wetlands + lost ecologies + public engagement + climate action + storytelling + public space design

A Fleeting Landscape: Resurrecting the edges of the estuary

︎Design research (field research, material research, ethnographic research)
︎User testing & workshops
︎Design intent
︎Design development

This project brings a transformative experience for Rhode Island residents to engage with forgotten landscapes that much of the city stands on today.

It is an invitation to look closely, find the connecting dots to the marshes, take a pause, and ground oneself in the environment that surrounds them.


From the salt marshes of Rhode Island to their tropical counterpart in the Sundarban (pronounced: shundar-bon) mangroves of India, wetlands are the world’s natural barriers. Fighting against extreme weather events between land and sea, the edges of this fragile ecosystem continue to shrink and degrade as anthropogenic stressors (infrastructure development, unsustainable land use, and aquaculture) increase. In a 2022 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) persuasively argues for the protection of wetlands as they are key ecosystems that help regulate temperature rise to 1.5º C. Despite the urgency, an appreciation for the wetlands exists at the periphery of attention.

A Fleeting Landscape is a project based in Providence, Rhode Island that invites the city dweller to experience a mixed media microcosm of the marshes and discover what has been obscured through the encroachment of urban development.

Since 1970, 35% of the world’s wetlands have been lost
World Wetland Day, February 2022 via AJ Labs

A brief history of erasure

I skimmed through historical maps of Providence early on in my research and identified the Great Salt Cove in Rhode Island as an integral part of the postindustrial landscape. In the late 1600s, as European settlers started to construct roadways and other infrastructure, wetlands were seen as wasteland, filled in and paved on. Lands where the indigenous peoples of the Wampanoag and Narragansett once thrived and lived in harmony with nature.The history of erasure is a tedious and unfair one.

What connects our lives in the city to the happenings at the edge of the estuary?

How do we create allyship with a landscape we have not seen, felt, experienced?

How do we tread the fragility of this ecosystem?

Experiment 1: How might we befriend the marshes?

In response to these questions, I designed an experiment which allows the audience to experience the textures, sounds, and see the marsh without physically stepping into the landscape. After participating in the simulation, a simple prompt was shared with the group; How might we befriend the marshes. 

Results & Insights

Participants worked in collaboration with a teammate and brought different perspectives on building a relationship with the marsh. These explorations included the creation of marsh ‘swag’ - tshirts, buttons, and badges, campaigning to ‘save the marsh’ with tents and flags made from materials around the site, and temporary installations for better interactions in and around the marsh landscape. A majority of the participants considered campaigning for the marsh in an attempt to drive participatory engagement and action. This showed an empathetic response to the landscape upon introduction and experience sharing. It also points to making conscious efforts to respect and care for the marshes.

How might I scale this experience based simulation for the urban dweller residing in Providence, Rhode Island?

Experiment 2: Postcards of the future?

In a user testing experiment, I used photocollaging to create postcards with imagery that shows our lives in the city today juxtaposed with the marsh landscape. The participants were prompted to share their response to the visual and interpret the scenario.

Design intent

I concluded the above research and experiments into a two pronged response. First, to shrink the perceived distance between the city and the marshes, and next, to embed historical and scientific data about the ecosystem into our everyday.

Embedding ecological curiosity* through objects in the public space

Ecological Curiosity refers to an inclination or individuals’ drive to learn about local ecology and put the learnings to action through a community powered response.

Early concept sketches of a public installation ︎︎︎

“What are some of the most recognisible objects in the urban streetscape?”

In a social media survey with 25 respondents, five objects were shared, namely, street lamps, trees, art & installations, and seating.

I began my process by documenting public benches in the city as they become both a resting spot and potentially a place to reflect.

Design Development

The proposed design becomes a physical embodiment of historical research and scientific evidence set to activate community response and recognition for unappreciated wetland ecosystems. It “hacks” public seating to reveal the history of the land that once used to line the Great Salt Cove of Providence. 

The concrete tiles point to extractive interactions of the Anthropocene layered atop the stratigraphic representation of a salt marsh, much like the development in Providence, Rhode Island.

Early Sketches

Experience Design and Activations

When immersed in this geo-psycho installation, the viewer reunites with nature, with a landscape lesser known. They have an opportunity to engage deeply with the research and become agents of change towards the recognition and response of wetland ecosystems.

A heightened sense of knowing. A new superpower. You are able to spot the salt marsh meadows with their scientific name, Spartina patens growing from the crevices of the pavement. Patches of tall, golden grasses appear as you are headed closer to the shore; A signifier of disturbed lands, growing in marsh-like ponds.

Your eyes and minds become tools for recognition, your voice - an activation. You are a marshian.

Key Takeaways

At an individual level: The project aims to change the “savior” narrative that we as humans tend to gravitate towards in response to the climate crisis. Instead it promotes a harmonious relationship built on allyship and respect, asking the viewer to be conscious and alert of their surroundings. Each viewer has the opportunity to acquire new knowledge about wetland ecosystems and become a vessel for information sharing. Whether it is through conversation, planning a visit to the local marsh, or signing up with a community organization to pursue simple restorative practices.

At an industry level: The physical artifact in the form of a bench uses building material such as concrete, wood, and plywood, as a commentary on the current state of our built environment. Public infrastructure becomes a medium to educate the local population and bring stories of lost ecologies to the forefront. Thereby, elevating the call to action from an individual level to an industry level. It invites builders, urban planners, and architects into the dialogue and encourages them to ask questions of the earth, understand local ecology, and build with the ecosystem in mind.

At a policy change level: Through this visible and tangible activation, it opens the channel for communication with decision makers and policy experts demanding protection of wetlands from further degradation.