What would be the ideal final year design studio at university?

Over a the of years, I have seen and heard about final year design studios (design subjects) and have been inspired by the design thinking and ideas presented by students. I also remember back to when I completed my final year design studio at university and then what I experienced as a landscape architect in design firms. I feel that there is a way to improve university design studios to better integrate how practices design into a university landscape architecture program design studio.

I fully support the need for students to learn how to design and the various the theory of various design theories, constructs, paradigms and going through the challenging process of design, however, there is also a place for experiencing collaborative design with other disciplines as may occur in the landscape architecture profession. Therefore, the following is the framework for an ideal design studio from the perspective of a practitioner.

A final year design studio (one or two-semester design studio) would be a culmination of everything learnt during the course (landscape design, history, culture, construction technology)  and the application of that learning into one studio which involves students from other programs (Property, Finance, Ecology, Architecture, Engineering, Interiors, etc) that would allow those students to also test, trail and experience their learning in a fully integrate multi-discipline design studio. I am sure that there are some courses in the world that undertake similar inter-discipline design studios (architecture, urban design, construction, etc) however, I feel that these are the exception not the standard approach for landscape architecture programs.

The framework for the final design studio would be to try and replicate a design project as it occurs for each profession (including the trials and tribulations). The studio would involve several different teams who would have 2-3 members from each program and they would be mentored by professionals from each discipline who would attend at regular intervals to act as advisors.

Once a site is selected and a brief and budget are formulated to allow students to explore design, but it also constrains them to a budget, physical site, local regulations and expected outcomes. This may be limiting their imagination and skills, however, having constraints (including financial ones) can often drive innovation and ideas. The course leader, tutors and industry professionals would act as the client with predetermined scenarios to provide input as the client and stakeholders. The different design teams would include a landscape architect, architect, engineers and other program disciplines and would work as one team but similar to many projects they would still work within their own university departments. The mulit-discipline teams would undertake the design studio including site analysis, interviewing stakeholders, and would work in workshops at the concept, design development and final design phases.

This idea to replicate a “real world” project may be looked down upon by many as it is not a pure design studio or testing the student’s design capabilities in line with design schools ideals, but it will allow them to experience designing a project in a collaborative environment with other allied disciplines where it requires the learning of interpersonal skills and empathy for others professionals to create a successful fully resolved design. This type of design studio will also allow students to learn how to obtain advice from other disciplines and learn about their limitations as design professionals.

I hope that this outline generates some discussion in design schools, practices and the broader design community. Feel free to contact me via email me damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com to discuss the ideal final year design studio.

 

Decentralising Australian cities via high speed rail

I lived in China for over 10 years and saw the transformation of cities through the building high-speed rail connections. The first weekend of my time in China in 2005,  I took a K-Train to Suzhou(about 100kms from Shanghai) to see the gardens, and it took about 55-60 minutes on the train and we passed through a couple of other cities along which I think were Anting and Kunshan.

Move forward to 2008 when High-Speed Rail started D-Train (“Dongche”, 动车) in China at 250km/h (155mph) and then later in 2010 the new G-Train (“Ggaotie”高铁) that can reach 400km/h (280mph) when the same trip between Shanghai and Suzhou now takes 23-32 minutes cutting the time in half.   HSR has been so transformative that some air routes in China no longer exist.

The high-speed rail(HSR) has transformed China and has been used to create new cities and relieve the transport stresses placed on major cities by decentralising the population of cities. Whilst we still continue the same work paradigm of working in offices in Central Activity/Business Districts we will require people to travel into “downtown” in the morning and then leave and return to their homes in the cities. Whilst we all still ponder the possibility of autonomous vehicle travel we have to look toward solutions including decentralising populations from major cities. Melbourne and Sydney have both now sprawled over large areas with populations of over 4 million, the density is low although increasing over the last decade there is still major stress on the transport system.

The has been an ongoing discussion for the last 30 years of a high-speed rail line between Melbourne and Sydney due to the number of flights between the cities (one of the busiest in the world) and also due to the fact that they are the largest populations in Australia. However, this discussion often doesn’t go beyond expensive feasibility studies. I think that the premise of connecting the two biggest cities is the wrong discussion around high-speed rail infrastructure but in fact, the discussion should be focusing more on connecting regional cities (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Newcastle, Wollongong and the capital Canberra) to the main centres to decentralise the populations and increase business centres.

Through HSR we could see populations move and grow these regional centres with most populations being 70,000 to 400,000 people whilst the major cities have grown beyond 4 million.

For Melbourne, it would seem the best solution would be to first connect Geelong and Melbourne via Avalon Airport with a travel time of 18-24 minutes cutting the current travel time(1 hour) by over 60% and would connect Melbourne’s second airport to the city.

