Contemporary micro-apartments, which are between 50 and 350 square feet, started appearing en masse in New York City a few years ago. Marketed mostly to Millennials as an affordable housing option, they are actually a modern reincarnation of the single occupancy unit (SRO), which was popular in Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s. The new version of the micro-apartment units has often been added amid conventionally-sized units in apartment buildings; a few buildings are even dedicated to them.
In Guangzhou, China, the model has been scaled up into an entire community of tiny urban living spaces for young tech workers and their families. The Guangzhou Vanke Cloud City in Guangzhou, China, is a mixed-use community made up of four residential towers with 5,000 micro-apartments combined with office space for high-tech firms, a middle school, shopping, and restaurants.
The cloud in Cloud City refers to the information technology platform that enables data sharing. That cloud also helps defines the physical platform of the community. Just as an image is comprised of many pixels, hosted in a cloud, the landscape of Guangzho Vanke Cloud City arises out of a modular, grid system.
Vanke, a major developer in China, with some $33 billion in revenue in 2018, has mixed-use developments across the country. For the Guangzhou Vanke Cloud City, they brought in Chinese landscape architecture firm Lab D+H to create a fun, game-oriented landscape for the young tech workers they hope to attract.
According to the firm, “with small apartments, young people can continue living in first-tier cities, enjoying rich career opportunities, modern facilities, comprehensive public services, and access to cutting-edge information.”
In the northwest corner of the community is the 6,000-square-meter Tetris Square, which shares elements of the design language of that classic game. From the aerial view, pieces of the plaza seem like they could turn and slot into place at any moment.
In Landezine, the firm states that there are playgrounds on either side of the square corridor. These include the Family Pocket, a place to swing in hammocks, and the Free Island, which is a “three-dimensional play facility for kids to explore spaces and exercise.”
There are more tech-inspired public spaces: the Cloud Curtain, the Cloud Mount, and the Cloud Pavilion. In front of the shopping mall, there is an amphitheater that also acts as an outdoor classroom for the middle school.
Lab D+H argues that trees are often minimized in Chinese plazas because they are seen as blocking views of shops and restaurants. The firm managed to slip in a grove of trees by integrating it into Family Pocket and Free Island. Trees are also arranged in a “dense-to-sparse” gradient order heading towards the mall.
The firm designed a pixelated approach to the landscape design and construction. “From softscape, to paving, to outdoor furniture and installation, landscape elements are arranged on this modular system so that they are easy to construct, assemble, and replace.”
The modular format also helped save money and reduce construction challenges. “The grid system of squares not only makes material fabrication and arrangement much cheaper, but also make construction costs more predictable and controllable, especially in China where construction quality is often unpredictable.”
Furniture is designed out just two modules of precast concrete, which are then assembled into 20 combinations. Pixels form the image.
Science fiction writers have long envisioned people living on the moon, perhaps in underground chambers. For the past two years, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been trying to figure out how to make a permanent settlement happen sometime after 2050. With the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM), they have honed conceptual plans and designs for a self-sufficient Moon Village at the rim of the Shackleton Crater on the Moon’s south pole. Recently, the partnership expanded to study how actual living modules would function.
The team settled on the crater because the area offers both total sunlight and total darkness. Within the sections of the crater that never receive light, there is ample ice that can be harvested to create breathable air and rocket propellant for transportation. The village itself would be set on the rim of the crater, which receives light nearly all lunar year. The development would rely on the sun to generate energy and grow food.
ESA realized that an interdisciplinary team of scientists and astro-planners, designers, and engineers would be needed to make the Moon livable. They brought in the expertise of the European Astronaut Centre and the European Space Research and Technology Centre, while MIT has involved its aerospace engineering department, and SOM, its architecture, planning, and engineering divisions.
SOM design partner Colin Koop said: “the Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.”
The team envisions clusters of modules that would be connected to enable “seamless mobility between structures” like a giant lunar ant farm.
Each module would be a 3-4-story structure made up of pressurized work spaces, living quarters, and life support systems where 4-6 Moon residents would live.
The modules are enclosed by three structural columns, built out of lunar regolith, and an inflatable outer shell. According to SOM, “these inflatable structures would provide—together with regolith-based protective shells—resistance to extreme temperatures, projectiles, regolith dust, and solar radiation.”
