Towards the close of every semester, University of Virginia School of Architecture students pin up culminating work and celebrate their studio’s collective effort in a short-lived final review-style exhibition in Campbell Hall. Yet, for one advanced research studio taught last fall by Assistant Professor Michael Luegering, students’ final presentations took a slightly different form.
Last week, Luegering traveled to southern Massachusetts’ New Bedford Art Museum to see his students’ projects featured in the exhibition Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas. The studio investigated the changing nature of sites throughout Fairhaven, New Bedford’s neighboring port town.
The exhibition, as well as Luegering’s studio are part of a larger initiative called Envision Resilience Challenge, developed in 2020 by the nonprofit Remain Nantucket. The multi-university design studio and community engagement effort connects interdisciplinary student teams with coastal communities to envision creative pathways forward in the face of climate change. The 2023 Envision Resilience New Bedford and Fairhaven Challenge marks the third iteration of the program.
Luegering and his 13 students—a combination of graduate landscape architecture, graduate urban design, and undergraduate architecture students—were one of seven university teams involved in this past year’s Envision Resilience Challenge. Joining UVA, are cohorts from Howard University, Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Florida, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (roughly 175 total students) that spent the fall 2023 semester working with the communities of Fairhaven and New Bedford.
Their charge? To develop, propose and present innovative concepts for adapting to the intersecting issues of rising sea levels, affordable housing, port infrastructure, equitable neighborhoods, shoreline restoration and energy and mobility. The exhibition Designs for Living with Rising Seas gives a glimpse into how art, design, and planning students up and down the Atlantic Coast are taking a creative approach to addressing the most pernicious and imminent problems faced by coastal communities in a warming climate.
New Bedford and Fairhaven have a long history of collaborative and resilient planning efforts, guided by local leaders, officials and environmental organizations. Each student team worked with numerous community members and local groups to best understand the unique history, challenges, systems and cultures of the towns. “We are thrilled to share with the Fairhaven and New Bedford communities the outcomes of this year’s Envision Resilience Challenge, as they were instrumental in inspiring and shaping the students' designs,” said Cecil Barron Jensen, executive director of Remain Nantucket.
Many of the local collaborators turned out for the exhibition opening, including Paul Pawlowski, a New Bedford-based architect and UVA School of Architecture alum who engaged with Luegering’s studio last fall. “Paul generously gave his time to attend our mid-review and to discuss the studio approach with me,” said Luegering. “[Paul] was impressed with the depth, range, and creativity of the students' final projects and their willingness to engage the tangible challenges and unique cultural characteristics of Fairhaven.”
Underlying the exhibition, and central to Luegering’s approach to teaching design strategies for a resilient climate future, is a sense of optimism. In this recent video article by The New Bedford Light, Luegering said, “a big feature of our work pedagogically was thinking how we can relay a sense of optimism and a sense of compassion around how the community was experiencing change. It’s one thing to come visit a place and say ‘if you put something over here it will solve this immediate problem.’ That’s not really what we were here to do. We really wanted to try to design infrastructure that was invested in and formed in the culture in which it was serving.”
Wrestling with topics like salt water infiltration, coastal erosion, property loss and migration is not for the faint-hearted. Luegering said he is most proud of his students for taking on these issues “with optimism and a dedication to iterating through design ideas. They avoided restoration in favor of an adaptive ecological approach, and that was fantastic.”
For Remain Nantucket’s project manager Claire Martin, one of the most exciting pieces of the Designs for Living with Rising Seas exhibition is the diversity and breadth of approaches taken by the student teams. She told The New Bedford Light, “the projects reflect the interconnectedness of the challenges we face globally, nationally, regionally on a daily basis. For everyone who comes to see the work, they can find something that resonates with them.”
Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas is on view at the New Bedford Art Museum through March 24 and includes the following UVA School of Architecture participants:
Mariya Anwar (MUD ‘23)
Frances Carraway (BS Arch ‘24)
Twisha Gandhi (MUD ‘23)
Vishal Jayan (MUD ‘23)
Zao Liu (MUD ‘23)
Shunan Na (MLA ‘24)
Chris Parschalk (MUD ‘23)
Emma Potter (MLA ‘24)
Jack Ruff (BS Arch ‘24)
Xinyi Shao (MLA ‘24)
Zoque Wahid (MUD ‘23)
John Ward (MUD ‘23)
Pandora Zhang (BS Arch ‘24)
Michael Luegering, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture