Landscape Systems

The ARCH7151 Landscape Systems course frames ‘landscape’ as an assembly of natural systems (geological, hydrological, climatic, and ecology) in continuous dynamic interaction with human systems (building development, urban infrastructure, materials / waste). Through multiple landscape case-studies, readings, and technical exercises, the class examined some of the theories that underpin our ideas of landscape, and explored the relationships between the built and the natural, at site, district and territorial scales. The course also focused on foundational skills in ‘reading’ landscapes and assessing specific qualities and functions of landscapes. In addition to developing our landscape architectural language, we reflected critically on terms commonly used (and abused) in practice today such as ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’, ‘performance’, and ‘productivity. We centred our landscape mapping and description studies on Shek O, the historic village set on the exposed southeast corner of Hong Kong Island, where both the landscape and the village are very much he project of the environment.

“…by nature”

‘Landscape’, can be understood as a dynamic assembly of natural systems in continuous interaction with human systems, operating at multiple scales (from site to territory) and across different time periods. Landscape planners, designers and managers need to be able to recognize these systems, their interrelationships and the forces behind them, so that they can anticipate change and develop responses that generate resilient outcomes. In this studio we explored the landscape systems of the Port Shelter Area of Sai Kung, and saw how the form of urban development has responded to the natural, e.g. how the surface water drainage system is based on the natural hydrological pattern; how the design of the sea wall responds to tidal actions and storm events; and how the form and orientation of the buildings takes account of patterns of sunlight and seasonal winds. From this we developed a series of management and design strategies for varied sites around the Inner Port Shelter that were responsive to anticipated environmental and societal changes. The studio helps develop foundational skills in ‘reading’ landscapes and ultimately for assessing their specific qualities and functions, as well as reflecting on the language of landscape architecture. Through selected landscape case-studies, readings, and technical exercises, we examined theories that underpin our ideas of landscape, and explored relationships between the built and the natural, at multiple scales and across time.

Productive Cities

Resources required to sustain urban life are increasingly supplied from a vast hinterland of productive landscapes well beyond the city’s boundaries. The ecological footprint (food- water- energy- footprints) of a high rise high density city should now be considered at a global scale. Cross boundary resource dependence, however, is subject to political considerations. This thesis stream explores the city as a site of production and asks what could we produce from the fabric of the city and to what extent could a city ever be self-sustaining. Although urban agriculture (in its multiple forms) is the most well-known form of production, we can also think of the city’s capacity to collect water, generate power, derive material resources (through waste), sequester carbon and even produce social capital (happiness) and physical wellbeing. Further, in identifying these potential urban products, we should consider both how and by whom. Can landscape architectural (re-)thinking at site – district – city scales help transform and shape cities so that the idea and form of production become integrated into the physical, ecological and social urban fabric.

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.

Elevating Urban Agriculture

Download PDF
 

Numerous small-scale rooftop farms have spontaneously appeared over the last ten years on buildings in high-density urban districts worldwide. This wide-ranging study documented, tested and codified rooftop farms, and investigated the motivations of participants. Environmental and community limits in the design of rooftop farms were determined, together with their potential contribution to enhancing urban environmental and community well-being. Key conclusions of the study revealed both that extensive farmable roof space existed within dense (and aging) urban populations, and personal social values motivated participants to initiate rooftop farms, indicating that government policy on urban agriculture policy should shift their focus on the generation of social capital rather than food production.

These findings indicate that urban agriculture could help address some mental health challenges that high density cities face. The conclusions, along with technical design information, were disseminated through an award-winning book and website. Through these outputs, practitioners inside and outside Hong Kong have developed communities of practice that allow them to coordinate their efforts and to advocate for the formalization of the practice with land and building processes.

The study was instrumental in encouraging Hong Kong Government to expand its 2016 New Agricultural Policy to include these new forms of urban agriculture, and actively promote them within development proposals. The study has attracted media attention from both local and international news organizations, and has been recognized with design awards both internationally and in Hong Kong. It has also helped to broaden thinking about the role of landscape architects in high density cities, and demonstrated the efficacy of community-enterprise projects and spaces generated through the activation of grassroots organizations.

Productive Cities

The resources required to sustain urban life, food, water energy are supplied from an increasingly large hinterland of productive landscapes well beyond the city’s boundaries. The ecological footprint (water- energy- footprints) of a high rise high density city should now be considered at a global scale. Cross boundary resource dependence, however, is subject to political considerations. This thesis stream looks at the city as a site of production and asks the question, to what extent can a city be self-sustaining. Although urban agriculture (in its multiple forms) is the most well-known form of production, we can also think of the city’s capacity to collect water, generate power, derive material resources (through waste), sequester carbon or even produce social and physical wellbeing (happiness). Further, in identifying these potential urban products, we should consider both how and by whom. Can landscape architectural (re-)thinking at site – district – city scales help transform and shape cities so that the idea and form of production become integrated into the physical, ecological and social urban fabric.

