Changing Places - Re:silience  

The Middle Ground

The Middle Ground
By Supriya Krishnan
M.Sc Urbanism,
 University of Mumbai

Change is the only constant. Survival of the fittest is determined by the ability to adapt and grow. Abrupt changes due to natural or manmade hazards disrupt urban systems and hamper recovery to normalcy. More complex the system, the harder is it to adapt suitably. Hence, conventional urban planning deals with hazards by working to bounce back to the pre-existing situation post a disaster event by building protective infrastructure (dikes, dams, levees) and investing highly in rehabilitation after a disaster. Intensifying manifestations of climate risk lead to unforeseen cascading effects that often surpass the level of “protection” offered by this type of approach (e.g. Hurricane Katrina). In this thesis, a spatial planning methodology is developed that embraces uncertainties, including potential cascading effects. Critical infrastructure networks (transport, water, energy lines) are interdependent and embedded in space. The proposal spatially understands recovery patterns offered by these networks during a crisis to inform long term growth trajectories of the urban system that can ‘grow with risk’. The principal objective is mainstreaming the role of spatial planning for risk reduction. The test case utilized in the San Francisco Bay which is at risk of a 1.5 m sea level rise by 2100 and is a hotbed of seismic activity.

True to the philosophy of ‘Changing Places’, it challenges the current boundaries of decision making for metropolitan plans that focus on definitive quantitative estimates and shorter, realistic return periods to address risks. It utilizes systems thinking to determine extreme scenarios and long range planning to bounce forward in space to better cope with a disaster.


‘Let uncertainty not be an excuse for inaction’

Destruction and Displacement represents the face of natural disasters. Disasters have the power to wash away cities (Lisbon 1755, Antigua) and civilizations (Harappa). Hence, urban Planning is currently governed by fear of failure to cope with burgeoning changes. Climate and globalization are leading drives of shifting demographies. The increasing intensity of climate change related hazards highlights the need to shift perspectives from ‘planning for fear’ (reactive planning)  to ‘planning to embrace the uncertainty’ (proactive planning) brought by natural hazards. Building resilience needs to go “with” risk instead of against it. Understanding recovery patterns due to incremental risk on infrastructure helps derive the gradient of spatial vulnerability. This informs the ‘critical web’ of the urban region to reconfigure land management and density distribution. A coherent spatial assessment framework is established to identify the ‘middle ground’ that absorbs intensive growth and vulnerable sites that must transition for better adaptivity. The research highlights lack of cohesion in planning practice to pursue long term implementation strategies such as resilience in land use management, looking beyond building back’ and investing in incremental gain models that grow with risk .It aims to address this vital knowledge gap between engineering simulations and planning in the real world and how we can build a framework to sync them for long range risk reduction. The project acknowledges the inevitability of risks in space and finds ways to sustain life in the light of urgencies.

The changing place of architectural pracitce 

Architecture over the last decade has emerged as an instrument of changing ideologies. The way pieces of design are viewed has gone beyond the monumentality of the object itself to the role it plays in a broader context. Hence, humble but thoughtful interventions at the right places (public restrooms on freeways, multipurpose centers in deprived neighborhoods, bridges connecting diverse socio-economic districts, art interventions) have the power to kick start and transform ways of engaging. Successful practices of the future will imbibe the entirety of the problem as much as the richness of the object itself. Therein, lies the true power of design.


M.Sc Urbanism (TU Delft, Cum Laude with Honours) , B.Arch (University of Mumbai)

Supriya Krishnan was raised a working class neighborhood in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai where she also completed her professional degree in architecture. After a few years of work with renowned architectural and urban design practices in India, she received a full scholarship from TU Delft to pursue her post graduate degree in Urbanism (Cum Laude with Honours) with a focus on planning for resilience and water sensitive urbanism. Her masters thesis ‘The Middle Ground’ developed a methodology for spatial planning under uncertain climate hazards (flooding/earthquakes) which was graded 10 (Outstanding) in the Dutch grading system. Her research interests include designing “with” risk, coalescing quantitative and qualitative assessments to develop risk resilient city morphologies, long range planning and systems thinking for resilience. Supriya pursues writing, teaching and speaking assignments in the domain of design and risks and is currently associated with the National Disaster Management Authority India. She welcomes opportunities for research and interdisciplinary collaborations (coders, policy, flood/seismic engineers, mathematics) in the domain of future resilience for cities of the next century.