Like ESA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is also looking to “long-term exploration and utilization” of the Moon and other planets, as are the space services of China and India.
San José, California, a major hub of Silicon Valley, was once home to a 207-foot-tall steel “moonlight tower” that used arcing incandescent lights to illuminate the city’s downtown. The tower was designed by J.J. Owen, the owner of the San Jose Mercury newspaper, who crowd-sourced some $3,500 in 1881 to build it. Some 34 years later, after suffering damage from wind storms, the tower collapsed.
The organizers invite teams of landscape architects, artists, architects, urban planners, lighting designers, students, designers, engineers — “anyone with a passion for place-making” — to transform 5 acres of Arena Green, an existing city park in San José, into a true destination for Silicon Valley. Three finalists will receive $150,000 to further flesh out their proposals.
The organizers seek a “transformative design complete with dramatic lighting, a net-zero energy approach, and an impressive physical presence that will become a powerful and enduring symbol of how Silicon Valley operates as a bridge from past to present to future. Urban Confluence Silicon Valley can be a structure, an object, a sculpture, a work of architecture—with an activated landscape enjoyed both day and night.”
The Corporation proposes the 14.3-acre Arena Green at Guadalupe River Park and Gardens as the site for the project because of its central location. The park is across the street from a mixed-use development now in development: the 6-8 million-square foot, transit-oriented Google Downtown West. Arena Green is also two blocks from Diridon Station, which is being re-envisioned as a multi-modal hub for bus, light rail, BART regional transit, Amtrak, and high-speed rail, with an “expected ridership of 140,000 per day by 2040.” The new landmark is expected to help support “the growth of restaurants, bars, retail stores, hotels, service businesses, and residences within the area.”
The Arena Green area is also a true urban confluence: it is set within riparian corridors for the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek, so just 5 acres of the site can be redeveloped — and it must be done in an ecologically-sensitive manner. Project proposals will need to demonstrate an understanding of the site’s river and creek ecosystem, lighting limitations given the proximity to Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, and existing site-specific public art that can’t be removed.
A public community panel will review all submissions and pick the top 50, which will be sent to a jury that includes Jon Cicirelli, San José director of parks and recreation; Susan Chin, former head of the Design Trust for Public Space; and landscape architect Jerry van Eyck, International ASLA, founder of !Melk.
Miami Is the “Most Vulnerable” Coastal City Worldwide — 2/4/20, Scientific American “Several major tourist attractions, including the Everglades, Biscayne National Park, and Miami Beach, are largely situated on land less than three feet above the high-water mark and may become permanently submerged by the end of the century.”
OLIN Receives Design Approval for D.C. Desert Storm Memorial — 2/6/20 The Architect’s Newspaper “Once the site was secured (a location just north of the Lincoln Memorial and west of the Vietnam War Memorial) adjustments needed to be made to the design. The new design has lower walls that meld into the ground and includes a central water feature, which symbolizes a desert oasis as well as the international coalition that participated in the operations.
National Indigenous Landscape Architecture Award Announced — 2/9/20, Architecture & Design “Planning for the [National Arcadia Landscape Architecture Award for Indigenous Students] has been in progress for almost twelve months, but the recent [Australian] bushfires brought a renewed focus on how Indigenous knowledge and traditional land and fire management practices can prevent fire damage and enable the return of healthy landscapes and ecosystems.”
A Native Plant Guru’s Radical Vision for the American Yard— 2/12/20, The Washington Post “The idea of planting gardens for wildlife and shrinking the lawn isn’t new, but [entomologist Doug Tallamy] wants to enlist every home garden in the battle to address the loss of biodiversity. The need has never been more urgent, he says.”
Abandoned Amusement Park to Gain New Life as a Nature Park in Suzhou— 2/13/20, Inhabitat “In Suzhou, China, an abandoned amusement park is being transformed into a 74-hectare nature park that will include a decommissioned roller coaster transformed into a habitat for birds. … Named ‘Shishan Park’ after its location at the foot of Shishan (Chinese for ‘Lion Mountain’), the urban park will provide a variety of family-oriented recreational amenities to cater to a rapidly growing, high-tech hub.”
