Competition Objective

“The world we have created today, as a result of our thinking thus far, has problems that cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them.”

                                                                                                            -Albert Einstein

Throughout the world, estuaries like Chesapeake Bay, Setubal Bay, Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay are not only important to a region's quality of life, but they are national treasures that contribute to the vibrancy of the environment and the global economy.

Nearly every day, we learn more about sea level rise, one of the most publicized impacts of global warming. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the estimated height of rising tides is well documented. Sea level rise from warming oceans may be 1.4 meters (55 inches) over the next 100 years, or even higher depending upon the rate at which glaciers and other ice sheets on land melt. Individually and collectively, people are seeking solutions to this phenomenon.

The issue of rising tides is of global importance and both simple and complex interventions will be needed. However, as the water continues to rise, this global issue will certainly become a local issue with site-specific consequences. Therefore, when thinking about ways in which to adapt to sea level rise, the obvious place to start is the place in which we live.

To grapple with the realities of sea level rise, a new suite of shoreline design concepts is needed. The Rising Tides ideas competition sought responses to various design challenges, such as: How do we build in an area that is dry now, but that may be wet in the future? How do we retrofit existing shoreline infrastructure such as shipping ports, highways, airports, power plants and wastewater treatment plants? Can we imagine a different shoreline configuration or settlement pattern that allows temporary inundation from extreme storm events? And how do we provide flood protection inland of marshes without drowning the wetland when the water rises?

BCDC invited you to give shape to these challenges by submitting design ideas that are inspired by the common characteristics of estuaries, some of which are highly urbanized. Some techniques for dealing with sea level rise are fairly obvious. Other ideas, however, are less tested and still other concepts may not yet have been conceived. The best ideas were to be products of innovation and creativity, be it by expanding upon traditional design solutions, such as seawalls and levees, or by offering an entirely new perspective. Proposals could involve any type of project within the built and natural environments, at any scale relative to an estuary like the San Francisco Bay. Ideas addressed sea level rise for particular shoreline elements or structures, and larger issues related to a site, a neighborhood, commercial districts, public infrastructure, transportation systems or an entire watershed.

Design proposals ranged from practical and pragmatic to aggressively imaginative and speculative. All entries, however, were asked to solve a meaningful sea level rise problem, while being environmentally smart, simply designed and transferable to other estuaries beyond San Francisco Bay. Integrating “green building” principles to resilient designs adds another layer of opportunity and complexity.

The Rising Tides ideas competition was open to everyone, including architects, ecologists, coastal engineers, civil engineers, biologists, landscape architects, planners, artists, developers, builders, and even ordinary citizens. All were encouraged to bring forward their vision of a future estuarine shoreline that is applicable to San Francisco Bay and beyond.



$25,000 in prizes were awarded.


A public exhibition of the entries was held at the historic San Francisco Ferry Building on San Francisco Bay, from July 11-19, 2009. See photos of the exhibition here.

Post competition online gallery

A post competition gallery of winning and selected entries.


April 6, 2009                 Registration opens & competition began

July 13, 2009                Jury deliberations

July 15, 2009                Winners announced

July 14-19, 2009           Public exhibit of entries at the San Francisco Ferry Building


  1. San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC)

  2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  3. American Institute of Architects San Francisco (AIASF)

  4. BPS Reprographics

  5. Ferry Building Marketplace (Equity Office)

  6. Port of San Francisco

Competition Advisor

David Meckel, FAIA


About the Competition