In Sydney, it would seem that connecting Canberra via the new airport at Baggerys Creek and Wooloongong would be the first route due to the amount of travel (car and air) that happens between the cities. Currently, the travel time is 4 hours 8 Minutes to travel 280-350km, which high-speed rail this could be cut to 1hr 30 – 1hr 45 based on two intermediate stops.

The financial benefits for regional cities are generated through increased population growth and tourism and reduced costs for major cities due to the reduction in the needs creating new housing and infrastructure.

Australian Governments have attempted to shift populations by moving departments or statutory authorities to regional cities, however, it is often hard to get people to relocate due to the distance from friends and family.

The issue with most planning studies and models we see from planners and architects show increased density in the central business district with higher towers. This is not the answer but will increase the current problems due to increase density and reduction in open space.

There are numerous issues around the current population growth in Melbourne and Sydney, each having grown by over 1 million people in the last decade, however, we constantly keep looking at the solution of increased density with new surburban rail stations on overcrowded lines as the silver bullet. However, there are numerous regional cities that have populations of less than 10% of major cities and by connecting these to the major business districts through rail and increasing the density of office buildings and mixed use in these centres rather than increasing residential populations through large towers.

These idea is only one of many but it is a large idea that could make the largest difference to Australia’s major cities.

Design regulations against terrorism – a catalyst for change

Over the last year there have been several terrorist incidents that have seen the loss of life in our cities and due to this acts we have seen governments have turned to security experts, police departments and intelligence experts to offer advice on how to make cities safer. This is a continuation of the ever increasing change in the way we live our lives over the last few decades as we have secured airports, train stations, bus stations, border crossings and tourist attractions.

Due to recent events the Australian government has sort advice from security experts and recently, the Prime Minister of Australia launched the Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism. A document which seeks to “…assist owners and operators to increase the safety, protection and resilience of crowded places across Australia.”. This strategy is similar to the Crowded Places Guidance recently published by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office(UK) and the FEMA – Site and Urban Design for Security.

 

Read the full post at World Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architecture trends in 2017 and beyond

I originally posted this article on World Landscape Architecture and was seeking to cover a range of topics including Climate Adaptation, Local solutions at grand scale, Alternative Transport Modes, Rural and Remedies, and more. The first part of the article is here but you can read the full article on WLA.

We are now in the second week of 2017 and looking forward to the coming year ahead to what will be trends in Landscape Architecture. These trends deal with a larger areas of landscape architecture predicting what we may possibly see in the future months and years.

Climate Adaptation
The discussion around climate change in the media and blogs is still revolving around the issue and less around solutions. However, in recent time in research and landscape practice we are seeing more intense discussion around climate change solutions including climate adaptation. In the future we will see more research, competitions and projects using elements of climate adaptation to create wholistic design solutions as the world faces with the increasing environmental pressures of climate change. Urban spaces will be designed utilising the opportunities they present to adapt to climate change.

Local solutions at grand scale
As densities increase in cities (developed and developing countries) we will see larger scale projects that will attempt to service the needs of increasing populations (housing, transport, social, green space, job creation) at a local level. However, these projects will increasingly need to build support at the local level with a mix of private and public funding, this may be not new to the mega international cities but it will become more prevalent in the smaller to medium size cities, no longer can these cities chip away at infrastructure and environmental problems at a piece by piece basis as they feel the pressures of increasing populations. On the reverse, ageing cities in some developed countries (Japan, Czechia, Latvia, Italy, Ukraine, etc) will need to look to their unique local character to reinvent themselves as populations decline and jobs move to larger financial and technological centres. It will also be local people who will with the help from government, and design professionals to create solutions for better cities and communities.

Alternative Transport Modes
As people increasingly embrace ride-sharing and the race for autonomous vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) increases between established car companies and start-up tech companies we will see governments developing initiatives and regulations to address these new technologies and how spaces and services are designed. Autonomous vehicles and ride sharing will reduce the need for wide road lanes, car parking, but require an increase in the number and size of areas required for drop-off and pickup of riders at airports, train/subway stations, offices, retail districts, tourist precincts and more. Cities will also look to use the reduced car lanes widths to provide space for bike lanes and other alternative transport (yet to be designed).

Read the entire article at WLA

Hyper-city | Hyper-density

Hypercity |
A hyper-city is has an overall density that xceeds 5,000+ inhabitants/km² often with city districts exceeding 30,000+ inhabitants/km2. Cities that fall under this definition include Mumbai, Paris, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Macau, Dhaka, Dar es Salaam, London, Manila, Stockholm and Shanghai [1] Most existing hyper-cities are located in Europe with some in Americas, the newer cities are those in Asia where the countries population is migrating on mass to cities from rural areas in search of a better life.

