Studio HK: Landscape Peripheries

This year’s second core MLA studio engaged the dynamic natural systems and contested territories along the coastal edge of Hong Kong Island. The studio’s origin was the Hong Kong Coastal Trail, a working proposal for restoring pedestrian and recreational trails to create a continuous path around the island. Students worked with this initiative as a catalyst for additional strategies and interventions that amplified the connective, regenerative, community-focused ambitions of the existing plans. Students worked through a series of exercises framed at different scales to develop their proposals. The fist exercise examined the variety of landscape systems and communities that are crossed by the proposed trail right of way. After detailed spatial and material documentations, students isolated a user and designed an interface that augmented, adapted, or modified that user’s exchanges with the site. In a second exercise, students focused on 6km section of the trail and used maps and sectional diagrams to illustrate the network of relationships, decisions, and agencies that underlay the coastal trail’s development and structure its potential within the larger urban and ecological territory. The final proposals included landscape-led interventions augmenting the original trail planning to conserve critical habitat or improve water retention; expand the possibilities for green or multi-functional civil infrastructure; or to support local communities through access, mobility, and revitalization projects.

Uncovering Site and Process in the Landscape: Assemblies, Gradients and Frameworks

This foundation studio explores the act of revealing the dynamic landscape as an essential skill of the landscape architect. Through drawing, rigorous observation, and design experimentation, students documented ephemeral or hidden processes in the natural landscape and illuminated the impacts of urban standards and constraints on the public realm. In representing landscape in this way, students were challenged to consider alternatives to more traditional drawing methods–favouring ‘gradient’ over ‘boundary’, ‘networks’ over ‘objects’, and ‘parameters’ over ‘dimensions’. In the first project ‘Sample/Code/Diverge’, students examined the essential components that negotiate Hong Kong’s steep topography: stairs, ramps, and reinforced slopes. From their selected case studies, students extracted and then drew an ‘essential code’ for their element. This project explored the generation of specificity and the limits of the ‘typical’ in the landscape. These ‘essential codes’ were then used as the basis for a series of iterative design explorations that generated new and hybrid landscape conditions. The second project took on the design of a landscape intervention on Lung Fu Shan’s Pinewood Batter. Students produced a set of generative maps that traced the dynamics of water and sunlight in combination with soil, slope, aspect, and vegetation. These drawings, together with their expanded toolkit of walls, steps, and ramps from project 1 became the basis for a design intervention that aimed to reveal and engage in the dynamic natural processes on the site.

Toward a New Nature, or, Landscape’s reckoning with technology

This thesis track imagines the impact of synthetic ecologies on the city. As emerging technologies reshape the substance and organization of our environments, landscape architects protest as disciplinary luddites-conversant with the concept of nature compromised by technology, but resistant to the concept of a nature augmented by, directed by, or created by technology. The 20th century model of technology and its complex, specialized assemblies is indeed remote to the practice of landscape architecture as the steward of natural and public realms. But increasingly, the boundaries between technology and nature are blurring, complicating our ethics, our agency, and our theories. Environmental engineering and biosynthetic manufacturing at territorial scales is on the horizon-let’s imagine this future or be left out of determining it. This thesis track will focus on the relationship between technological futures and the ecosystems of the city. Students will research emerging biological, material, and information technologies (and the systems/services they enable) with reference to a set of critiques about the landscape discipline’s role in shaping the public realm, addressing urbanization processes and their residues, and tackling climate change. Theses will work across a range of scales and develop critical design methodologies, working prototypes and dynamic simulations of applied technology. Ultimately, through physical design and material proposals, as well as through landscape-driven scenario-planning and visualizations, the work will articulate new trajectories for the landscape architecture discipline.

