Responses to Flooding

In January 2014, the UK witnessed some of its worst flooding for over 50 years, causing widespread damage to homes, businesses, agricultural land and urban infrastructures. In response, the governments Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs(DEFRA) were forced to increase its flood defence budget by a further £300million to enable the Environment Agency and affected local authorities to implement an emergency relief effort to restore infrastructure, rebuild existing flood defences and invest in new flood management schemes. With this in mind, the proposed New Bedfordshire City Hall & Environment Agency Headquarters for Flooding is funded by the Environment Agency as a central civic building and catalyst for a prototype flooded city and landscape. The proposed integrated flood defence systems and re-engineered landscape seek to test and prototype techniques to address living in expectancy of the flood. The aim of the project is to create a prototype system which can be seen as an example to subvert the UK's perception of flooding through the ceremonial events that celebrate adverse weather conditions and the resulting consequences.

The proposed building and surrounding landscape, activates and is activated by the movement of flood water, which results from overspill being re-directed south from the Great River Ouse which runs through Bedford, in a seasonal relief effort. Earth, mud and sediment defence banks are constructed across the engineered landscape through the use of large-scale barriers of semi-permeable geo-textile fabrics which initially allow the flow of water through, but over time retains an earth and sediment build up on one side, thus creating the flood barrier. Essentially, only the movement of flood water and solid matter contained with in it, can create the barrier, by which the water movement is then controlled. Without the flood there would be no buildup and residence barrier, therefore only when excess seasonal flood water is directed from the River Ouse, is the system and landscape activated.

The New Bedfordshire City Hall & Environment Agency Headquarters for Flooding is reliant on the annual increase in regional water levels and utilises this condition to highlight the sublime nature of the flooded landscape at numerous scales. The seasonal flood is initially choreographed to surround, engulf and isolate the building on all sides, accentuating the obscure mass and vast filtering elements of the building using reflections in water pools. Allowing the water to enter the building blurs the boundary between interior and exterior landscapes, emphasising the magnitude of and power of the conditions caused by flooding. Throughout the building itself, a complex system of fabric-formed and cast concrete chambers fill, filter, float, resist and trap water as the processes of water management begin to generate a spatial organisational strategy and formulate an expressive architectural language. Moments of Suddenness, darkness, vastness, magnificence, loudness and obscurity are directly and indirectly achieved through the processing of water which forms the basis for determining how and why each chamber within the New city hall is used. The flood and the activated movements of water can therefore take on characteristics that both physically inhabit and alter the building and its surreal landscape, as well as represent the demand for a greater understanding of the effects of adverse weather events in the UK.

All images courtesy of Adam Shapland.