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Move on: research-through-drawing for flood resilience at the Galveston coast, TX

Graduation work by Heleen van Boxelaere

In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast and despite ‘only’ being a category 2 storm Ike resulted in more than two dozen deaths and caused around $25 billion in damage. After Ike, concern was growing regarding the destructive storm surge and the flood risk at the barrier islands of the Galveston Bay, the petrochemical industries and the Port of Houston; the economic engine of the region.

As a result, a coastal barrier (among others) with floodgates and a set of dikes lining the Galveston Coast, was suggested to improve flood safety in the region.

[Fig. 2] Galveston and the barrier islands at the Texan Coast, USA.

[Fig. 3] Beach homes on stilts are lifted after the storm as a limited response to devastating storm surges

However, the Galveston Bay is an important estuary, pressurized by economic activities and residential development and the barrier islands are confronted with more threats than storm surge flooding alone. The problem identified here is that a coastal barrier gives little concern to the integration and response of flood protective measures to preconditions set by the landscape system. However, an alternative approach for Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula that emerges from and responds to the landscape system has not been fully explored yet. The purpose of this MSc thesis is to propose a strategy for flood resilience at Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula based on a profound analysis of the landscape system by research-through-drawing.

[Fig. 4] Research-through-drawing: an imaginative process to encourage analysis and new creative relationships

Research-through-drawing is a newly explored method of regional landscape analysis by freehand drawing. Freehand drawing is an imaginative process of representation that encourages analysis and the establishment of new creative relationships. By tracing and drawing information, data is both internalized and coded into a visual simultaneous language. This allows handling and understanding large amounts of information for further strategic design. Eventually, the Galveston Bay region has been explored in more than 70 drawings based on literature, interviews and site visits. Connections within the landscape system and connection between the landscape system and flood protection have been explored by drawing and concept mapping. The research resulted in guidelines for flood resilience at the Galveston Coast in line with the landscape system of the Galveston Bay region.

[Fig. 5] Masterplan for the city of Galveston calling to hold on with a multi-layered protection strategy over time

[Fig. 6] Masterplan for the barrier islands calling to let go with the long-term transition from residential to natural and recreational use

As a result, the strategic design for the Galveston coast distinguishes between to ‘hold on’ and to ‘let go’. For the city of Galveston [hold on], a dike ring around the city is suggested in combination with the improvement of the city’s public space. Over time, the (industrial) area outside the dike ring is transformed into a protective natural edge and contributes towards long-term flood protection. For Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula [let go], it is accepted that the barrier islands become less suitable for living and more suited for recreational and natural use. A transformation is suggested to decrease development and to increase natural attraction. More time for the transformation is created by slowing down the negative effects of the landscape processes with soft measures such as sand nourishments, wetland restoration and dune protection.

[Fig. 7] Design plan for the harbourside area combining flood defence and urban development

[Fig. 8] Section illustrating the harbouside area combining flood defence and urban development

[Fig. 9] Impression of the natural recreational transformation on the sensitive barrier island beaches

[Fig. 10] Impression of the bayside oyster reefs as a natural measure for flood safety in the bay

The strategy for flood resilience at Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula based on a profound analysis of the landscape system initiates long-term thinking and balances between landscape preconditions or opportunities and between hard/structural or soft/mitigating. It is not a ready-made solution, but an invitation to reconsider flood protection in a wider frame from a different perspective.

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