How is a Hyper-city different from a Mega-city? Mega-city are often defined as 10 million plus residents, however they could be spread across a large area with very low densities. It is noted that many Mega-cities fall under the definition of Hyper-city.

There are two types of hypercities, those that are established (over 100 years old) and those that new cities(developed in last 50 years). Both have separate issues relating to systems and building form(architecture) which will be discussed later.

SYSTEMS & NETWORKS
Hyper-cities are often touted as the answer to the mass migration from rural to urban landscapes. They are seen as more sustainable and efficient form of city where services(transport, health, utilities), commercial (office, retail, markets, trading) and residential (apartments, villas, mixed use) are all located within dedicated area and people travel short distances to and from work, commerce and recreation. However, this is where the theory and implementation diverge as there very few communities that actually live within a few minutes of their workplace. Often housing is purchased based on personal preference and circumstances at the time of purchase including cost of housing, family size, proximity to family, proximity to friends, with proximity to work often the last factor considered as people have become more transient in their careers often staying with the one employer for 2-5 years but living in the same house for 15-20 years. Therefore, transport systems require more thought and flexibility to allow for an transient workforce who may work in factory, then a hotel, then an office in their career or maybe all in the same day.

Systems and networks are key to hyper-cities – transport, utilities, open space, services and retail. Lessons must be learnt from new and established cities to create liveable places to live.
These systems and networks can be intertwined to allow for better living experience. Limiting a hyper-city to one form (grid, organic, network, hub and spoke, etc) creates an instant legacy that takes years if not decades to change. Hyper-cities should allow people to be able to live easily and fluidly.

TRANSPORT – The network than make or break a city
Transport of people, goods, services is key to the success of a city. The need for people to move to and from home, to work, to shop, to a service, to recreate, to home is only half the network. The other half transporting food (whether inter or intra city) and services is key and requires more study and implementation of different models. Public Transport and Individual Transport (cars, bikes) have not changed dramatically, in recent times car-sharing has started to develop. Hopefully, car sharing and autonomous cars will come together to reduce the need for individual car ownership. Imagine a city with a car fleet and very few car spaces – that’s acres of land and basements that are no longer required.

Public transport will always remain bus, train, tram(streetcar) with different modes (elevated, subway, BRT, etc). It is the network form and energy type that will create for more efficient low- carbon cities.

Transport of goods is key and currently uses large amount of energy to move goods to and from inhabitants whether at home, at the office or at the store. A change from the traditional form of logistics is paramount to reduce pollution and congestion. If we look at bulk container shipping we see a model that could work for hypercities. Container shipping is based on selling space on a ship and this comes down to the last square metre, they contract sell to anyone the space within a container to allow for most efficient use of space. Currently, in cities there are numerous couriers who use this method of transport as well but it is still inefficient. If hyper-cities use a centralised system of electric autonomous vehicles on a central system

FOOD
Food for residents is either inter or intra (coming from the city or outside whether another region or country). For a hyper-city to be efficient it requires a change in land use, form and mind set.

Landuse
Currently, most agricultural land near cities is under threat from development and is a source of cheap housing. However, large tracts of arable land are replaced with cheap housing and farmers moved to the fringes of the cities into less arable land. When planning a Hyper-cities there is a need to study, map and zone areas of arable land to allow the city to have a sustainable source of food. Also hypercities should map all areas of flood zone and waterways and allow this land to be used for farming rather than creating vast tracks of non-productive recreational land.

Form
The traditional form of producing food is often grown on flat arable land on the edge of cities or in rural areas. With technology hypercities can grow food in vertical structures with hydroponics and aquaculture. Also growing food on productive green roofs could sustain vast numbers of inhabitants allowing for reduced land and transport.

Change in Mindset
Food is often flown or trucked into a distribution centre and then moved by road to point of sale. We have moved from distributed small markets to now having centralised big box markets that require inhabitants to travel. The solution seems to be a change in the mindset of inhabitants to eat based upon season and also purchase online. Online purchasing of food in China and other countries is growing. With hypercities it is possible to create network systems and logistics to create an efficient system of food distribution. Although many residents will still wish to shop at the market there is a need to source as much of the food as a city needs from the local surrounds(within 100km) to reduce the impact of transportation.

