The Future of Provincetown
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︎The Future of Provincetown

December 2018

Instructor: Preston Scott Cohen
TA: Anthony Kai-hong Chu

Featured on Cape Code Times
Rarely does the threat of global warming provide the impetus to speculate intensely on a community’s character at the architectural scale. Provincetown provides such a case. Sea level rise portends not only the loss of the city’s particular form of historically determined intricacy, but also the spontaneity and continuity of the many grandfathered codes that once governed its small scaled structures. As an architectural project at the urban scale, the rigor of this project lies in the boundary between the old city and the new urbanism, rather than developing a evolutionary language for the new urbanism.

Provincetown’s fine grained character and unusual way of life will be preserved in this speculative proposal by way of reconstructing the city onto floating blocks. This technical-preservationist take on sea level rise suggests a method to tackle an imtimately scaled urban typology with especially small streets, narrow sidewalks, and subtle updates to houses with historic staircases that do not meet current codes.
Owing to its scale and density, the city’s public and private social relationships are more significantly determined by the character of porches, doorways, fenestration and interior spatial sequences than is typical of modern cities. Many of the city’s public and private spaces are so entangled that they seem to be codified spontaneously, not regulated prescriptively.

Take for example the way people circulate during the peak summer months; Commercial Street, the main street threatened to be segmented by future sea level rise, is commonly taken over by pedestrians, cyclists and performers, even as cars and delivery trucks slowly make their way through.The situation often appears to be totally unmanaged. Every night, when the bars and clubs close, crowds swell spontaneously in front of Spiritus Pizza, the only after-hours establishment, making the street virtually impassable.

Render, 200x100ft landscaping unit overlooking center cluster

In this particular proposal, two out of three general strategies for confronting sea level rise are emphasized: attack and defend. Attack, which involves building against the current shoreline out over the water and deploying floating devices; defense is manifested by fortifying, dredging, and bulkheads that interfaces with said floating platforms.

Provincetown’s scale and intimacy—in addition to being reflected by the town’s architectural language—reached its current state through a harmonious amalgamation of many historical factors. This includes its significant history of floaters: fishermen built their houses on stilts so they can be moved onto barges and relocated along the shoreline as fishing grounds get depleted. This continued all the way to the end of 19th century. In 1890, the last house in Long Point relocated to East End, rejoining the city limits of Provincetown.

The town is also known for its prevalent art culture and the many forms it takes, as depicted by various artists including Edward Hopper. The scenes of the town is rendered distinctly different under the brush of each artist; whether it be Hopper’s stark contrasts on its gentle hills, or Principato’s pastel tones of its cascading rooflines. Lastly, it is known for its ever-changing streetscape with a pulsating boundary between what is a public street and private properties. Each homeowner represents themselves through their front porch: some comlpetely open and accessible, some recessed and fenced, while others are fully shielded by plants and creepers. It is only fitting that the new proposal respects and continues to build upon the town’s unique way of life.
Four floating clusters, isolated, at +15ft rise configuration
Four floating clusters, isolated, at +15ft rise configuration

This project proposes replacing lost land by way of plugging large floating platforms into an eroding shoreline. Floating platforms provide a large enough area to preserve Provincetown’s picturesque qualities and spaciousness, as well as the possibility to relocate historic structures on board, lengthening their life-cycle (especially previous floaters). The platforms will be manufactured off shore and docked into pre-excavated slots along the waterfront of Provincetown, with a masterplan arrangement potentially changed at 4 phases: +10ft, 15ft, 20ft and 25ft respectively. Each configuration contains platforms of various sizes, typically 200x100ft, 200x200ft and 200x400ft barges, with smaller custom sizes manufactured as connector pieces that bridge between the old city and the new floating urbanism. Customized Units primarily include utility units that facilitate infrastructure on the floating units.

Top: 200x100ft EPS Concrete Unit with landscaping. Besides its New England style homes, Provincetown is also known for its sand dunes, flora and fauna; the landscaping floaters account for lost patches of nature while carrying an embedded irrigation system as well as the infrastructure to interface with neighboring sewage and trash systems.

Bottom: 200x200ft EPS Concrete Unit. This typical floater contains mixed residential and commercial houses with their foundation cast as part of the unit’s structure. Each unit contains an on-board pneumatic trash system where residents can manually deposit into from surface terminals. They also feature potable water and sewage pipes of which flows automatically to the water treatment unit when connected to a larger cluster.

Site Axon, labelled by functions and programs

1. Pneumatic Trash Delivery Terminal

The vacuum trash delivery system is interconnected between all floating units within a cluster. Each cluster requires a regional pressurizer to generate enough suction for trash to flow through. Waste is divided into four categories: biowaste, mixed waste, cardboard and paper. Each type of waste is sucked into the terminal separately, and from a specific waste container, one unit at a time.

2. Mooring Unit with Pile Foundation

Each cluster is held in place by 1-2 large pile foundations (depending on size of cluster), working like dolphin structures that hold and prevent ships from crashing into a dock. When the cluster configuration reshuffle, the existing piles get extended to accommodate the new height.

3. Bulkhead Control-Connector

This pie-shaped unit is a multi-functional bulkhead structure built into the seabed. Its triangular shape acts primarily to reorient the grid of the floating units so they can maintain perpendicular to the waves and retain Provincetown’s crescent profile. It also bridges surface circulation and houses the water control office as well as water treatment tanks.

4. Peripheral Connector Unit

The peripheral connector units are semi-floating units that integrate the town’s old water and sewage system into the on-board pipes on the floating units. They also facilitate the exchange of surface circulation for pedestrians and cars. Peripheral connectors can host other programs such as extra parking space, water treatment and accommodate surface elevation changes.

This video outlines the response phase between a 10ft rise adapting to a 15ft rise. The existing docks will be submerged in a 10ft rise. The first phase begins by re-establishing access points, then demarcating the perimeter of bulkheads to be excavated, and finally docking the floating EPS concrete blocks and connecting their infrastructures: surface traffic circulation and internal trash and sewage systems. The second phase rearranges and reintegrates blocks in the first phase.

Full Site Model: 16ft x 6.5ft