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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Architects discuss how to respond effectively to inevitable sea level rise

Presenters at the workshop emphasized the need to define professional practice, think and plan long term, establish new criteria and safety margins and, above all, actively update the regulations and tools currently used by architecture professionals to deal with flooding and rising sea levels.

By John McPhaul

Concluding that sea level rise is unstoppable, the Architects and Landscape Architects Association of Puerto Rico (CAAPPR by its Spanish initials) held a workshop Tuesday entitled: “Visualizing a Desirable Future in Anticipation of Sea Level Rise,” during which the participants presented their responses to a problem that concerns everyone and that it is urgent to address.

The workshop led by architect Fernando Pabón, oceanographer John Englander and Gilberto Guevara was part of the activities at the CAAPPR’s 44th Annual Convention, where professionals were eager to discuss how to face the problem from the perspective of architectural design.

Among the alternatives presented on how to educate the general public as well as government authorities about a problem that poses an imminent threat, the presenters highlighted that it is essential to define professional practice, learn to differentiate a temporary flood from a permanent one, think and plan long term, establish new criteria and safety margins and, above all, actively update the regulations and tools currently used by architecture professionals to deal with the issue of flooding and rising sea levels.

Englander stressed to those present that the atmosphere is changing rapidly and trapping more heat, and glaciers are melting both in Antarctica and Greenland, increasing sea levels and changing the contour of the coasts.

“Even if we achieve 100 percent solar energy today, the sea level will continue to change,” he said in a written statement. “We must rethink our relationship with the coast, since models indicate that 6% of Puerto Rico’s territory could be under water by the end of the century. You have to start thinking differently and designing correctly in anticipation of an additional 10-foot rise in sea level.”

Faced with this worrying scenario, Pabón, manager of the Caribbean Center for Sea Level Rise, asked his colleagues what measures they are currently using to remedy the rise in sea level, what tools are commonly used in their practices to achieve that objective, and what the goals are for a desirable future.

“We want Puerto Rico to be an example and plan ahead so that in 100 years we won’t question why sea level rise was not taken into account when designing architecture,” Pabón said. “We must review our historical past, and nuance it with new tools that are sustained in the face of coastal flooding, storms, rains and runoff, among other problems, in order to build a desirable future.”

After dividing into groups, participants presented their solutions, including reviewing public policies, updating building codes, offering economic incentives and revaluing the land to begin to face and adapt to a future that is drawing near.

CAAPPR President Margarita Frontera Muñoz stressed that “the reconstruction and revitalization of cities in Puerto Rico must take into account the rise in sea level as an undeniable and direct effect of climate change and global warming.”

“For this reason, the CAAPPR governing board believed it necessary to address the issue from different points of view with the intention of analyzing how prepared our cities, infrastructure and projects near the coast are, and how they will be affected by the imminent increase in water levels from the sea.”

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