Author: Peter Graves

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Heatherwick Studio Submerges an Oasis-Like Park Under Abu Dhabi’s Cracked Desert Floor

Last week, London designer Thomas Heatherwick revealed an extraordinary design vision for a new urban park in Abu Dhabi, United Emirates. Located on the site of a former city park, the new design has been almost three years in the making. Called “Al Fayah”, the shaded and almost entirely covered greenway was commissioned by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, a local non-profit group. 

Confronted with the challenge of constructing a green, oasis-like park in a desert climate, Heatherwick decided to embrace the vernacular topology of a cracked desert floor, setting the park’s green space 20 meters (65 feet) underneath a series of fractal-shaped roof structures supported by large columns. 
“The project evolved as a series of cracked pieces of the desert surface raised on columns to form a gentle dome across the site. These elevated pieces create a perforated canopy of partial shade under which a lush garden can grow, protected from the harsh excesses of the hot desert sun,” the design team said in a statement. “This sunken oasis becomes a landscape of plants and mature trees, forming a series of interconnected public recreational spaces.”


These new public spaces will include community gardens, recreational areas, a library, and an outdoor cinema, among many other public amenities. 
Heatherwick Studio was intent on challenging the dynamic between Abu Dhabi’s existing green spaces and the ecological context of the desert in which they are situated. The traditional European or American-style surface park not only clashes with the desert aesthetically, but is also environmentally unsustainable due to the harsh climate. “By creating partial shade for plants, the canopy reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation, improving the park’s energy efficiency and sustainability. Whilst providing shade in the daytime, the elevated plates also become a network of unique meeting places in the cooler evening hours.”
The project statement on the architect’s website begins: “Can you make a park out of the desert?” In Al Fayah’s case, the park is not within the desert itself but under it. Within the gaps left by the cracks and crevices, a lush riparian corridor is revealed, providing cool respite for the desert city inhabitants. A new sensitivity to the local ecology coupled with an innovative, layered design scheme sets this public place apart in terms of landscape design in the Middle East. 



Looking through the project images, it’s easy to see that the construction of this long parkway will be nothing short of a monumental task. The vast webbing of thick concrete, as seen in perspectives looking under the structure, seem at odds with the plain, light landscape palette that a desert environment provides. It’s a heavy design move that creates a beautiful, lush space where otherwise one wouldn’t exist. 


Al Fayah is park of contradictions: it’s an oasis and dry, cracked earth; it’s water-sustainable and construction-heavy; it’s part of the desert and apart from it. Despite these contradictions, though, it’s depicted as a place I would love to explore. 

What do you think of the design for this desert oasis?


Via dezeen
Images © Heatherwick Studio

Landscape Architects Chosen as Finalists for Rebuild by Design Competition

Seventeen months after Superstorm Sandy left a trail of destruction through the U.S. eastern seaboard, Rebuild by Design competition’s ten design team finalists have unveiled their resilience-based solutions after eight months of intensive research and public outreach. The international competition was launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force last year in an effort to defend the mid-Atlantic region from increasingly temperamental weather events. Here at Land8, we take at look at some of the proposals by top landscape architecture firms. 
Hurricane Sandy is estimated to have caused the United States $68 billion in damages, a cost only surpassed by Hurricane Katrina. Some communities have yet to fully recover from the storm. Since Sandy’s aftermath, people wondered why the U.S. wasn’t better prepared. Didn’t we learn our lesson from Hurricane Katrina? Should people even be allowed to live in a flood zone? 
Rebuild by Design is the largest of the design competitions to result from Sandy. “It is clear that we cannot simply rebuild what existed before. We need to think differently this time around, making sure the region is resilient enough to rebound from future storms,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. The final design proposals unveiled last week show a diverse array of approaches to the problem of coastal sustainability and range from the environmental (barrier islands, wetland restoration) to the commercial (enhancing neighborhood retail corridors). A common theme throughout the proposals–whether the teams comprised architects, planners, landscape architects or educators–was the attention to landscape as a core component to battling the undiscriminating power of storm surges and rising tides.
Among the ten design teams, four feature landscape architecture firms with major roles: OLIN, Sasaki, Scape, and West8
Let’s take a look at the proposals:
Images ©TEAM WXY / West 8
Blue Dunes: The Future of Coastal Protection
WXY / West 8

Barrier islands have existed for a long time and occur naturally along coastlines worldwide. Scientists aren’t in consensus about how they form, but their protective properties are no mystery. Using financial and hydrodynamic modeling tools, WXY and West 8 researched the potential impact of placing new barrier islands along the coast in a long chain of dune-like formations. The Blue Dunes would act as a buffer for storm surge and wave action, taking the strength out of a future Sandy before it hits land. 

The approach to protecting the coast comes not only from an ecological perspective but also a financial one. A core component of the proposal includes cost savings from less future investment in hard infrastructure such as seawalls, as well as active economic generators in the form of offshore wind energy. 

