Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Lapping at the edges: A time-responsive exploration into coastal communities adaption to sea-level rise

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Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:44
Version 1 2021-12-09, 00:38
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:44 authored by D'Ath, Zoe

Global warming poses an increasingly relevant risk across the globe. Among one of these risks is sea-level rise. The total population exposed to flooding could triple from 50 million people to 150 million by the 2070s due to sea-level rise and increased occurrence of storms, subsidence, population growth and urbanisation (Adeyeye & Emmitt, 2017). Projections suggest that managing a 2°C rise in temperature, as per the Paris Agreement, will still cause a rise of 0.36 to 0.87m by 2100. Sea-level rise is a lagged representation of the effects of rising temperatures. This response time is considered in the research and design process timelines.  ‘Lapping at the edges’ proposes a design strategy that reinvents architecture and living environments to respond to sea-level rise. This proposition explores how design, as both a process and outcome, can encourage a shift in mentality from defending against, to engaging with water.   Two processes have driven this research. ‘The Execution’ explores flooding and sea-level rise and considers how to respond to this. Reviewed literature and case study analysis provided categories of architectural typologies. The adaptability criteria allows for cross-comparative analyses of each case study and how successful their respective proposals are at being adaptable. The Palette of Solutions proposed in this thesis is a library of urban and architectural ideas designed to rethink urban environments and their relationship to water. These ideas can be realised over time and in diverse arrangements for a myriad of scenarios and settings. ‘The Idea’ refers to how adaptability can be applied to urban development - exploring the maximum alternatives with design iterations.   Adaptability, informed by the literature review and the creation of the timeline, is analysed through ‘The Execution’. The methodology analyses how the ‘execution’ and ‘idea’ can complement one another, creating a back and forth of research methods and design methods to execute the final idea.   The design proposes a series of changes over 70 years, from 2030 to 2100, resulting in The Hub. An idea that allows modification for most settings provides a vision of the future of coastal architecture, applied to the context of Kilbirnie, Wellington. This thesis is presented in chronological order, to showcase the progression of beliefs, lifestyle, behaviour and architecture accordingly. Projections of living with water create catalysts for adaptive urban development. The Hub proposes floating infrastructure that combines architecture and urban design techniques. Integrating these solutions into a circular economy concept generate prosperity long-term. This research is utilised as a comprehensive study on sea-level rise, and the responsive design opportunities that are possible. The Hub is a representation of the possibilities of sea-level rise and responsive architectural solutions. The research has achieved the intention to generate awareness of the impacts of sea-level rise and create criteria which encourage a different approach to these dynamic living environments.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


de Sylva, Shenuka