Public Works: A Flood Wall With Artistry and Environmentalism
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Public Works: A Flood Wall With Artistry and Environmentalism

How necessary infrastructure can be more than simply functional

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

A photo of the Metamorphous flood wall. Courtesty of Paul Sangha Landscape Architects.

The downside to living beside an ocean, it turns out, is that sometimes that ocean serves up King Tides—multi-metre rises in water level apt to flood out anything too close to shore.

So in 2012, after their bay-front property had been badly damaged, a couple on Vancouver’s English Bay contracted landscape architects to build them a flood wall.

What they got was a jagged, ragged, 36-metre steel construction with a design inspired by B.C.’s rock formations.

It wasn’t just a flight of artistic fancy, though. The angular, jutting wall was designed to break incoming waves and affect how sand is deposited along the shore line, so that it reinforces what’s already there. Along with boulders placed in front of the wall, the odd shapes create a more welcoming habitat for plants and animals.

The designers called it “Metamorphous” and, as the name implies, it turned the standard brutish concrete shore wall into a visually appealing, more practical piece of infrastructure and art.

Toronto doesn’t have a seawall per se but it does have the interminable industrial slips of the lakefront, the brutal-looking casing around the lower Don River, and the concrete banks and bed of the Black Creek Flood Channel.

These are necessary pieces of infrastructure, but no one is going to suggest they look good or provide an especially a nurturing natural environment for flora or fauna.

As Metamorphous  demonstrated, though, necessity can co-exist with environmentalism and aestheticism.

Toronto is in the midst of re-evaluating and re-imagining its waterfront. That includes the potential for some extensive naturalization and flood protection work around the mouth of the Don.

Here’s hoping the brains in charge embrace the spirit of that flood-weary Vancouver couple and their landscape architects.