LEGACY VS MONOTONY
The main issue that established hyper-cities have to address is a legacy of old infrastructure and systems. For a established hyper-city requires continual investment in changing systems and infrastructure. It also requires for community engagement to alleviate concerns about demolision, new infrastructure (roads, utilities) and increased density. New cities face less issues related to legacy systems and have to face the issue of how to efficiently(time and money) development and scale the city to meet demand of the influx of new residents. An ability to develop large areas of residential and commercial areas often leads to replication of architecture and built form and thus a monotonous landscape of similar tall towers with little variety in form, colour or spatial arrangement. Although these monotonous landscape create cheap housing, they also create a dehumanising effect due to scale and repetition. Thought needs to be given to planning controls, architectural controls and landscape design and quality to ensure new hyper-cities are places residents wish to live for the long term and create communities rather than moving for education or employment only.

To solve the legacy issue requires cities to develop methods of replacing, pigging-backing or improving systems. More research and planning is required to develop systems for power, information (web), refuse disposal and transport. These are the key areas where cities need to develop solutions that will be resilient.

Solving the scaling issue requires more thought and flexibility in planning guidelines. New cities in China are starting to realise that there is little to differentiate them from their neighbour cities due to the use of the same planning regulations, often the same developers and same construction companies develop and build cities within the same region creating the problem of not knowing when you’ve left one city and entered another. This is also has to do with the propensity to flatten large areas of land to allow for ease of construction often wiping out any semblance of landform.

CONCLUSION
Creating a city of over 5000+ inhabitants per km2 requires the ability of the built environment and allied professions to come together to develop new solutions to problems that allow for a city to develop organically and be resilient in its forms.

1. The largest cities in the world by land area, population and density | City Mayors Statistics
2. List of cities proper by population density | Wikipedia

Children in an Urban World

Unicef recently published THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S CHILDREN 2012 – Children in an Urban World on scribd in digital format. The report gives us some background on the urban environment and the ever increasing number of children living in urban slums around the world. Usually when we think of poor children without access to water or food we often think of those in African nations in drought and famine ravage areas, but there are more children without water and food in urban environments.

The Unicef report outlines that as many as 1.6 billion people will be living in urban slums by 2020 many of whom will be children. As urban designers and planners we often are unable to come to terms with this problem, but we can try to ensure that when we design new cities or reinvigorate old ones that we understand the consequences of our design decisions.

Migration is a large part of China growth and urbanisaton with many families separated as one or more parents have to move into a city to obtain work to feed and house the family, this is nothing new and has been happening for centuries, but now migration is occurring across the world at an ever increasing rate and many children will be left behind or required to live in less than ideal situations. When designing cities we have to incorporate all types of housing and education facilities that provide access at a reasonable price for new residents to be able to afford.

In China there are many cultural, economic and social issues around the migration of rural residents to the new and existing cities across China. The current migration is the largest population shift and the fastest urbanisation of a nation that we will probably ever see. Children and their future will be a key part of the China as it comes to grips with an ageing population. China’s children their health, education and contribution to society is key to a successful China in the future.

The Unicef report raises many issues including Health, Water, Food, Education, Safety (road deaths of children is high due to the change to an urban environment) and as designers we need to address these issues which are primary issues we need to address but we also realise that we need to provide children with areas to explore, play and dream to become the worlds next artists, designers, scientists and more. I encourage people to read the Unicef report or at least the executive summary to understand the issue of children in our ever urbanising world.

Spanish Ghost towns – urban planning via market forces

Much has been written about the ghost towns of China and its now interesting to see that ghost towns in Europe are now popping up in the media such as the recent New York Times article Newly Built Ghost Towns Haunt Banks in Spain. The Chinese ghost town have various reasons for occurring but from what I understand the Spanish and Irish ghost towns were basically due to 2 factors – cheap money and oversupply. The question remains who is to blame? the banks, the market or government. For me its the mostly the governments who allowed planning and growth to get out of control without taking into account the economic and social factors.

Many cities and towns across the world operate autonomously when it comes to urban planning and let the social(more employment) and financial benefits (taxes & rates) get ahead of the long term vision. That being said urban planning also has many other problems due to the slow pace of plan & policy formation along with slow implementation. Urban plans are often very inflexible and take years to change and never keep up with the market. Often many cities don’t have enough residential or commercial or industrial areas at a given time thus sending up prices – in Spain its seems the influx of foreign investors drove up prices even quicker.

So, how do we solve the problem of ghost towns? Now that they are built it will take years to fill them in a continent that has a fast ageing population. Many housing areas will end up totally derelict and be similar to areas of the USA. I think that the best approach is  to leave them for now and hope that the market fills them up, but the banks own the houses and are losing money. Maybe, the banks should turn them over to the government for social housing due to the large costs of maintenance and insurance over the next 10 years. The banks may be better writing the houses off as a loss as this one off cost could outweigh the return/profit that the banks could gain in the long term.

How do we stop ghost towns occurring? A proper planning process and implementation that takes a hard look at the overall process and eliminates any problems before they actually occur is the best solution.