Professional Practice

Watermarks: An International Competition

Date: 2/22/2013 - 6/3/2013

Type: Competitions / Awards

Location(s): International


When waters rise in cities, they leave their mark on our infrastructures. Some cultures have recorded historical high water marks with plaques or lines on structures, reminders to the fragile place in which they live, and a constant reminder that the waters will rise again. However, new developments continue to be built in the U.S. on lands that will flood (White 1942), but because they are “protected” by levees designed to control the “100-year flood,” under the rules of FEMA, these developments are not considered to be “in the floodplain.” Unfortunately, even if the levee works perfectly and protects against the 100-year flood, it is not designed to protect against the 200-year flood, or the 300- year flood, etc. The risk of being flooded by one of these floods higher than the levee is called the “residual risk,” and over the 30-year life of a mortgage amounts to 26 percent (Burby 2001).

Yet many do not understand their risk. People can buy houses in these developments and are never informed of their true flood risk. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and along the San Francisco Bay of California, and in the Mississippi Delta of Louisiana, many houses below sea level are not considered to be within the official 100-year floodplain because they are “protected” by a levee. Residents of such a new development in the San Joaquin Delta did not understand their residual risk, reporting that their real-estate agents had told them they were “not in the floodplain” (Ludy and Kondolf 2009).

How can we communicate the true flood risk to people living in landscapes where the vulnerability may not be obvious? Within this context, we are pleased to announce the international competition, “Watermarks,” held as part of the 100th-anniversary celebration of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at UC Berkeley. The competition solicits proposals to raise awareness of vulnerability in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

The competition goals are:

  • Innovative and pedagogical designs to articulate landscape risk by marking water flows on infrastructure and built landscapes.
  • Proposals must be integrated within an existing fluvial context; hey should not be stand- alone installation.
  • Projects should be located in urban landscape environments. Places where there is a density of people who live, work and play.
  • Proposals should be interactive and dynamic, providing social and programmatic diversity.

The risk of high water can come from inundation of unprotected floodplains by big floods, over-topping or failure of levees, failure of upstream dams, or coastal flooding.

Each team should produce a digital presentation of 6-10 pages submitted as PDF. Maximum file size uploadable is 10MB. Each competition entry should have a minimum of the following:

  • One gestalt/concept diagrams
  • One site plan of your overall design
  • Two sections (1/8” scale or larger)
  • One detailed plan of the new development (1/16”)
  • Two perspectives of your design during day use/ night use
  • One detail of a particular design element, and any other drawings and text that you consider essential to communicate your ideas.

Provide a clear descriptive materials list and include maintenance requirements. Entries will be accepted beginning 15 May 2013, deadline is 03 June 2013. For more information, please go to Please direct questions to

A panel of experts in environmental planning and landscape design will judge the entries. Jurors include: Anu Mathur (University of Pennsylvania), John King (San Francisco Chronicle Architecture Critic), Georges Descombes (ADM Architects, Geneva), Herbert Dreiseitl (Atelier Dreiseitl), Walter Hood and Matt Kondolf (UC Berkeley). The jury will consider the following:

  1. The consistency of logic from idea to site scale
  2. Design detail
  3. Functional, didactic, and artistic design performance
  4. Spatial and experiential qualities.

Entries due Monday, June 3, 2013 – submission site details forthcoming.


  • First Place: $3,000
  • Second Place: $2,000
  • Third Place: $1,000.

The Watermarks competition is sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Beatrix Farrand Endowment, as part of the observation of the department’s centennial, the Next 100 Years. Competition coordinators Matt Kondolf and Walter Hood.

References cited: Burby, RJ 2001. Flood insurance and floodplain management: The U.S. experience. Global Environ Change Part B: Environmental Hazards 3:111-122 Ludy, J, Kondolf, GM 2012. Flood risk perception in lands ‘protected’ by 100-year levees. Natural Hazards 61:829-842 White, Gilbert F 1942. Human Adjustment to Floods. Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Geography. Chicago: University of Chicago.


Julia Lent

Firm Finder                                                      
Maxine Artis
Linette Straus                                                                  

Professional Practice 

Library and Research Services                          
Ian Bucacink

RFQs & Opportunities                                      
Terence Poltrack

Historic Landscapes (HALS)                              
Ali Hay