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3.3 What is Urban Seascaping?

Figure 101. A flow chart describing the various moments of design research from Prominski (2019) (refer to section 2.2 for more information). Urban Seascaping evolves throughout the different moments in this research. In Part III of the monograph, Urban Seascaping is part of the Original and Reflective moments, mainly as a research proposition.

In this final section of Part III, I synthesize the existing research and S-O-T-A examples of soft and hard approaches into four main propositions that together make up Urban Seascaping (see Figure 102 for the key distinguishing aspects of each proposition). These propositions will act as a guardrail for the analysis of design proposals from Kanten/The Edge design competition that I explore in the following Part IV.

USS principles.jpg

Figure 102. The four main Urban Seascaping propositions.

Proposition I: Multispecies coexistence (with seaweed)


The first principle of Urban Seascaping emphasises the need for a paradigm shift in the current view of the sea as a threat. Instead, the first proposition suggests integrating the marine realms as a co-resident of coastal cities. Currently, the needs of humans and nonhumans seem to be in direct conflict with each other in urban environments. The first principle thus seeks to reorient the dualistic, anthropocentric, and capitalist worldview toward one that recognises that nonhumans[189] and humans are intimately linked and mutually interdependent. To this end, Urban Seascaping[190] draws on Multispecies Urbanism (see section 3.2.4) as a response to the main research question of seeking different ways to integrate nonhuman marine life forms into coastal cities, starting from a designed spatial meeting place at the boundary between land and sea. This means asking questions about how designers and planners can create coastal cities for both human and marine lifeforms. As the sea continues to rise in the future, Urban Seascaping questions how the inundated infrastructures and buildings could be designed for favourable habitation by marine life for better engagement with the urban realm (refer to Figure 94). Furthermore, a call for better protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems means addressing various anthropogenic pressures, such as water pollution, ocean sprawl and climate change. Without addressing these barriers to coastal ecosystems, they will have difficulty becoming co-residents in coastal cities.

Marine stewardship and ocean literacy

To coexist does not simply mean physically occupying a space. It would be naïve to suggest that urban design and coastal landscape architecture alone would resolve the current nature-culture divide at the coast. Marine biologists, researchers, climate activists and people who work with ocean advocacy emphasise the critical role of creating a community around ocean literacy (see definition) parallel to material initiatives (Hjerl, 2019; Mouritsen, 2019; Palmgren, 2019). These include marine education centres, community outreach programs, marine restoration projects, sea gardens, and cultural initiatives surrounding marine food. Here, seaweed plays a strong representative role as marine vegetation to infiltrate sustainable food culture and educational opportunities. Local educational outreach programs for young students are essential as this generation will likely face the consequences of global warming and sea-level rise in this century. Therefore, the role of these initiatives is to help people develop “an ethical lens that extends beyond human self-interest” (Beatley, 2014). Hence, USS’s first proposition of multispecies coexistence reflects the model of stewardship/guardianship, which advocates integrating educational, restorative and cultural initiatives with coastal urban seascape design interventions to help nurture and sustain the design interventions.




Proposition II: Invite the agency of the (rising) sea


Water as a connector, an actor, a living entity – An intrinsic value proposition

Humans have conceived the sea in many different ways, and these conceptions influence how we shape our urban coastal environment. For more than a century of human history, the industrialised nations exercised a superior position of ownership and management of the water by expanding coastal cities into the sea. The typical physical design of the urban shorelines reflects this sentiment, as it demarcates a clear delineation between land and sea through land reclamation and hard edges. However, there are alternative ways of regarding this dualistic relationship manifested in physical form. For instance, alternative notions such as “archipelagic thinking” dissolve the divisive hard boundary between the sea and land by conceiving the water as a connector (Pugh, 2013; Shields, 2020). By developing this type of interconnected thinking, the second principle of Urban Seascaping highlights that there is scope for new urban shoreline spaces to use the agency of the water as a connector where human and nonhuman actors can interact and develop over time. Moreover, alternate worldviews that acknowledge the agency of water bodies, such as seeing the water as a living entity by the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand and NYC’s proposal to include the coastal water bodies as a “sixth borough” with legal representation and frameworks (Ameel, 2019). Therefore, the second USS proposition questions the influence of the current dominant utilitarian worldviews of water and how it shapes the way we make decisions at the coast to one that also includes intrinsic value propositions.



Wet territory as the new blue commons

The second USS proposition departs from the view that the sea is a key actor and a spatial design driver to influence the meeting place between humans and nonhumans, city and sea in an increasingly wet reality. Therefore, we need to ask how much wetness we are willing to accept as the new reality of living in the Anthropocene. Many high-risk areas in coastal cities may need to be relocated to higher grounds by the end of the century. These vulnerable low-lying areas left behind after relocation provides a unique opportunity to experiment with – new blue urban commons (refer to Figure 94). Therefore, USS suggests radical opening up some of the urban shorelines to the sea to provide new connections and opportunities to create softer, more dynamic zones. These zones can better respond to tides, periodic flooding, and long-term rise in sea levels that could aid the citizens in understanding the ephemeral nature of coastlines and more fluid notions of boundaries beyond the concrete edge.