A Daughter’s Disability. A Mother’s Ingenuity. And the Playground That’s Launching a Revolution — 2/14/20, Palo Alto Weekly “Magical Bridge was inspired by [Olenka] Villarreal’s daughter, Ava, who has developmental disabilities, and by the utter lack of safe, public play spaces suited to Ava and others like her. Tucked in a corner of Mitchell Park, the brightly colored Magical Bridge includes a wheelchair-usable spinner and slides, swings that keep a user upright and fastened in, wheelchair-friendly surfaces, a wheelchair-usable treehouse and a stage — features that are friendly to people with visual impairments, autism and cognitive disabilities.”
Transportation is central to employment and economic development. Unfortunately, people with disabilities often face major disadvantages in accessing transportation options, which reduces their ability to find and hold jobs and participate in community life. The issues go way beyond the lack of accessible ramps. Barriers include poor vehicle design; lack of accessible curbs, crosswalks, and sidewalks; the absence of elevators; and non-existent or inaccessible signage and wayfinding.
At a session at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C., Charlotte McClain Nhlapo, global disability advisor for the World Bank Group and a wheelchair user, said that “1 billion people worldwide have some form of disability, and adults with disabilities make just 73 percent of the trips that abled people make.”
She led a conversation into what is holding back more inclusive transportation in developing countries:
“There is a staggering difference between the developed and developing worlds in terms of access. If you get around many developing countries, you’ll see there are often no sidewalks,” said Jamie Leather, chief of the transport sector at the Asian Development Bank. Just imagine wading into busy streets to get around, then imagine the greater dangers for a wheelchair user, or deaf or blind pedestrian.
For Nite Tanzar, a development consultant, a critical issue is that many developing countries don’t have an accurate numbers of how many disabled people there are and how many are using transportation systems. “There is a real lack of empirical evidence,” which is holding back policy and regulatory change. Policymakers simply don’t understand the scale of the issues.
People can be temporarily or permanently disabled. But both types of disabilities often result from car crashes. Mohammed Yousuf, a program manager with the U.S. Federal Highways Administration, said that globally, car crashes cost up to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) when you add in lost wages and medical expenses.
According to James Bradford, with the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP), global vehicle crash data mostly comes from police reports, which don’t measure the full economic and social impact of the loss of life, injury, or disability caused by the accident.
He pointed to the Transportation Accident Commission (TAC) in New South Wales, Australia, which insures all vehicles and collects data on crashes and their outcomes. Analyzing some 120,000 insurance claims, TAC found that 68 percent of crash victims were still on long-term disability care two years later; a quarter also had severe brain injuries. “There is a huge social cost to road accidents, not just economic.”
The conversation then turned to the key drivers of more inclusive transportation. As McClain Nhlapo noted, the goal is to “enable everyone to live independently.”
Daniela Bas, director of the UN’s department of economic and social affairs’ division for inclusive social development, who is also a wheelchair user, said the most important step is to “change the mindset of people with disabilities: they must become agents of change and lead new processes.” She added that “disabled people are often poor because they have no access” but that can change with a sense of new empowerment.
Tanzar stated that in too many countries “there is a stigma associated with disabilities. These people are invisible, actively hidden, and viewed as shameful. We must get at that.”
Policies and regulations that lead to Vision Zero, which calls for an end to road deaths, can only help create a more universally-accessible transportation system, Leather believes.
Market-based incentives can also provide solutions. McClain Nhlapo said that in the Philippines, there are “special access taxis” to meet the needs of people with disabilities. In South Africa, the government has incentivized owners of informal buses and vans with the “nudge method: the owners get a major discount if they replace their old bus with a new, more accessible one.”
A number of panelists called for “disaggregating local data by disability” so that better policy-making and regulatory processes can happen. “We need to show a cost-benefit analysis for accessible transportation and show how the benefits are better,” Bradford argued. McClain Nhlapo called for using that data to make the case for “embedding accessibility requirements into development projects from the beginning.”
Major global events like the Olympics can also be designed to be universally-accessible, as they help “stimulate thinking” in countries about needed changes. “You can show people what fully accessible transportation looks like,” Bas said.
Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, is founder of Landprocess and the Porous City Network. Voraakhom is featured in TIME magazine’s 2019 TIME 100 Next, a list that spotlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of the world, along with their list of 15 women fighting against climate change. Voraakhom is chairwoman of Landscape Without Borders of the International Federation of Landscape Architects, Asia Pacific Region (IFLA APR). She is a TED Fellow and Echoing Green Climate Fellow. She received her master’s in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
Interview conducted at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego.
