Students at RISD imagine how a climate change museum in New York City could reclaim a vulnerable site

Dean's List East Environment Sustainability
(Courtesy Erin Graham, RISD)

(Courtesy Erin Graham, RISD)

James Hansen, one of the world’s preeminent climate scientists, has issued an alarming new paper about the impacts of climate change—and the findings are way worse than what anyone expected. According to Hansen and the team of 16 scientists he worked with, sea levels could rise up to 10 feet over the next 50 years. “Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating,” conclude the scientists. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Exchange Place during Hurricane Sandy. (Flickr / wallyg)

Exchange Place during Hurricane Sandy. (Flickr / wallyg)

If Hansen’s predictions are right then many American coastal cities would be uninhabitable—but not everyone in the scientific community is convinced that they are. (The paper is not peer-reviewed and predicts a significantly more dire climate reality than the consensus agreed upon by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change.)

With the clock ticking, perhaps faster than previously imagined, Miranda Massie, the founder of the Climate Change Museum Launch Project, is attempting to raise awareness about the changing climate with a museum solely dedicated to the issue. The institution, the largest of its kind, would be located in New York City. Massie said she wants to have it up and running by the end of the decade—a good idea considering that sea levels continue to rise, drop by drop.

(CourtesyHanson Cheng, RISD)

(Courtesy Hanson Cheng, RISD)

(Courtesy Xinru Liu, RISD)

(Courtesy Xinru Liu, RISD)

The New York Times reported that “the New York museum would aim to attract at least a million visitors a year and seek to influence the world, including political leaders in the United States. At the end of the tour, visitors would be encouraged to volunteer their time to help groups that are trying to address climate change: doing anything from making calls on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council to volunteering to help elect a candidate who is determined to reduce carbon emissions.”

There are no immediate plans to start work on the project, but Next City reported that the New York State Board of Regents has granted the Climate Change Museum a five-year provisional charter. As for the building’s eventual design, students at RISD have some ideas.

Anne Tate, a professor of architecture at the school who is married to Massie’s cousin, tasked her students with coming up with visions for the institution. The students were given a vacant site in Lower Manhattan that is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

(Courtesy Jasmine Hwang, RISD)

(Courtesy Jasmine Hwang, RISD)

“One student proposed to build a cavernous stormwater catchment system beneath the building,” Next City explained. “Another proposed a smaller footprint and returned the rest of the site to wetlands. Many of the designs include solar panels, some incorporated urban farms, and all were sensitive to energy loads and orientation.” All of the students proposals can be found here.

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