East Java Studio: Landscape Strategies for the Urbanizing Tropics

In this studio, students considered landscape architecture’s capacity to engage with environments undergoing rapid change. Through map analysis and literature review, students revealed the ways in which landscape systems, cultural practices, and patterns of human settlement are intertwined, reflecting on the role of strategies and proposals to achieve alternate, more sustainable, more just outcomes. In particular, students examined the impact of modernization, development, and governance on determining natural and cultural landscapes. The study area, the Banyuwangi Regency at the eastern tip of East Java, is a territory that encompasses a dynamic volcanic landscape rich in biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and mineral resources, and is home to a culturally diverse community of some 1.6 million people, with a society built from old kingdoms and founded on Hindu and Islamic traditions and values, scattered across it in a complex ‘desakota’ system of urban-rural sprawl. As with much of Indonesia, it is a territory that is undergoing sudden and dramatic (post-Suharto) changes, modernization, commercialization and internationalization, brought on through urbanization, trade, resource exploitation and tourism. Drawing on current landscape planning and urbanism theory, including critiques of sustainability, ecological urbanism, and green infrastructure, students looked first to understand and document this landscape through its physical components, its systems, flows, assets (and liabilities), actors, patterns and trends, etc. Later exercises developed a strategic landscape section/transect summarizing the physical, hydrological, and socio- economic considerations anticipating any intervention. Finally, students worked to develop specific projects through which portions of an intervention strategy might be realized. Critical to this studio was a week-long study visit during which students and instructors toured the region, meeting local communities and government representatives to understand the region and its landscape systems, and to identify specific points of intervention.

Uncovering Site and Process in the Landscape: Assembles, Gradients, and Frameworks

This foundation studio explored ways of reading, representing, and manipulating landscapes, focusing particularly on material, space and measure. The course was structured as a series of small, cumulative exercises within a small wooded site adjacent to campus- Pinewood Battery. The site was introduced as a site in process: an artifact of a militarized landscape and an example of a geologically and ecologically dynamic site. Students produced a range of drawings, treating the act of surveying as an interpretive, dynamic exercise where students represented gradient (as opposed to edges); network (as opposed to objects); and parameter (as opposed to dimensions). The various layers of the site: deposited, shifted, eroded, stabilized, cultivated, maintained, naturalized, ruined, and interpreted, were, in the first exercise, the context for observation and rigorous documentation of sequential sections, rendered plan, and photographic collage. In the second exercise, students developed a landscape of simple structures, landforms, and vegetation strategies that were derived from physical material experiments using models. In the final exercise, these generative drawings and experiments formed the basis for the design of a new landscape intervention within Pinewood Battery. Successful projects engaged with the dynamics of the existing landscape to create new experiences of nature and heritage at the city’s urban fringe.

Examining Public Open Space in The High-density City

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Interstitial Hong Kong (IHK) is a project to document the smallest and most under-appreciated part of the public realm in Hong Kong. Known as Sitting-out Areas (SOAs) and Rest Gardens (RGs) these spaces exist throughout Hong Kong in the interstices of the city’s physical urban fabric. These spaces form a distinct typology of small scale public realm in the city, and are here for the first time studied in a categorical way based on their impact on public life, community, and ecology. Original categories were created to explain the strategic approaches taken to context and use that were discovered through the drawing and analysis. The work documents an urban anomaly and anticipates ways in which these spaces might be leveraged to make tactical improvements to the urban public realm. The major output of the work took place in three sequential exhibitions in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou, with further dissemination of the underlying research in journal and conference papers. Furthermore, a series of original drawings and models was produced to disseminate the results of the research project. The research project has been selected for a Commendation by the 2019 RIBA President’s Award for Research.

The exhibitions provided an exchange of resources concerning the public realm in Hong Kong and raised a discourse on its alteration and development through government policies and public interaction. The exhibition informed a multidisciplinary discussion on design and planning in Hong Kong. The exhibition contributed to a larger public debate on the form, function, distribution and accessibility of public space in high-density cities and sought opportunities by which this typology might counteract the general erosion of public-ness in the contemporary city.