East Java Studio: Paradise Lost

In this studio students looked at the concept of ‘Landscape as Framework’: how natural landscape systems can determine and order human settlement and activity (and in turn be determined by them); and how we might develop meaningful strategies and proposals to achieve and sustain a balance between the two. In particular, we examined the impact of modernization and development on high value natural landscapes and traditional culture, and the roles that Landscape Architects might play in managing these processes to achieve the most relevant and resilient outcomes possible. We took as our study area the BanyuWangi Regency, at the eastern tip of East Java, a territory that encompasses a volcanic landscape rich in ecological biodiversity, scenic landscape beauty, agricultural productivity and mineral resource, but is also 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 core concepts such as sustainability, ecological urbanism, landscape topology, we looked first to understand and document this landscape through its physical components, its systems, flows, assets (and liabilities), actors, patterns, trends, etc., then to develop a strategic landscape framework / guide plan for possible intervention, and finally to find specific projects through which portions of the strategy might be realized. Core to this studio was a 10-day study visit, during which we toured the territory with local communities and government representatives to increase our understanding of the region and its landscape systems, and to identify specific points of intervention.

Productive cities

Cities have traditionally been conceived simply as venues for mass human occupation and activity. Under the umbrella concept of ‘urban agriculture’ they are increasingly being re-thought as sites of production. Remnant farms within Chinese cities, rooftop farms in high rise Hong Kong, edible urban forests in Seattle, Dutch vertical pig farms, commercialized food production from back yards of private homes in Los Angeles, are a few examples of the thousands of small-scale, community-based initiatives to produce food from vacant and under-utilised corners of the city. Urban agriculture is often cited now as a core component of the sustainable or biophilic cities. The suggested benefits of urban agriculture extend well beyond food supply, and include a diverse range of: environmental and climatic (Colding and Barthiel 2013); social and community (Hou, 2017) therapeutic and public health (Webster et al 2015); ecological and biodiversity; urban greenery and rural linkage benefits. Many of these are, in themselves, forms of production, and offer such potential to a sustainable urban future, that food production is becoming something of a secondary consideration. In this thesis stream I would like to explore research questions such as: To what extent are small scale urban agriculture initiatives scalable to the city level (spatially and operationally)? How can we effectively codify, evaluate and represent (graphically or otherwise) the various benefits? What other forms of production might be possible from the physical fabric of the city – e.g. power, water, soil, biota? What is the best role for the landscape architect in urban agriculture, and what research is needed to support that role? and As a consequence of these benefits, could urban agriculture be used as a catalyst for urban change and be used proactively as an urban design tool?

East Java Studio

Taking the concept of ‘Landscape as Framework’, this studio looked at how natural landscape systems can determine and order human settlement and activity (and in turn be determined by them), and how we might develop meaningful strategies and proposals to achieve and sustain a balance between the two.We took a broad north-south corridor of land (some 150 km long and 70km wide) on the Indonesian Island of Java as our initial study area. This vast territory encompasses a volcanic landscape rich in biodiversity, scenic beauty, agricultural productivity and mineral resource, but is also home to a culturally diverse community of some 10 million people, scattered across it in a complex ‘desakota’ system of urban sprawl. Drawing on current landscape planning and urbanism theory, students looked to understand and document this landscape, not just through its physical components, but though its systems, flows, assets (and liabilities), actors, patterns, trends, etc. From this they developed strategic framework proposals for the landscape.Core to this studio was the week-long study visit, centred on the former colonial hill town of Malang where we partnered with staff and students from U. Brawijaya. Excursions to the Mt Bromo volcano, the Lapindo mud volcano at Surabaya in the north, teak plantations, water management infrastructure and the resort beaches of the southern coast, and the rich agriculture of the upland Batu Valley, allowed us to interact with local communities, record (in drawings and video) the landscape and its people, and to develop our understanding of the territory and its landscape systems. From this students were able to identify specific issues and projects which became their final projects.

Landscape, Biophysics

In this studio we explored the physical and biological elements and systems that make up our world, and the forces that shape them. In particular, we sought to understand how they interact and how they change over time. While examining them, we worked out best ways to describe and represent them, graphically. This gave a basis for manipulating them (by design), and understanding the likely consequences of any changes. To do this we investigated two environments: one mostly natural (Pokfulam Valley) and one largely man-made (Queens Road, HK). We studied the nature of the elements and processes within each, and the commonalities and differences between them. In each place students proposed an intervention. In the natural environment they looked to modify it to allow for human occupation, in the man-made environment they look to re-introduce natural elements and make occupation by humans easier. Through these interventions they were able to understand the fundamental relationship between nature and man. Some of the models and design from the final assignment were exhibited as part of the ‘Liveability of Design’ Exhibition held at HKSAR Central Government Offices in September 2017.