyed proposal by architecture giant Skidmore Owings and Merrill (pictured above), which calls for a giant inflatable dam, suspended between the pylons of the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea is that during regular conditions, the “bladder” would be deflated, and rest on the bottom of the bay. But over time, tidal power generators would store energy, which would then be used to inflate the giant structure. They say it would only be needed intermittently, during the few times a year when the tidal surge gets extraordinarily high.

Some of the other proposals include a “ventilated levee” by Kuth Ranieri Architects, which would shunt a deluge into artificial estuaries; a plan by Derek James Hoeferlin that would use tidal power to power seawater desalination, with the fresh water going to cultivating artificial marshlands; and an enormous art installation by Thom Faulders, which would basically be a huge PSA. When it’s foggy, lasers would be used to project massive artificial dikes, thus showing the frightening interventions that would be required if we keep dithering on the problem.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that! You can view all of the winners here.


Related Stories:
The Fast Company 50 – 2009: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
“The Dazzling Architecture of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill” Slideshow

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.