Mintai Kim, 2020.
Chesapeake Foundation Brock Environment Center with Billy Almond (B.L.A ‘78) addressing students (Pre-COVID).

Student Design Impacts the Future of the Coast

Spring 2021

How can design prevent sea-level rise? That is the question tackled in Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Mintai Kim’s frequently taught 4th-year Landscape Architecture Advanced Studio Course. The answer resides in the field of geodesign.

Geodesign is a collaborative approach to planning, land use, and natural resource management to meet the challenges of climate change on a global scale. To effectively design with climate change and sea-level rise in mind, non-governmental and governmental organizations must work together. This partnership is a necessary one. The makeup and geography of communities inhabiting coastal landscapes differ around the world, but they each share a common issue. If no action is taken, sea-level rise brought on by climate change will drastically change coastal communities.

Mintai Kim is an expert in geodesign, specializing in the field for more than 30 years. An active participant in the International Geodesign Collaboration, his research has been integral to aiding in the development of a field that has gained further attention in the last decade and only continues to grow.

When asked why the field is so important to him, he noted the distinctive quality of collaboration. The field does not just encourage a multi-disciplinary approach; it requires it. Geodesign, at its core, begins with the same template from which government and non-government organizations across the world can apply to their climate challenges.

In Virginia Beach, 20% of the area will be underwater by 2050 unless design changes are implemented. Students in the Landscape Architecture Advanced Studio Course were offered the opportunity to collaborate with multiple stakeholders in Virginia Beach to provide design solutions to alleviate their growing sea-level rise issues. The landscape architecture students were connected with Virginia Beach stakeholders that included high school students, Virginia Beach Green Ribbon Committee, Wetlands Watch, and Virginia Tech alumni.

Alumnus Billy Almond (‘78) grew up on the Virginia Beach oceanfront and is now a Principal Landscape Architect at WPL in Virginia Beach. Almond paired landscape architecture students with Kellam High School students who could provide extensive insight into the area they call home.

We have always tried to connect Blacksburg with the coast” and one of the best ways to see the impacts of the issues on the coast was “talking with the kids at Kellam [High School].

In turn, Mintai’s students helped the Kellam students “look at where Kellam sits on the whole southern watershed and then where [that] fits in the Virginia Beach watershed.

For Almond, the experience is a valuable one for all groups as young students learn about landscape architecture and how the field plays a role in working with sea-level rise, and current landscape architecture students “experience the flatlands… get down to the water’s edge and see that dynamic, it is something you would miss as a future landscape architect.” For these designers, you “don’t fight [with nature, but] try to work with it,” explains Almond.

In engaging with the community and visiting the site, the 4th-year landscape architecture students were driven to create design solutions in the face of sea-level rise. Solutions incorporated design with managed retreat, an approach that focuses on helping residents move out of the area by buying homes that struggle to sell due to issues with flooding. By helping residents move out of impacted areas, new landscape designs can be implemented to better manage sea-level rise. Mintai Kim’s design students gain valuable experience planning for the future of coastal Virginia and its communities.

Even after teaching the studio course five times, Mintai is thrilled at the prospect of teaching it again. In the last decade, he has witnessed the city’s rewarding shift to making strides towards mitigating climate change. Landscape architects have a vital role in handling sea-level rise as they work to design for the changing landscape, a powerful message for high school students and emerging landscape architects.

Chesapeake Foundation Brock Environment Center with Billy Almond (B.L.A ‘78) addressing students (Pre-COVID).