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Building on the Sea Side

Though humans have to struggle against the forces of land and nature everywhere they build, one of the most difficult places, and yet also one of the most popular, is along the coast. The ocean is a vast and varied force that fascinates us. We want to be close to it, be able to see it stretch out into the distance, creating one of the true horizons that we can find on this planet. It is always changing, moving, living. We want to hear the rhythmic crashing of the surf, the high cry of the gulls, feel the fresh sea breeze, and smell the salty air.
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We have a strong desire to go as close to the edge as we can and yet maintain our security and comforts of modern living. We want to be able to step out the door onto the sand, not waste anytime maneuvering through our synthetic jungle to get to the beach, to reach the sea. But we also want to have the protection and comfort and commodities of home ready at a moments notice. When we have had enough, we want to step inside and be completely shielded from the elements.

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The built world on the ocean's edge has a lot to contend with. The vast openness of the ocean brings with it strong winds, long hours of sun exposure, and moist salty air. The land shifts nearly as frequently as the sea does, eroding and crumbling. There are jagged rocks and cliffs and shifting sands. There is the sand that gets everywhere and is not stable enough to build on. Even the coast line itself shifts, sometimes very drastically, over the years, pushing in here and stretching out there. And then, of course, there is the high potential for out of the ordinary extremes. "Normal" storms bring with them a whole new level of wind, water, sand, and salt, let alone the extremes of tidal waves, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Common sense and practicality would tell us to steer clear of these disaster-waiting-to-happen zones. But that is hardly what we do. Transportation, economics, tradition, beauty, and a desire for the unobtainable are the driving forces that keep us on the ocean's edge.

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So how is this monumental opposition dealt with and resolved? All of the seven types of resolutions are utilized in an attempt to build on the oceans edge. We make walls, screens, and other wind and water breaks to keep nature out. We build big enough so that the fluidity of the sand does not affect our structures. We also try to make structures that will allow nature to coexist with our buildings; we build on stilts so that we can both go further out into the unknown and also so we can let the dynamic seas pass below. While some buildings build walls of glass to keep out the wind, salt, and sand, others have open airy wall that let everything pass through. We have levies to keep the water out, and we have canals to let the water pass by. With all of the various solutions, they all still try to maintain a view of and accessibility to the sea.

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However, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to master the sea. Probabilistic responses will only take us so far, because with the ocean and its force, there will always be something bigger than expected. This is seen on the smaller scale of severe winter storms, seasonal global shifts like "El Nino", and then of course the big disasters like the tsunami that hit Indonesia and hurricane Katrina that took out New Orleans. All of our built resolutions can be obliterated so easily by the ocean. And yet we will never stop building and trying.

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