Are you concerned about climate change? Do you want visual evidence that it is actually happening? Do you live in a coastal community? Are you passionate about photography? If you answer yes to any (or all) of these questions, I highly recommend that you pay a visit to the Annenberg Space for Photography, one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. Sink or Swim: Designing for a Sea Change is a fascinating exhibition currently on display at the Annenberg, and features work from well-known fine art, news and architectural photographers Iwan Baan, Jonas Bendiksen, Paula Bronstein and Stephen Wilkes. The images selected for the exhibit explore the issue of building for resilience in the face of climate change and sea level rise in particular. The photographs capture efforts to adapt for survival as well as ambitious infrastructure planning in a variety of coastal communities, ranging from the Kurigram District in Bangladesh to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans to the Netherlands. Because photo-taking is not allowed inside the facility (and rightly so), here is my best attempt to describe and highlight the images that stood out the most to me:
Floating Schools in Bangladesh
One of my favorite images captures children of poor families in the severely flood-prone Pabna area of Bangladesh attending classes in one of the floating schools (classrooms in boats) created by architect Mohammed Rezwan and his non-profit organization Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. I was inspired and touched to learn that the children were still able and eager to learn amidst difficult living conditions. Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen did a great job documenting the Shidhulai project which has created about 50 schools, libraries, and training and healthcare centers on boats using solar energy and limited resources. In the words of Bendiksen, “[people in Bangladesh] are coming with all these really smart, really low-tech and simple solutions to everyday problems, which is an approach that I think many, many other people could also get inspired by.”
FLOAT House in New Orleans
Another image that got my attention shows a well-dressed elderly man proudly standing in front of the energy-efficient FLOAT House, designed by Morphosis Architects for the Make It Right Foundation, whose houses were based on William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle design principles. The house is located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Make It Right has built approximately 100 houses in the area for residents determined to be a part of the neighborhood’s revival. The photo was taken by Stephen Wilkes, a Connecticut-based fine art and commercial photographer.
Jet Star Roller Coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey
This is another photograph captured by Stephen Wilkes which shows the Jet Star roller coaster at Casino Pier amusement park, once a Jersey Shore landmark, remaining partly submerged in the Atlantic Ocean after the pier it stood on was swept away by Hurricane Sandy. This jaw-dropping image serves as a reminder of how powerful hurricanes can be and how the siting as well as construction of structures need to adapt to conditions related to global climate change.
Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy
Photographer Iwan Baan took this aerial photo of Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy capturing the metropolis as it plunged into darkness below a line from 39th Street on the East Side to approximately 26th Street on the West, after an electric substation was knocked out. This power outage affected a quarter-million residents and showed how the storm can devastate a highly urbanized area. Not surprisingly, the stunning image appeared on the front cover of New York Magazine. Iwan Baan is a Dutchman who is well-known for aerial photographs that convey the social fabric of cities.
Scheveningen, The Hague, Netherlands
With over half of the Netherlands at or below sea level, the Dutch are experts on water management. This photo by Iwan Baan shows that coastal reinforcement do not need to be or feel like fortifications. Specifically, the image captures an attractive boulevard in Scheveningen designed by architect Manuel de Sola-Morales which conceals a kilometer-long, 12-meter-high sea wall with undulating dunes and stepped-back levels separating motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.
Sink or Swim also features an original short documentary film commissioned by the Annenberg Space for Photography and produced by Arclight Productions. The film includes insightful interviews with photographers, historians, architects, and scientists about the innovative and diverse solutions to the problems posed by global climate change, focusing on rising sea levels. I really enjoyed the documentary and suggest that you watch it first before walking through the exhibit because it offers a great overview/preview and valuable background information that prepare visitors for the photographs and displays that await them.
Sink or Swim is an eye-opening exhibit. Be sure to see and experience it before the show ends on May 3, 2015. The Annenberg is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is free, and parking is just $1.00 with validation on the weekend. For more information, go here.
Note: Screenshot of the Sink or Swim website by author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect the official views or positions of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.