Skip to content

Adaptive Infrastructure: Friday to Saturday

continued coverage of the Adaptive Infrastructure Symposium at the University of Virginia

Martin Prominski, Chair of Landscape Architecture at Leibniz University

Professor Prominski is making analytic studies as part of a “Topographical Atlas“ of European cities and rivers. He will include case studies of rivers (such as the Isar in Munich, the Birs in Basil, the Gallego in Zuera, Spain, and the Seine in Paris) that have very different constraints and opportunities.  This information will allow communities to make better design decisions for their rivers.  This effort is directed toward adapting to changing water levels as defined in the European Union white paper of 2009, “Adapting to Climate Change”.

Kongjian Yu, Dean of Landscape Architecture, University of Peking, Founder of Turenscape

Dean Kongjian Yu pointing out the massive brownfields of China

Dean Kongjian Yu noting the massive brownfields of China

Dean Yu presented two images of water from myth: water as a dragon, or the enemy; and water as the sacred mother.  He suggests that we might build water systems as sacred landscapes, or just simply “make friends with water” and abandon the maximum defense approach.  With the latter we might be safe in the near term, but we will have destroyed the ecosystem in the process.  What does “make friends with water” look like? Dean Yu started his presentation at the largest scale, showing the sources of major Chinese rivers on a plan of China.  He is recommending that this area become a national park, providing recreation, controlling floods, and creating a haven for biodiversity.  At the smaller scale, he outlined five principles:

1. Use the minimum intervention for the maximum effect. Turenscape project:  Red Ribbon

2. Productive landscapes.   Turenscape project: rice paddies at Shenyang University

3.  Let nature work.   Turenscape project: 21 ponds of differing pH at Tianjing Qiaoyuan Park

4. Landscape as Infrastructure to purify polluted water.  Turenscape project:  Houtan wetland park,  2010 Shanghai World Expo

5. from the art of survival to the art beyond survival.  Turenscape project:  competition entry for Grant Park in Chicago

Please follow the links, take a look at these projects, and see what he means by “making friends with water”.  Please imagine how the principles might be applied in the United States.

Antje Stokman, principal of Studio Urbane Landschaft, Hamburg, Germany

Antje Stokman presented a picture of living with water that would surprise an American.  People must be careful about where they park their car, because the tide might come in and cover it with water.  And the fish market floods at least three times per year.  They just open the doors and let the flood through!  People are accustomed to seeing buildings under water.  They expect it, they like it, and tourists come out to see it.  So Hamburg has no flood gate, and people are learning to cope.

The dynamic presence of water in the city is due to the dredging of the Elbe River to support larger ships, the building of embankments and dikes along the river, and the elimination of wetland overflow areas. The tidal range of the Elbe at Hamburg has changed from 1.5 meters in 1850 to about 3.5 meters now.  The new HafenCity quarter, on the site of the old port, contends with this range inventively, elevating the ground level above the tide, with sealed car parks below, and double bridges for both water level and emergency access.

What issues are challenging Hamburg?  The river at Hamburg is subject to both upstream (fluvial) and downstream (tidal) sediment deposition, necessitating an increased need for dredging.  Given that the port is central to the economic and social life of the city, the big challenge is to keep the tidal range from growing, to reduce the height of flooding, and to discover the best locations to place the contaminated fluvial sedment.

Here is an exciting new technique.  Professor Stokman has her students build “landscape machines” to simulate and demonstrate water processes.  Look for versions of this technique to appear at the University of Virginia in the near future…

Antje Stokman’s new book, Wasseratlas, in German with English summaries, is full of beautiful diagrams.

Jane Wolff, Director of Landscape Architecture, University of Toronto

Jane Wolff talked about the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta in the Netherlands, the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana, and the California Delta, site for her 2003 book Delta Primer.

Much of the Netherlands is flat and low.  Half of the land area is within 1 meter of sea level.  This is a place in which a landowner’s careless actions might jeopardize the safety of all of his neighbors, and Dutch culture incorporates a series of pervasive social structures that mitigate the potential for mayhem.  Children are taught about water from an early age with characters such as the heroic “water drop”. People understand that their living condition demands a continuing active attitude towards the North Sea.  In this context the relationship between people and water is highly developed and well maintained.  After the devastating 1953 flooding, the government made the “never again” decision, and initiated a 50 year strategy to secure the safety of the Dutch people.

In contrast to the Netherlands, the safety of New Orleans in the Mississippi Delta has been impaired by racism, neglect, and fear.  The mitigating social structures are not in place, and the “never again” decision has not been made.  How, then, can protection and help be offered to the citizens of New Orleans?  In the absence of official attention, Jane Wolff spoke about the potential for mobilization at the grass roots level. She mentioned three grass roots initiatives that are underway in the city:

The Pontchartrain Park + Gentilly Woods Landscape Manual This manual lays out the important cultural history of the neighborhood, and proposes things that individuals and neighborhoods can do to mitigate risk.  Many of the proposals are now under construction.

Gutter to Gulf is a weblog coordinating student contributions to the Dutch Dialogues, the purpose of which is “to examine, research and speculate on integrated water management and infrastructural strategies for New Orleans and the surrounding region”.  Jane Wolff thinks that residents and students both gain as a result of this collaboration.

Most Wanted in the Lower 9th is a list, by local residents of the most urgent/most simple-to-achieve actions to secure a modicum of safety for Lower 9th Ward residents. The Dutch maximum response, “never again” and “what is the most that we can do?” has not happened here. This alternative proposal, at least offering a way forward, is to discover minimal things to change the situation.

Anne Spirn at Adaptive Infrastrucures

Anne Spirn talks with Craig Barton

Anne Spirn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

As gauged by questions from the floor, many in the audience were reaching the troubling conclusion that at the scale of national and state government, the United States is not working effectively to mitigate climate change.  We lag depressingly behind most other developed countries in Europe and Asia.  Author and teacher Anne Spirn offered sage advice about this problematic situation.  In her seminal book, The Granite Garden, she studied the best urban landscape projects to determine how they had been accomplished.  While she expected to find an inspired leader behind most projects, instead she found that a crisis or disaster had occurred, and that someone had arrived at the opportune moment with a plan of action.  So her advice was that crises and disasters (such as climate change) offer opportunities. We should know the catastrophe to which our regions are prone, and we should get ready to help  through a combination of research and design.  She spoke of the potential for design practice as a form of collaborative research between designers and scientists.  She recommended broad thinking, multi-functional solutions that incorporate bio-diversity, and the importance of bringing design into the mainstream by writing for general public.