By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Gazette

Photo: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Henk Ovink thinks about the threat posed by rising seas to developed coastlines, a lot.

The Dutch expert on the subject brought his water wisdom to the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) this semester, co-teaching a course on managing such risks and vulnerabilities, GSD 01507. Final student presentations followed a semester of “studios” that sought to provide design answers to real-world problems.

For the last year, Ovink has been a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan ’87, M.Arch. ’95, M.P.A. ’95. After Hurricane Sandy scoured the Northeast in 2012, bracketing New York City with coastal disasters, Donovan formed the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

Ovink, whose lowland country has had centuries of experience holding back the sea, had met the secretary during his tour of the Netherlands in December 2012, and soon signed on to help. Helping largely meant organizing Rebuild by Design, an open competition conceived by Ovink to search for ways to make urbanized coastlines in the Northeast more resilient during major storms.

According to scientists speculating on the fallout from global climate change, seas will rise worldwide over the next century. In the United States, coastlines from Boston to Baltimore will face some of the stiffest challenges.

Ovink’s multiple U.S. roles in the last year have included being a design critic at the GSD, where his first contact years ago was Jerold Kayden, the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design. (The two originally met when they partnered on the Harvard-Netherlands Project on Climate Change, Water, Land Development, and Adaption, which began in 2008.) The lanky Dutchman’s peripatetic lifestyle — with lots of time in planes, trains, and automobiles — is evident when you see him in Gund Hall, pulling behind him his signature black suitcase on wheels. He said, “This is my house.”

The studio course was divided into two phases, research and design. Co-teaching were John Gendall, GSD instructor in urban planning and design; Scott G. Davis, director of HUD’s disaster recovery and special issues division; and Samuel Carter, an associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation who established the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. (Both the foundation and institute are part of the Rebuild by Design project.)

Read the entire article on Harvard Gazette.