The 12-acre Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park in Bangkok, the first new park in the city in 30 years, is a model for how to design with nature. Tilted at 3 degrees, the park funnels storm water into a retention basin that can safely double in size amid heavy rains. How did you come up with this idea to incline the entire park?
Bangkok is a city of water but we don’t know how to drain our water. We’ve been through many floods: either disastrous flash floods or the ones that are part of our daily life in Bangkok. This happens because we don’t know where the water should go. We don’t use the canal system as it should be used. In Bangkok, it is very sad that the canal department is under the sewage department. Canals have been destroyed through urban development.
The city, along with the entire center of the country, is flat because of sedimentation. So I wondered: how can we create a water container in the city? I thought about our legendary Monkey King, and his “monkey cheek” approach to storage. Do you know about the monkey cheek? The monkey holds food in its cheek. When he is hungry, he just continues eating. If not, he just holds the food there. It’s very simple way; no deep theory or anything, but just a natural way of being.
If you don’t have hilly topography, like in Bangkok, you create the topography and just tilt it.
At the detention basin’s edge, there are stationary bicycles. When visitors peddle the bikes, they turn wheels that aerate the water. Why is it important to engage visitors this way?
Because it’s so human. I remember walking my dad to the park. He’s a designer and said: “This is the highlight.” You know when you get complimented from your parent, it’s the best.
The park addresses climate change and flooding in a very technical way. But at the end I wanted people to feel they can be part of the solution by just being there, peddling the water bike. The water level in the detention basin also changes. Just the physical nature of pedaling is quite direct.
In your TED Talk, you said the 15 million residents of Bangkok are living on a “shifting, muddy river delta.” Bangkok, New York City, Shanghai, New Orleans and many other delta cities are slowly sinking as sea levels rise. How can landscape architects help solve this problem?
We try to fix problems, but we are actually the problem. The reason our city is sinking is systematic. The issue doesn’t just come from building a city on top of this delta; it also because there is no more sediment coming from upstream. Dams that create electricity are blocking sediment flow. We also don’t let the land absorb rain. We have to see the problem systematically and fix what you have done rather than try to fix nature.
As landscape architects, we work with the land. We know how these systems should function. We can teach people how to live with water again, which is much better than fearing it. Living with water is the vernacular way in Thailand. We have long had homes on stilts and floating platforms. We even have floating markets. We are used to living on the edge between land and water.
In the future, floating cities are even possible. But they are not really futuristic, as they have already happened in the past. The future is about knowing where you’re from and using that in a new context. I don’t think the future will be these flying cyborgs or something, nothing so inhuman.
In the past, flooding meant food. Sediment was part of seasonal change. Thailand would flood for one or two months and we would just deal with it. Today, we forget that flooding is about transformation. It’s only our relationship with water that has changed in a negative way. Landscape architecture can help people see a different relationship with water is possible.
For Bangkok’s 250th anniversary, which is in 2032, city leaders are creating the Bangkok 250 Plan, a major redevelopment effort that aims to create a more livable city in 17 districts in the urban core. By then, the city’s population is expected to grow to 11 million, an 18 percent increase over today, and the number of vehicles on the road is expected to grow by 1 million to 10 million. As a consultant on this planning effort, what are you advising the city to do?
We have a big team of urban designers, architects, and urban planners, and then there’s me, the landscape architect. Of course, we want to revitalize the canal system. We want to incorporate much more green space. But we don’t want to be naïve and just hope for more green space if there is no land. We have to be innovative about how we insert green spaces.
There is one project we are implementing right now with the current mayor to reuse a failed governmental mega-project. In Asian cities, there are many projects like this that were built and then stopped. There’s so much that can be renewed. But this also means the city is a challenging context.
At the Ramathibodi Hospital, we removed a helipad and replaced it with a healing garden. Green roofs are one of the key solutions for how to make a city more porous and sustainable.
The Thammasat University in Bhutantanang, which is in the greater Bangkok area, will become the biggest urban farming green roof in Asia at 7,000 square meters (75,000 square feet). The roof mimics the structure of rice terraces and how farmers use topography to absorb rain, slow down runoff, and grow food.
You have also planned and designed many health care environments that provide patients with access to nature, including the Siriraj Hospice Center. How do you incorporate Thai cultural and spiritual beliefs about nature?
