On Friday, May 26 from 5:30 -7:30pm, graduate students in RISD’s Interior Architecture program will present what they have been working on all spring semester: predictions for what sea level rise could really mean, and look like, in the city of Newport in the not too distant future.

According to accepted climate science, sea levels have risen 10″ along the coast of Rhode Island since 1930 and are expected to rise as much as 3′ over the next 50 years. This statistic is one that cannot be ignored, especially in Newport’s low-lying historic Point Neighborhood, which is home to one of the highest concentrations of original eighteenth-century houses in the state.

In April 2016, a 4-day conference titled Keeping History Above Water was organized by the Newport Restoration Foundation to address the challenges posed to historic buildings and neighborhoods from sea level rise and increasing storm activity. The conference emphasized practical approaches to protecting historic built environments in both the near and long term, at individual building, infrastructure, and policy levels. Keeping History Above Water: Newport featured an international slate of panelists with expertise in climate science, a wide range of knowledge in heritage preservation, and experience in community organizing around this increasingly urgent global concern.

Included in the conference was the presentation of a case study on the effects of sea level rise on one of Newport’s most significant historic properties—the Christopher Townsend House located at 74 Bridge Street in the Point Neighborhood. Recently acquired by the Newport Restoration Foundation, the house is located just two blocks inland from the Newport Harbor, at an intersection that sits only four feet above sea level.  74 Bridge Street is subject to tidal and groundwater flooding as well as storm surge and storm water runoff, so as storms continue to increase in frequency and strength and tidal levels continue to rise, 74 Bridge Street faces ever increasing levels of flooding. The case study, developed by the NRF in partnership with Union Studio Architecture & Community Design and Building Conservation Associates, considered potential flood scenarios and short and long term strategies for tackling the challenge of keeping this (and other houses like it) above water for years to come.

Expanding on the work begun with Keeping History Above Water: Newport, RISD Interior Architecture students were challenged to create their vision for adapting Newport’s Point Neighborhood over the next 80 years using the latest tools in 3-D modelling and augmented and virtual realities. Students developed phased proposals and renderings responding to sea level rise on Bridge Street, using the themes of Accommodate, Protect, Retreat, and Empower to guide their thinking. Ideas ranging from vertical city blocks to blue streets and canals have been considered. With the support of the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, this advanced design studio focused on five buildings on Bridge Street where questions around historic preservation, rising sea levels, and community collide.

On Friday, May 26 at 5:30 pm, the graduate students will share their design interventions for protecting Newport’s architectural heritage through an immersive experience in an open house at 74 Bridge Street. At this interactive event, you will be able to see the effects of sea level rise for yourself – and how this issue could be addressed at the macro and micro levels. Five different ideas will be presented using cutting edge virtual and augmented reality tools, such as Google Cardboard and a HTC VIVE headset, to help participants understand both the magnitude of the threat and newly imagined ways for historic neighborhoods to combat it. The prototype for a multi-player game intended to facilitate group decision making will also be available.

The event will be held on Friday, May 26 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at 74 Bridge Street, Newport RI, free of charge to the public. For more information, visit www.newportrestoration.org.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).