The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects has named The Fraser River Delta Collaborative a recipient of its 2022 Awards of Excellence. The design-research project, initiated by UBC’s Coastal Adaptation Lab and the Principals of four Vancouver landscape architecture firms, co-develops innovative landscape-based adaptation strategies for sea level rise (SLR) across multiple scales and jurisdictions in the Fraser River Delta. Funded with a Mitacs Grant from 2018-2021, four summer research internships were offered at firms for students to gain professional skills while also co-developing methods and projects related to coastal adaptation for outreach to governmental agencies and the public. The UBC Coastal Adaptation Lab is led by SALA Associate Professor Kees Lokman. The four partnership firms are Hapa Collaborative, PFS Studio, PWL Partnership, and Space2Place Landscape Architects.

The project aims to shift the discussion around sea level rise adaptation from one primarily seen as an engineering challenge to one centred on the possibilities of design to address issues of spatial justice, resilience, and multifunctional landscapes. As a result, research outcomes can inform residents and policy-makers about the impacts of sea level rise on our built environment and how integrated design approaches and spatial interventions can address issues related to flooding. Collaborating with the Principals of four Vancouver landscape architecture firms, the project also introduces four research internships available for students to gain professional skills and help develop methods, processes, and projects related to coastal adaptation in the region. This model strengthens academia-practice relationships and provides a platform to foreground how communities can adapt to uncertain climate futures using certain planning and design approaches.

The four partnered firms were collectively driven by the need to tackle climate change and coastal resiliency between scales. Kelty McKinnon of PFS Studio shares that the scales of these issues demanded collective action: “Teaming between firms and with UBC enabled us to share resources, contacts and knowledge to develop more effective land-based coastal adaptation strategies.” With the Mitacs project, the firms could partner with UBC and the Coastal Adaptation Lab to share knowledge and resources to adapt to the changes we all face in our built environment. From Space2Place Landscape Architects, Jeff Cutler shares that one of the most significant challenges surrounding the project was the uncertainty around sea level rise; the work for design professions related to climate change may have to shift from primarily focusing on climate mitigation to climate adaptation. Jeff shares that working on the project “was a great opportunity to learn about the issues surrounding sea level rise and experiment with some different ways to adapt our built environment in response.” Climate adaptation is a rapidly evolving and complex field that presents a unique challenge for design professions, and landscape architects as well suited to lead it.

The Fraser River Delta Collaborative project is accredited with one of fifteen national CSLA Awards of Excellence for advancing the practice of landscape architecture by illustrating the range of what landscape architects do and how they reshape our communities. This award was allocated in the research category by demonstrating innovation, environmental awareness, and a deeper understanding of the craft of landscape architecture. Through UBC’s Coastal Adaption Lab, which aims to develop novel solutions in planning, design, and policy for coastal adaptation, the Fraser River Delta Collaborative project has exceeded and become nationally recognized as an exemplary research project in Canadian landscape architecture.