Remembering Change: An Architectural Response to Rising Sea Levels

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


A rising sea level threatens historic buildings and towns that tie together the collective identity of a community, but because the disaster is often prolonged and the loss occurs all around us, the current model for memorials will not accommodate the grief the future holds. Memorials are meant to aid in remembering and often point to a specific event or place where a historic event happened. If the loss is ongoing and happening everywhere, the memorial will need to adapt and address more universal concepts to be inclusive. A memorial can no longer simply point to a moment in the past. They must help educate about important issues and experiences that impact daily life. Future memorials need to address diverse narratives and complex histories to remain relevant when cultural values shift. There is an architectural opportunity to reflect on more universal experiences that are on-going and affect everyone, but these memorials need to operate at a local level to make big issues, like climate change, more digestible. By focusing on one symptom, like sea level rise, and using a specific instance of loss as the backdrop, visitors can experience the profound impact of climate change firsthand. The Historic Point Lookout Lighthouse will become the site for a new theoretical tidal park and climate change memorial. It will memorialize what has been lost to rising sea levels and heighten visitors' awareness of their own relationships to water. The design will present the dynamics of water in the short term, mid term, and long term to make the subtle changes of rising sea levels evident. The site will transform over the course of the day with tidal action, over the years with material weathering, and over the decades with sea level rise. Locals will have a place to return to as the surrounding area is swallowed by the bay and they are forced to relocate. The building itself will act as a metaphorical anchor and storytelling device, marking the place that experienced a historical and cultural erasure because of rising sea levels. As the building changes and transforms with the landscape, it will become embedded in the collective identity of the Bay and the memories of its visitors.



Sea level rise, Climate Change, Memory, Memorial, Weathering