Maurice Dusault

Portrait of a Drowning City : An examination of an awkward relationship, and a strategic plan to correct it before it’s too late

Portrait of a Drowning City is a response to growing concerns with the way New Yorkers react to climate change. New York is under threat of rising sea levels, with disasters like Hurricane Sandy giving us a glimpse into our future.

As a Dutchman, coming from a country facing similar threats, I was shocked by New Yorkers’ lack of awareness and sense of urgency around this issue. My project aimed to examine why this is the case, the proximity of this threat, and uncover ways to correct this culture to combat rising sea levels.

The research paints a disturbing image of a city disconnected from the water which surrounds it, unaware of its present and future interactions with that water, and careless attitude towards the effects of climate change.

There was a missing link in the climate conversation: we rarely talk about how the future informs, or should inform, our present. The challenge was to find ways in which we might bring this future to the present. Prototyping and an iterative design process allowed me to perfect interventions and strategic models to address my findings.

The project designed an urban intervention which focused on shifting the climate conversation to be more personal and intimate. Using art and design installations, the intervention aimed at increasing New Yorkers’ literacy and accountability towards climate change.

Life vests bearing powerful statements were installed across the city, and directed New Yorkers to an on-line information platform where one could find hyper-local projections of how their neighborhood will flood after a 2º increase in global average temperatures.


The project was compiled into a compendium outlining process, findings, strategy, design and prototyping.

Research included mapping, interviews, and cultural probes to understand multiple dimensions of culture.

The research examined qualitative and quantitative aspects of New Yorkers relationship with water.

Course: Senior Project: Capstone

Process: Ethnography, Mapping, Prototype, Social Impact