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BAC Students Design a Resilient Lynn

Resilient Lynn Studio Class Photo, from left to right: Arlen Stawasz, Ashlee Madrigal, Karen Sutin, Estalin Cambisaca, Heather Cunningham, Cyrille Futcha, Noah Geupel, Peter Fletcher, Autumn Waldron, Tyler Hinckley

In the fall of 2016, 10 Boston Architectural College (BAC) students were part of the Architecture Studio III: Sitework/Resiliency course led by instructors Arlen Stawasz and Tyler Hinckley of Perkins + Will (P+W) Boston. In April 2017, the students' work was turned into an exhibit by the Lynn Museum. The BAC spoke with two of the students, Heather Cunningham and Noah Geupel, both masters of architecture candidates, about their Resilient Lynn project and how it felt to be part of an exhibit.

How did this particular project come about, specifically looking at the city of Lynn?

Noah: Arlen and Tyler came up with the idea to use Lynn's waterfront district (Southeast of Route 1A) as the project site. Living close to the site, both Arlen and Tyler were well aware of its missed potential, as well as the significant vulnerabilities it faced due to climate change. The 2007 redevelopment master plan from Sasaki Architects (never realized), and the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corporation's (EDIC) 2016 Lynn Coastal Resiliency Assessment provided the basis for the studio work.

Heather: The studios' goal was to address the concept of resiliency as it relates to design at both the micro and macro scale. The Lynnway (Route 1A) is currently acting as a barrier between the coast and inner city, and due to the proximity of the coastline, this site is at a high risk to future sea level rise. We used this opportunity of redevelopment to also address some of the economic, social, and environmental issues of the area.

What was the process for coming up with a design?

Noah: Our research focused on the vulnerabilities the site faced through the "SEE" lenses of resiliency: Social, Economic, and Environmental. We then took to iterating ideas for a comprehensive master plan for the site that would address the key vulnerabilities we had identified in our research.

Heather: We wanted to answer questions like, "What is the best way to lay out a street grid?", "What can we do about the barrier the Lynnway is causing?", and "How do we effectively address the issue of sea level rise?"

Noah: Looking at the issue of sea level rise, using an average of six feet of sea level rise by the year 2050 (a conservative estimate given the latest updates in global climate analysis), vulnerabilities included: destruction of land and property; flooding of key infrastructure elements such as a landfill, wastewater treatment plant, natural gas facility, and electric power station; and the obstruction of a regional North-South transit artery, Route 1A.

Heather: After a few weeks of independent analysis we all came to get together to establish a final master plan which addressed our concerns and personal visions for the site.

Describe the comprehensive plan designed by the class.

Noah: First, we introduced a network of floodable canals and greenways that paralleled our proposed network of roads and pathways and allowed water to be introduced in a controlled way. The canal/greenway network would provide relief in the event of flooding from a storm surge while simultaneously creating new, accessible, and valuable waterfront real estate.

Next, we considered the edge conditions where the site met the water. At the northern end, we extended and reinforced an existing bulkhead and integrated it with a boardwalk system that allowed public waterfront access. In the middle of the site (where the bulkhead condition to the north was completely eroded), we introduced a landscaped berm that softened the edge and provided a generous waterfront park while also acting as a barrier to elevated sea levels and blocking potential storm surge events. At the southern end, the berm receded into an expanded wetlands area at the mouth of the Saugus River that would increase natural habitats for local flora and fauna and help alleviate flooding.

To ensure the public is invested in the project we also needed to make it accessible. We resolved that by identifying several key intersections. The street and pathway network of our master plan extended several existing roads (that had ended at the Lynnway) onto our site as ways to link the existing downtown area with the waterfront site.

After developing our master plan, we divided into three groups focused on three separate projects that responded to the key vulnerabilities we had identified in our research. These included a school (to address the struggling public education system in the region), a wastewater treatment facility (to replace the existing one and to envision a new approach to this process and its connotative associations), and an emergency response center (to spread awareness of the SEE vulnerabilities and to act as a resilient community center).

Tell us about these designs: What are some of the proposed changes and how will they benefit Lynn?

Heather: My team developed The Lynn Wastewater Renewal Center, which is a new building type that uses the existing wastewater treatment facility to reimagine a new system that combines traditional wastewater treatment, a natural marsh, pond systems, and a biofuel generator to produce clean drinking water and steam powered electricity. The building acts as transitional interception connecting the hard edge of the mixed use urban context on one end and the natural, more irregular form of the berm and ocean on the other. By nesting the building on the opposing side of the berm, we created a cove which nurtures an ecological development within the site.

