Situated at the water’s edge in former wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, the Port of Baltimore is part of a complex estuarine environment where legacies of labor, innovation, and ecological justice overlap with contemporary issues of public health, rising seas, and industry. Every year in this dynamic environment, natural and anthropogenic sedimentation processes infill waterways and navigation channels critical to the operation of the port, creating an economic and cultural imperative to remove 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment from the Baltimore Harbor. But this material is also the building blocks for restored wetlands, living shorelines, and community space at the water’s edge and may offer a primary defense against the rising threat of storm surge and sea level rise.
Recent innovations in sediment classification and management have created an opportunity to rethink dredge material not as a waste product to be dealt with, but as a resource for ecosystems and harbor communities, as a basic building block of the city, and a primary agent in environmental adaptation. Simultaneously, imperatives to restore important shoreline habitat, create and maintain open space that contributes to public health, and develop innovative strategies to combat rising sea levels and storm surge are getting stronger. Despite this, significant barriers to the innovative use of dredge material persist. Foremost among these is public perception, and the dominance of conventional engineering approaches to sediment management, which emphasize material performance and discount the importance of form. Some of these challenges may be overcome through landscape design research that positions projects not only as a technical solution to a problem, but as a spatial proposition to create a public good. The opportunity to create living shorelines as a public landscape within the Baltimore Harbor may offer a way to combat challenges by capitalizing on recent advances while positioning dredge material as a means to create low-cost public spaces that improve public and ecological health over time.
The central inquiry of the studio is how can dredge material create a plastic language for Baltimore's coastal landscapes of the future? Some questions that follow from this include, how can dredge material be re-purposed as a resource for creating public landscapes, living shorelines, and urban development in Baltimore Harbor to improve ecosystem resilience, public health, and economic stability? Where are the high priority areas for sediment reuse based on the intersection of urban morphology, harbor bathymetry, and ecosystem potential? What are the analytical and modeling tools to help determine the highest and best use of dredge material in the harbor? What are the spatial implications for the landscape creation using sediments with differing characteristics? This studio builds on work by the Maryland Port Administration and the Mahan Rykiel internship program to establish priority sites and explore prototypes for innovative dredge material reuse. Led by Professor of the Built Environment Brian Davis in the Fall 2017 as a 1st semester 3rd year MLA studio. Click to enlarge images of student work.