Proposition III: Beyond the edge (to a zone)


Seaweed as part of a marine nature-based solution

The third proposition of Urban Seascaping seeks to address the unexplored solution space (refer to Figure 83) by going beyond the dominant defence approach to one of adaptation. Going beyond the edge means thinking of it spatially as an interconnected zone. Marine nature-based solutions require a vast area to achieve a significant level of wave attenuation, carbon sequestration and water filtration. Therefore, coastal protection/adaptation should not be limited to the narrow boundaries of the urban shoreline edges but expand to a zone to address the interconnection between land and water. It means conceiving the site of intervention as a series of networks from a multi-scalar systems approach - everything from global to micro level (see Figure 168).

   Seaweed has two main potentials as part of a marine nature-based solution (soft approach). First, to perform wave attenuating properties as the first line of defence for coastal cities. By the time the attenuated waves reach the coastal city, it reduces the need to implement harsher hard approaches to coastal protection, such as higher sea walls that sever the connection to the water. The wave attenuating capacity can only be performed by kelp forests that inhabit deeper, colder and saltier waters out of human sight (see Figure 168). Kelp can be grown on floating buoys and lines (refer to section 1.5.2 above, Figure 14, and section 1.5.3 above Figure 25) as a potential method to simulate a dense kelp forest for coastal protection that will correspond to a rise in sea level in the future due to its buoyancy.

    Moreover, other smaller and more beautiful seaweeds that grow near the shallow coastal shorelines can be integrated as an urban design element, e.g. “sea gardens” to be the visual symbols of sea-level rise, a new resident of the critical coastal zone (the new blue urban commons). These sea gardens need to provide an opportunity for citizens to engage with the sea and its lifeforms to envision them as an active part of the physical, ecological and aesthetic coastal cityscape (refer to Figure 89). As we shall see in the following chapter, Kanten/The Edge design competition calls for a place of exposure, observation and interaction with marine nature, but also a place that challenges our everyday terrestrial experience of the sea –  a call that several of the entrants responded to in creative ways.  

Proposition IV: Making the invisible visible


Seaweed as the visual and ecological symbol of coastal urban transformation

The fourth and final proposition is to uncover the beauty of the invisible marine realm into the visible urban realm using seaweed as a symbol of waterfront transformation in coastal cities. In spatial terms, the lack of exposure/understanding, inaccessibility and dualistic separation make the marine realm perceivably invisible. Moreover, the continued anthropogenic activities such as the fertiliser runoffs from agriculture have made the world under the sea more invisible in a very literal sense.  To communicate the continuing degradation of the marine realm in coastal cities, USS argues that seaweed can represent the importance of marine ecosystems in tackling global warming by providing various ecosystem services crucial to the city. Thus, the fourth proposition calls for coastal cities to “urban seascape” with seaweed by designing spaces that influence a future culture of living with the coastal ecosystems by recognising and fostering the links and constant flux between the environment, organisms, and land-use practices. It means identifying and bringing the complex processes that tie together different species and systems to the visible realm (this also applies to physical visibility and design and decision-making processes). True integration of the marine realm into the urban realm points to a much closer exposure to the sea and its life forms (as shown in Figure 168).

    Moreover, USS advocates going beyond human tendencies for territorial favouritism to extend solidarity towards the marine lifeforms by making them a key visible part of the identity of coastal cities. Thus, by turning our gaze not just on land but also below the water, to start conceiving the invisible, visible. This is also applicable to departing from the conventional visual representations of the marine realm, which conventional maps are guilty of depicting the sea as largely dark, abstract, flat and devoid of the complex realities of life below the sea.

[189] This claim is rooted in the science of ecology and many ecological thinkers that focuses on intertwined interrelations and networks and that care should extend to other living species in order for a mutually beneficial future for all. See (Guattari, 2000; Haraway, 2007; Latour, 2007; Bennett, 2010; Morton, 2012; Alaimo, 2016).

[190] It is important to note that the research on Urban Seascaping is not all about denouncing anthropocentrism completely or utilitarian approach as it has a place in aiding climate mitigation and ecological restoration. Rather, the focus on nonhuman and intrinsic value propositions should also have a place for an equitable coexistence.



So far, this research has explored the complexities surrounding the need for coastal cities to move past entrenched ways of thinking and to adapt to the challenges posed by sea-level rise, storm surge, the biodiversity crisis, increasing urbanisation and pollution. The learnings from Part I, II and III have culminated in developing further the Urban Seascaping concept as an ethical and critical proposition (see Figure 101) that may catalyse urban waterfront transformation in the form of a new blue urban commons comprised of both humans and marine life, with seaweed as the key representative. Simply put, Urban Seascaping builds on the existing S-O-T-A approaches (both the soft and the hard) to formulate an approach capable of navigating what it might mean to truly live not just by the sea but with the sea. While Urban Seascaping is open to interpretation and further elaboration, the intention is to establish a common language and visual medium among various marine nature-based coastal adaptation approaches.

USS Proposition I
2 evolution of uss.jpg
USS Proposition II
USS Proposition III
USS Proposition IV
Section 3.3 footnote
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