The building responds to environmental changes by adapting during storm surges by using operable smart louvers that can close to protect the glass from impact during flooding. The ponds are then protected by using smaller built up berms to prevent wastewater from leaking onto the site, and the land absorbs rainwater and seawater through the soft marsh land.

Our goal was to create a visible and iconic building which would act as a symbol of renewable resources within the community and would be a welcoming and inviting site to encourage people to move across the site, educating themselves on sea level rise, the ecological struggles of Lynn, and sustainable wastewater treatment alternatives. The hope is that by providing renewable energy and resources to the city, the Lynn Wastewater Renewal Center would become a community asset.

Noah: My team was tasked with the design of the school. Our research exposed the vulnerabilities of Lynn's public schooling system: overcrowding, limited resources and facilities, and a low matriculation rate for higher education. Our design for a high school of the future aimed to address these vulnerabilities while also furthering the goal of resiliency.

While our final design was not a wholly worked out school ready to move into CD's (construction documents), it embodied a well-thought out collection of ideas addressing the social, environmental, and economic vulnerabilities of the region, as well as a new approach to education, while still conforming to a strong concept.

Were you pleased with the designs that your groups came up with?

Noah: Yes. Although the topics of resiliency and education are vast and were by no means "solved" by our design, I was proud of the ideas we managed to develop into a cohesive and complete project, and of the work we were able to accomplish.

Heather: I believe this is one of the strongest projects I have ever been a part of. Wastewater is not typically an exciting building or process, but with modern technology, education, and science, we believed we could use the power of design to help reverse the effects of climate change to make a difference. The most rewarding feedback we received in our review was when the reviewers said we had made them excited about wastewater!

How did it feel to see your work on exhibit in the Lynn Museum?

Noah: Fantastic! It was great to see our work featured and to see and hear the response of local residents. It was a great opportunity and one that I believe will play a formative role in the development of my professional career.

Heather: I live in New Hampshire and with finals right around the corner and a full work schedule, I was unable to attend the opening night. I did however have the opportunity to see it the following weekend on my own time and the sheer presentation of my work being presented in a gallery was a very exciting feeling.

How did the City of Lynn respond to your ideas/proposed plans?

Heather: The city seemed very impressed with the amount of work our studio was able to produce in such a short amount of time. They were also with impressed with the diversity in the designs and the research we provided for all of our decisions.

Noah: The local residents appreciated the thoroughness of our master plan and were receptive to the potential SEE vulnerabilities facing their homes. Although there was some confusion over the lack of housing and commercial development in our designs, they were receptive to the idea that our three projects could act as catalysts to the overall development of the site, and that the housing and commercial development was actually a secondary concern.

What was it like to work with and learn from Arlen and Tyler from Perkins + Will?

Noah: Great! They were able to push us to develop projects that were responsive to the significant real-world vulnerabilities we had uncovered in our initial research without dictating the course of our designs. They encouraged us to explore the problems from different perspectives and to let our designs develop in response. They provided a collection of resources and techniques (including the P+W model building workshop!) that allowed us to push our research and our representations to an exceptional level that we could all be proud of.

Heather: Their employment at Perkins + Will provided access to their office, which was an incredible experience for myself since I've never had the opportunity to work in a large office. They had excellent networking around the city and consistently provided us with solid constructive feedback. Arlen and Tyler have very different approaches to the design process and they taught on different days, so I believe their opposing opinions forced us to think outside our comfort zone and consistently challenged our intentions.

What are your architectural/design goals after you graduate?

Heather: I am currently working towards licensure, being only a few months away from the completion of my Intern Development Program hours (IDP's). After, I hope to explore my options through more global humanitarian projects. My plan includes traveling to Haiti in January where I will assist with the construction of houses destroyed by the devastating 2010 earthquake. My interests are in underdeveloped areas, disaster relief, sustainability, and alternative fuel, and I hope to find employment which will allow me to pursue these interests.

Noah: Having worked at a small, high-end residential firm for over three years, and with one more year at the BAC, I want to work for a larger firm with a more diverse work portfolio. Eventually, I like to envision founding and running a firm with friends, colleagues, and other BAC alumni.

Resilient Lynn Vision Plan

Resilient Lynn Emergency Response Center

Resilient Lynn High School

Resilient Lynn Wastewater Renewal Center