+StL: A Landscape Master plan in St. Louis

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Professional Team: TLS Landscape Architecture (landscape lead), Object Territories (landscape and architecture lead), [dhd] Derek Hoeferlin Design (architecture lead); Borderless Studio (planning), Bryan Cave Associates (law), Dutchtown South Community Coorperation (community), Econsult Solutions (economics), E Design Dynamics (hydrology), EDSI (traffic planning), James Lima Planning (programming), Jeremy Goss (health and food), Kristen Fleischmann Brewer (art advisor), Langan (engineering), North Newstead Association(community), Preservation Research Office (history), Prosperity Labs (economics), Ramboll (engineering), Silman (engineering), Project Controls (QS), Terra Technologies (ecology)

This project consists of a master plan and strategic development proposal completed for a high-profile international urban design competition. I participated on the team of academics and professionals as a lead. Our proposal went through a two-phase review process against an international field of leading practitioners, and in the final stage competed against four other teams including one led by James Corner Field Operations and another by Stoss Landscape Urbanism.

Asked to resolve ecological, social, and economic issues with a strategic landscape intervention in the heart of St. Louis, our master plan proposal envisioned a rebuttal of the typical resource-concentrating big landscape interventions that have ‘cornered the market’ on international urban design projects. Instead, following in the spirit of the organizer’s citizen-involved approach to building regional greenway networks, we proposed a master plan that reconnected a multi-modal network at the city’s urban core in ways that brought incremental investment back to  the communities and ecologies currently faltering, or forgotten, that surround the project corridor.

Our team was assembled on a principle of multidisciplinarity and on community/professional partnerships. The team included academics from the University of Hong Kong, the University of Washington Sam Fox School of Architecture and the Brown School of Social Work with community leaders, public health advocates, and professional specialists in architecture, landscape architecture, ecology, hydrology, civil engineering, law, economics, and community finance. Committed to a horizontal design and decision making process, the resulting master plan focused on providing tactical measures to address specific problems related to equity, public health, and mobility in the city.  We focused on three strategies in particular: 1) stimulating existing economic assets by planning linked investments, 2) “maximin” regeneration of disconnected ecological patches and corridors as a self-maintaining urban wilderness, and 3) an implementation sequence that would expand and ensure equity among the various communities affected by urban regeneration. These three strategies articulated a finer set of goals for distributing development, introducing biodiversity and undoing hard water infrastructures, and planning for unbroken access to jobs, institutions, and public space.

My role as an academic on the team drew on my research on landscape systems in developing countries. I saw such systems as a potential model for low-capital investment projects in the developed world. My research for the project involved surveying existing landscape systems and habitats and proposing suitable interventions to maximize social and ecological services while minimizing disturbance. Working with hydrological engineers and ecologists, I designed a series of prairie and wetland interventions and evaluated their long-term cost-benefit for adjacent sites. I was also an academic liaison with the leading landscape architect and professional head, TLS, often translating their professional perspective in team negotiations. Finally, I–together with the academic team at Washington University–articulated the project’s “counter-proposal” narrative and its critique of international competition practice. This would ultimately cost our team the winning prize (we came in second place), but has been cited as a defining concept in the prizes and awards the project has won since.

The project has won six international awards, notably:

1) ASLA National Honor Award in Analysis and Planning (American Society of Landscape Architects);

2) AIA-New York Honor Award for Urban Design (American Institute of Architects);

3) Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Award for Planning and Design (2019 Global Forum on Human Settlements)

