Reversed Risk

Protective | Productive cycle based on tidal force in estuarine territories

More Info


Reversed risk
With more than 80% of Thames River banks transformed into concrete storm walls, with the Thames Barrier in place since the 70s, the dynamic tidal force is persistently causing storm surge flooding and flash floods throughout London’s dense urban areas, putting the UK coastline as a priority area among the North Sea adjoined territories – both from the point of view of event frequency but also of prospective impact. Based on this assumption, one might consider the flood adaptation strategy as a priority point on the governance list, however, the Environment Agency’s funding for maintaining flood assets has fallen by 14% nationally. Recent press investigations undertaken by The financial Times quote John Pettigrew as he raises a pressing point on the British investment agenda - ‘It is important that the UK is seen as a place that is attractive to inward investment. In terms of the energy sector, a lot of infrastructure needs to be built in the UK over the next few years. Post-Brexit, it is important that it is coming in.’ Looking further into the matter, while flood defence seems to lose importance on the hierarchical chain of monetary distribution, current trends in the energy field are attracting increasing capital in the UK’s national strategy. As a consequence and if inundated, the Greater Thames Estuary region which currently contains 1 million properties would suffer direct damage of at least £ 97.8 billion at 2003 prices.

Surely, the planning focus shift Is justified as the North Sea is facing an era of fossil fuel depletion and the overpriced electricity bills urgently demand the transition to clean, renewable sources. In this matter, the UK is a leading power with the most extensive exclusive economic zone coverage, with intensive fossil fuel extraction platforms that are currently being transformed into energy farms throughout the continental shelf, creating a new ground for exploring a projective dimension for productive landscapes triggered by the ocean dynamics, a possible paradigm for extraction that focuses on the potential of the contiguous maritime zone as well as the territorial sea as main generators. Additionally, the focus of the thesis supports another conceptual shift – from the recent focus of sustainability in the advancement of human development (Keenan and Weisz, 2016) to the necessity to change current behaviors in favor of a conscious awareness of the externalities of society’s unrestrained consumption (Bowen and Hepburn, 2014) – or in simpler phrasing, a new paradigm focused on the sustainability of resources and raw materials to be allocated to the promotion of resilience of the status quo and the adaptation of societies, economies, ecologies ( Keenan and Weisz, 2016).

Already shifting the focus of energy production to the maritime territories that engage in exchanges with the land, we are discussing implicitly coastal flood strategies. From a theoretical point of view, there would be a clear interdependency between the particularity of the territorial sea hydrodynamics and the coastal adaptive response to risk. However, the UK planning system regard these issues as separate entities, under separate departments, directly subordinated to Her Majesty, The Queen. From the central government level, to the regional, county and village level, flood risk and energy efficiency run parallel under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [ BEIS ] and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [ DEFRA ], while spatial planning is addressed through a different branch - the Department for Communities and Local Government [ DCLG ], thus making any communication hard if not unlikely.
On this note, the thesis is trying to converge these fields into a coherent, integrated new approach – flood risk and energy transition pressure – putting forward a strategy for extraction in estuarine waters, that would require a control body to involve the highlighted departments and ensure the pairing up between policy, investment and the department in charge. Thus, this thesis looks beyond the 2030 effective lifespan of the Thames Barrier and explores an alternative system of hybrid infrastructure that can reverse the flood risk factor towards a profitable tidal energy source, creating a protection/production cycle, simultaneously defending and “fuelling” the city as well as retrieving its original investment. Practically, understanding natural forces value, paired with adaptive capacity patterns builds up towards the gradient of spatial and performance suitability. This creates a system of critical intervention areas directly supporting and conserving their anthropic activity within the urban system. A coherent spatial assessment framework which results in critical location identification and a paired governance implementation model, followed by a design approach zooming into a transitional system – from restrictive, regeneration urban area, to natural protected landscapes. As a result, this hybrid approach to protective infrastructure boosts the regional economy through the overlaid programme pairing, promoting an agricultural transition to aquaculture and energetically self-providing urban district.