Roja, Latvia / Gulf of Riga / The Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea region is facing multiple ecological and socio-economic challenges that will significantly influence the coastal communities and habitation on the coastline in the future. Eutrophication, decline of fish resources, climate crisis and sea level rise are the effect of irreversible anthropogenic actions in the region, which demand to rethink how the sea and territories around it are used now and can be adapted to ensure a sustainable development and healthy marine and coastal ecosystems in the future.Besides the environmental challenges in the region, coastal territories along the Gulf of Riga are also experiencing socio-economic restructuring due to decades-long population decline that is projected to continue in the future. However, in the existing planning documents and development projects the notion of shrinkage and climate adaptation is underrepresented, questioning the acceptance of these irreversible, yet unpredictable processes. Considering these specific local conditions, adaptation of the existing habitation patterns on the coastline of the Gulf of Riga asks for a specific approach that not only considers the long-term impacts on the natural processes and ecosystems, but also takes into account the depopulation, possible challenges of long-term maintenance and use of these spaces, and the strong cultural connection with the nature.

The thesis proposes an approach on how to address the climate crisis and shrinkage on the coastline of the Gulf of Riga by using acceptance of the physical and socio-economic erasure of the coastline as spatial planning and design tool. This approach allows to reconceptualize the notion of sedimentation, discovering and using local material and non-material anthropogenic sediments as the main design elements in the transition of the coastal surface.

The multi-scalar design projection envisions the possible transformation towards sustainable degrowth in the region of the Western coast of the Gulf of Riga and shows this transition on an urban scale in coastal village of Roja. By reinventing the economic activities in the port towards more localized resource use, it is possible to maintain the port infrastructure and provide economic possibilities for the remaining inhabitants. However, the erosion along Krasta street and population decline will continue in the future.  As the erasure is happening in a long period of time, the local inhabitants need time to adapt, therefore the project composition along Krasta street in Roja proposes infrastructure and landscape elements to be finite, deteriorate in the landscape and have a significant cultural meaning. By not intervening in this process and transforming previously inhabited spaces along the coast it is possible to transition towards more natural coastal landscape  with specific anthropogenic material sediments that perform as a reminder of human actions in past.

The erasure. Abandoned residential building in Upesgrīva, Latvia. Photo.
Projected coast and sedimentation. Projected coastal territorial changes in 2100 aligned with the timeline of sedimentation. Plan and diagram
Degrowing port. By localizing and reinventing economic activities in the port, it is possible to continue the fisherman traditions and provide new economic possibilities for the remaining inhabitants. Collage.
(In)Finite infrastructure. With the port infrastructure in place, the erosion on the coast will continue.To provide time for local people to adapt and accept the coastline changes, new groynes are proposed to stabilize the existing coastline. However, by building these structures from local wood and rock, the structure will degrade in time, eroding the coastline and leaving a material sediment in the landscape.
Acceptance. By accepting the erasure, it is possible to participate and witness creation of new landscape. Acceptance allows to reconnect with the nature and understand the natural processes on the coast, inland and seaward, reevaluating the necessity of human habitation on the coastline.