Urban Resilience by Design: Adaptive Landscapes for the PRD

This thesis initiative builds on a joint research and design partnership between HKU and UC Berkeley to develop policy, planning and design responses to coastal vulnerability in the face of climate change in the Pearl River Delta and San Francisco Bay Area. This collaboration is driven by a set of design interests and research projects at both institutions and themed around transdisciplinary issues of coastal adaptivity, water security, sustainable infrastructure, and urban environmental resilience. Landscape architects and planners have a critical role to play in these dialogues, and the MLA thesis group will contest the boundaries, precedents, and practices of the landscape architectural discipline in order to argue for new roles, new visions, new methods, and new partnerships, thus positioning landscape at the forefront of adaptive design and planning in regions at risk. Beyond physical design, students are expected to address overarching questions of equity, agency, and governance in order to explore how systematic change can be harnessed to sustain appropriate forms of settlement and infrastructural development. Building on themes developed in research seminars in Hong Kong (ARCH7175) and Berkeley, the thesis group will work together with instructors and guest critics to develop an account of the real or perceived environmental risks threatening to undermine the Greater Bay Area’s stability and coherence. The thesis group’s research will also disentangle the region’s fragmented approach to understanding and mitigate these threats. These narratives will guide the selection of a number of sites and strategies to be explored in individual or small group design projects. Our critique will draw in resiliency strategies world-wide, but especially in the dominant discourses emerging in the past decade in competitions and design projects in Europe and North America. To what extent can or should urban resiliency/adaptive strategies be globalized? What lessons are to be found in the PRD’s approach to climate change and how might strategies developed in a densely populated subtropical conurbation?

Uncovering Site and Process in the Landscape: Assembles, Gradients and Frameworks

This foundation level studio focused on reading, representing and manipulating the landscape, with an emphasis on material, space, rhythm and measure. The studio sought to create a sensibility toward landscape in which the act of surveying a site can be understood as a generative act. Emphasis was placed on visual and manual skills in two-dimensional and three-dimensional constructions (drawing, fabrications, model-making, etc.). The studio was structured around the themes of gradient (as opposed to edge); network (as opposed to object); and parameter (as opposed to dimension). The semester featured three interrelated projects: ‘Maps and Transects’ asked students to develop annotative methods to render field-observations of aspects of a site’s physical environment. Students represented these dimensions of the site through plan and multiple projected sections. The second project ‘Elemental Manipulations’, introduced a basic kit of parts including structural, vegetated, and land-forming elements. Students worked iteratively to develop a language of manipulation through the interrelating of sets of elements. Finally, with ‘Boundary Interventions’, students proposed an intervention that revealed the dynamic conditions of their site. The design intervention and its imagined impact was documented through a set of re-imagined standard landscape architectural drawings.

Another Nature: Landscape, design and development in the urban (sub)tropics

If you want to find out how various cultures understand the natural world, go to their cities, locate the leading edge of new construction, and observe the strategic transformations taking place. . . . The urban horizon . . . is where the world comes into being and is thereafter systematically redefined. -Albert Pope, “Last Horizon” (2003) Recent discourse has attempted to place the landscape architecture at the center of an effort to revisit the image and role of nature in the contemporary city. Specifically, it promotes an organized (and organizing), “productive” landscape as the remedy for suburban sprawl, urban regeneration, post-industrial transition, and climate change. Emerging from thought- centers in the temperate West, these strategies are constructed through the ‘figures’ of parks, buffers, greenways, grounds and waterfronts; and valued through the ‘performances’ of water storage and filtration, food production, habitat, and resiliency. But what about those landscapes that lie outside of these norms? What of the landscape in the margins of our cities; remnant in its fragments and emerging from its substrates? Especially in the tropical and subtropical metropolises of Asia, Africa, and South America, the landscapes of the city are enmeshed within a process of continuous and unplanned development. The role these landscapes play in these urban environments are not fully known; its forms and images not explicitly codified. The “natures” in these places can be liminal or pervasive, beneficial or distressing. Terms like ‘ruderal’ and ‘wild’ tell us only that they are excluded from traditional notions of the cultivated, inhabited and managed landscape. Thesis work in this track will seek to bring these marginal landscapes back into our collective awareness and to develop frameworks for conceptualizing the urban condition in its full environmental and atmospheric diversity. Designs will demonstrate the provocative paradigms of nature in the city as it is balanced against notions of development and the constraints of health, sanitation, and settlement. Ultimately, students must also consider the medium of representation itself to grapple with the imagery of design/ research in a pre-professional, post-digital context.