1.1 PhD Call – Research questions

Architecture is an ever-developing body of knowledge concerned with how we use space: how we dwell and occupy, establishing meaningful places and giving form to the world around us. How we build is informed by how we understand the world, and how we understand the world is framed by what we have built there.


Raymond Lucas, Research Methods for Architecture (Lucas, 2016, p. 8).



The research departs from the initial PhD call from the Aarhus School of Architecture (AAA) in 2019. The call asked the following main research question, ‘How can coastal cities of East Jutland utilise sea-level rise as a power of transformation that positively contributes to rethinking and informing existing urban structures?’ The call is to rethink our current business-as-usual (B-A-U) [1] urban development models and coastal protection systems to respond to the increasing impacts of climate change. The call mainly focuses on water issues, such as the rise in sea level and its contribution to the worsening inundation of cities due to more frequent and violent storm surges. More importantly, the research call asks to investigate how the phenomenon of rising sea level can be included as a driver of a paradigm shift in urban development in coastal cities as an alternative means of living on the boundary between land and water. I interpreted the research call as a quest to explore the role of the sea as an actor in urban transformation, not only as a mere abstracted mass volume of water that is increasing its presence. The sea includes all that it encompasses, such as the agency of the marine animals and plants that live in the sea. Thus, the initial research call is restructured to include other more-than-human (i.e. nonhuman) forces to include marine life forms as an actor in aiding urban transformation and depart from the utilitarian phrasing to an inclusive one (i.e. utilise to integrate). Thus, the main research question (RQ) becomes;


How can coastal cities[2] of Denmark integrate the sea and its lifeforms to contribute towards re‐envisioning urban development (i.e. planning, design and policies) in light of a rise in sea level and frequent storm surges?


The main research fields are landscape architecture, urban planning and design (LUPD). The practice of LUPD is embedded in drawing from many different types of knowledge fields, which requires transdisciplinary collaboration between relevant stakeholders (Wiberg, 2018). The inclusion of the sea as an actor and the phenomenon of sea-level rise and storm surges in urban coastal landscapes requires drawing from other related disciplines such as marine ecology, hydrological engineering and geology (see section 2.1 for more detail). Traditionally, the realm of the boundary between land and sea in the form of coastal protection projects or marine restoration projects is primarily in the hands of engineers or marine biologists without the inclusion of creative disciplines (Organo Quintana, 2020; Pilkey and Young, 2011)[SJR1] . Therefore, research in the field of LUPD can help develop a subfield that addresses the threat of rising sea levels in urban environments that includes marine lifeforms in creative ways to adapt to the changing climatic conditions that will motivate more restorative relations between cities and the sea. Furthermore, the spatial intervention in the land-sea continuum by the creative disciplines of LUPD (and architecture) has the potential to synthesise different transdisciplinary knowledge into a holistic and creative outcome that engages with the citizens as a form of public space as a starting point.

     Henceforth, to address the main research question, the next sub-research question calls for the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration, specifically the potential of design research and the role of designers in facilitating and synthesising the interconnected networks and dynamic processes that highlight the constant synergy between humans and more-than-humans, city and sea. Thus, the first sub-research (SRQ1) question pertains to:


How can the creative disciplines (architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning) contribute in responding to the changing spatial boundary between city and sea, human and more-than-human (marine life) due to climate change?


    Lastly, the final sub-research question addresses the increasing complexities involved in designing in a transdisciplinary context with more-than-human forces (i.e. climate change as a phenomenon and marine life) and the need for better representational and analytical design tools and ways of thinking that help us move past our current B-A-U practices. Moreover, issues surrounding sea-level rise are not isolated phenomena as it is entangled with a myriad of complex issues such as global warming due to greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss, and anthropogenic pollution. These impacts go beyond traditional notions of scale and timeframe, and decisions to respond to these issues require new ways of doing and thinking about how to re-envision coastal cities for the future. Thus, the second sub-research (SRQ) question pertains to:


What representational and analytical tools and ontologies can help stakeholders (i.e. municipal, practitioners, educators) address RQ1 and SRQ1?


In sum (see Table 1), the main research question asks about alternative solutions to move past B-A-U urban development and the current wicked problems of climate change. It is then followed by sub-research questions asking who can/should contribute to the solutions and how these potential solutions can be executed in a more complex and interconnected world.

Table 1. All the research questions (main RQ and the sub RQs) – the emphasis on the main RQ and the following sub-research questions to help answer the main RQ.


Moreover, these research questions are situated in the current political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental climate that greatly influences my research. This research centres around the key issue of sea-level rise and broader issues of climate change, which is dependent on a drastic global reduction of greenhouse gases in the next decades. Thus, without addressing the bigger structures and systems in place and my position within them, I will be guilty of falling into naïve idealism in an attempt to tackle such challenging climate change induced issues in the 21st century. Therefore, in the next section, I seek to address the broader political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental context by presenting some of the key events during my PhD that reveals the sheer scale of the problem that significantly influenced the main tone for my research.




[1] This B-A-U wicked problem will be discussed in detail in section 3.1 The Scale of the Problem.

[2] Coastal cities can represent all of the stakeholders (decision-makers), such as, relevant municipal members, citizens, practitioners and developers – i.e. every citizen involved in constructing and maintaining a coastal city.


SQ 1