The other hat I wear is creative art therapist. I have many questions about death: What does it feel like? How can I help these people?
When it comes to healing, no one can help you. Doctors can cure you, but they cannot heal you. You have to heal yourself. And how do you heal yourself? You heal yourself through natural processes.
Perhaps with my Buddhist beliefs, I feel there’s so much suffering in these hospices. Too many hospitals only think about more patients without thinking about how to create healthy spaces for them. I’m talking about government hospitals in Thailand; you can’t imagine how crowded they are. These people deserve healing environments, so we are trying to find the right space in hospitals. I’m helping many other hospitals as well.
In addition to the work with your firm, you’re also founder of Porous City Network, a nonprofit that co-designs water management solutions with vulnerable communities. What have been the results of the effort so far?
Porous City Network was started two years ago. Traditional client-based practice can only solve some problems. If we want to really tackle big problems, we need public education and advocacy. I’m going to try to expand the network into other cities in Southeast Asia where they are facing the same problems.
We helped a community along the coastline on the border of Cambodia, which is actually at the narrowest part of Thailand. The people are Thai but have no land rights on paper, so they build into the ocean. The government deemed them invaders and tried to displace them.
We helped them negotiate with the government and create a plan that allows them to inhabit land in the ocean, which also involves restoring mangrove forests. They are the first community that has received government permission to do that.
This means the solution can be implemented in Thailand’s other 7,000 fishing villages, rather than just displacing these communities.
I also bring landscape architecture students so they can learn about community participation processes. I use landscape architecture to help these communities.
Three City Parks That Encourage Inclusion in Their Communities — 1/16/20, Urban Institute “Parks and green spaces can tremendously benefit a community. But if parks aren’t designed and activated with residents’ interests in mind, they can go underutilized, or the opposite—they can increase property values and price long-time residents out of the neighborhood.”
UGA Student Designs Winning ‘Kinda Tiny’ Home — 1/26/20, Athens Banner-Herald “One of things that made her design stand out, after talking to some of the judges, is the fact that her building really specifically relates to the site. She took into account the topography, and I think it was her landscape architecture background that gave her the insight to how the building and the site would interact together.”
A Novel Plan to Fix One of New York’s Worst Highways: Remove Lanes — 1/30/20, The New York Times “The idea of shrinking the highway to four lanes from six is a remarkable shift for the city, which, like the nation, has been shaped by a car-centric culture and is now wrestling with the consequences, including gridlocked streets, polluted air and rising pedestrian and cyclist deaths.”
Plans Unveiled for Hamtramck’s Veterans Memorial Park — 1/31/20, The Detroit News “In the coming years, Hamtramck’s Veterans Memorial Park could be transformed into a major destination brimming with features such as a splash pad, wooded trails, even outdoor ‘living rooms.’ ”
Amsterdam Leads the Way on Wetland Restoration — 1/31/20, CityLab “To find a way to restore the marshlands and pastures while maintaining its agricultural capacity, the Amsterdam Wetlands project will plow $9 million of funding into experiments. The scheme, a a collaboration between three nature preservation agencies, is intended to incorporate more water into low-lying areas instead of damming and pumping it out.”
ASLA Awards are the oldest and most prestigious awards program in the profession of landscape architecture. They honor the best and most innovative landscape architecture projects from around the globe and give a glimpse into the future of the profession.
This year, a new award category, Urban Design, will recognize projects that activate networks of spaces that mediate between social equity, economic viability, infrastructure, environmental stewardship, and place-making in the public and private realm.
Award recipients receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine and are honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Miami Beach, October 2-5, 2020.
ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.
This year’s Professional Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Jose Alminana, FASLA – Andropogon
Jane Berger – Writer
Ujijji Davis, ASLA – SmithGroup
Mark Hough, FASLA – Duke University
Mark Johnson, FASLA – Civitas
Kathleen John-Alder, FASLA – Rutgers University
Mia Lehrer FASLA – Studio-MLA
Tanya Olson, ASLA – Tallgrass Landscape Architecture
Robert Rogers – Architects+Urban Designers
Stephanie A. Rolley, FASLA – Kansas State University
Gale Newman, ASLA – Texas A&M University
ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.
This year’s Student Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Kristina Hill – University of California, Berkely
Adam Arvidson, FASLA – Landscape Architect, Writer
Lucia Athens, ASLA – Office of Sustainability, City of Austin