Rising Currents
November 1, 2010  |  Rising Currents
Rising Currents: Looking Back and Next Steps

The Rising Currents exhibition at MoMA closed on October 11, and as we have worked on the de-installation of the show in the intervening weeks, I have had a chance to reflect on the exhibition and the project as a whole. As I’ve noted here previously, the workshop and exhibition were precedent-setting in many ways—for myself as a curator, for MoMA as an institution, and, in some ways, for the New York architecture and landscape design community.

Unlike many exhibitions where the show itself is the end destination and ultimate distillation of researched concepts, the Rising Currents exhibition was always intended to be the “second act” in a three-part production, as it were. We wanted the exhibition to jump-start a dialogue on the urgency of climate change and rising sea levels among public officials, policy-makers, and the general public. Possible “third acts” could be to have some of the solutions proposed by the architects in the exhibition actually implemented, or to replicate the Rising Currents workshop and exhibition model in other locales that face similar challenges with sea level rise. In my recent article, “The Activist Exhibition: In the Wake of Rising Currents,” published in Log 20 (a print journal for writing and criticism on architecture), I expand further on how Rising Currents embodies the theme of Log 20: “curating as advocacy.”

It has been interesting to note that even though the exhibition is over, I continue to get research inquiries and requests for speaking engagements on the show from a wide range of people and organizations both here in the U.S. and abroad. I am actually delivering a talk next month on the exhibition at The Laboratory for Research and Innovation in Architecture, Design, Urban Planning and Advanced Tourism in Tenerife, one of the islands in the seven Canary Islands, Spain. The diversity of these requests and the continued interest in the topic indicates to me that the exhibition was successful in catalyzing debate, raising the awareness of the issues of climate change and rising sea levels, and, perhaps most importantly, elevating the role of design in tackling issues of climate change.

We held a closing panel discussion here at MoMA one week before the exhibition ended. The presentations and discussion focused on reactions to the exhibition and possible next steps. We recorded the discussion and wanted to share it here for those that couldn’t attend the event.

I’d like to thank everyone that followed the exhibition’s progress here on the blog and added their reflections in online comments. I hope the dialogue continues.


Hello. I am proposing to travel to NYC sometime later this year, and to meet with various people who are dealing with the problem of how highly urban waterfronts can deal with sea level rise. It is a shame I missed the Rising Currents exhibition but maybe I can still have the oportunity to talk to someone at MoMA about it.

So if you could consider this request and let me know who I might be able to contact via email, it would be greatly appreciated.

I am a senior manager (and town planner) with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure here in Sydney, Australia.


Allan Young
Manager, Coastal, Climate Change and Natural Resources Policy

HI I am a third year Fine Arts degree student at the University of Tasmania. My major is painting and I am working on a body of work about Coastal Erosion. I live on an island—Tasmania and this is a growing problem. It has been interesting reading about the Rising Currents exhibition—wish I could have seen it!!
Cheers Suzanne Banks Tasmania

As a hydrologist and civil engineer I am glad to see a
practical exhibit and discussion after the surge that hit
New York City. Scientists, architects as a team can propose solutions, politicians will argue as to monies to pay for the project, but it is the local citizens of New York that should input their vision for Lower Manhattan.
Luckily you have Manhattan schist underlying the city.

The exhibit sounds wonderful. We have drought conditions in Phoenix that began in 1995. Everyone’s environmnent is changing on the planet. New York is now the pathfinder to lead other cities into the future.
I grew up in NYC in the late 1950s so I want to see New York succeed in the forefront of coastal planning.

I think recent events have created a new level of interest in rising water and urgency for a “third act”.
Also, MOMA curating as advocacy has fantastic potential; please continue and expand.

I too wish I could have seen the exhibit. I was lucky enough to see a presentation about it in Seattle at a Univ of Washington \”Next City\” conference. As a climate activist, I urge you to curate a post-Sandy follow-up. \”Rising Currents\” was just the beginning of a very long conversation that needs to be had.

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