WXY/West 8’s proposal stems from scientific analysis regarding the mitigative properties of barrier islands as well as research into the their potential economic benefits. It’s an enormous, earthen shield for the communities on shore, and it’s designed to be a lasting solution. 

Images © Scape / Landscape Architecture
Living Breakwaters
Scape / Landscape Architecture
Scape developed Living Breakwaters, a proposal that also features physical barriers (“a necklace of breakwaters”) as a method for long-term, sustainable protection for both the city and the environment on which it depends. Breakwaters made from piles of rock are arranged in a specific way in each site, sometimes coming above the water line and sometimes lying just below.
This proposal is in line with current practices, as breakwaters have been used for decades as a man-made barrier to beach erosion. Scape, however, takes the ecological component to the next level by designing areas of the breakwater as “micro-pockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters”. in Rebuild by Design, Scape builds on their previous experience in the Rising Tides competition, in which the term “Oystertecture” was cleverly coined. This time, the term of choice (for those habitat micro-pockets) is called “Reef Street.”
Images © Sasaki / Rutgers / Arup
Resilience + The Beach
Sasaki / Rutgers / Arup
Nowhere is the concept of “the beach” as a cultural element more important than in the famous/infamous Jersey shore. Sasaki, along with Rutgers and Arup, focuses on the concept of the beach not only as a cultural icon, but an important focal point of economic, social, and environmental systems. In their analysis, the definition of the beach is expanded to include three coastal typologies: Barrier Islands, Headlands, and the Inland Bay. It’s this broadening of geographic scope that Sasaki believes will “deepen the physical extent, ecological reach, and cultural understanding of the beach.” Within each of these defined typologies, the design team has selected three project areas as case studies, allowing the project to maintain geographic specificity yet applicability to any other site within the same ecological zone.
Sasaki’s proposal is incredibly wide-ranging; it almost seems as if they’ve combined three proposals into one. However, rather than approaching the project as a planning exercise from 10,000-feet above the ground, they’ve decided to focus in on the details as well. My favorite example of this is the dual-purpose boardwalk, in which “two different boardwalk conditions are explored – the civic core and the experimental zone.” This experimental boardwalk, rather than built to hover above the sand, merges with the ground itself, even aiding in future dune creation. The boardwalk itself curves and angles along the surface of the sand like a covering, adapting itself to the irregular surface. This dune creation allows for the protection of inland elements as well as aiding in habitat creation for birds and wildlife.
Images © PennDesign / OLIN
Hunts Point Lifelines
Penn Design / OLIN
While Scape and West8 focused their efforts on the physical construction of barrier islands in various forms, Olin takes a systematic approach to forming a “working model of social, economic, and physical resilience.”
Coastal resilience isn’t just about keeping the water out at all costs. It’s also about what you do when your designed system fails, and how an entire community can remain resilient in the meantime.
OLIN’s proposal tackles this problem by not only providing physical storm barriers and seawalls to keep the water out, but also allows room for infrastructure that operate in contingency situations. One example of this infrastructure includes “maritime emergency supply lines” that keep supplies flowing through a system of piers that can run even if other methods of transport are closed. The other three proposed “lifelines” involve economic incubators, energy producers, and flood barriers.
While less focused than other proposals, OLIN’s multi-faceted solution is no less developed. In their view, a systemic problem calls for a systemic solution. The “WORKING WATERFRONT + WORKING COMMUNITY + WORKING ECOLOGY” concept provides just that.
What do you think of these project proposals?
Read More:
Lead Image © Scape / Landscape Architecture
Peter Graves is a landscape designer and writer living in Dallas, Texas. 

Martha Schwartz Partners’ Fengming Mountain Park is Geometric Artistry in Chongqing

A series of brightly-colored, angular, four-legged metal structures stand high over the rapidly-growing city of Chongqing, China. The tilting and jutting pavilions atop Fengming Mountain Park emit a warm orange glow at night and shelter the passing pedestrian from the sun’s stare at midday.

Martha Schwartz, known for her iconic–and sometimes controversial–landscape designs, recently completed Fengming Mountain Park, a dramatic landscape that shapes a unique identity for the new development west of the Chongqing city center. Located on an extremely steep site, the park includes a meandering series of riverine fountains and architectural follies along geometric switchbacks leading from a car park on high ground to a sales center far below.
Completed in 2013, Fengming Mountain Park not only serves as a pedestrian gateway to the sales center, but also as a destination and amenity for Chongqing. While the visually arresting metal pavilions draw visitor eyes skyward, the park contains enough geometric artistry at eye level to keep attention on the landscape. Bright orange steel planters guide the pedestrian down a broad zigzag path running alongside terraced stone blocks that contain the flow of water like a pixellated mountain creek. 
“The site is extremely steep, using a broad zigzag path to provide mobility down the slope, this strong form enables a sequence that is used throughout the scheme to continue a pattern language as you arrive; as painted art on the pavement; down the zig zag path; into meandering water features; through plazas and then to the final destination at the Sales Centre. At this point, the pattern intensifies into raised benches, coloured paving and lights to provide a crescendo of excitement.” – Martha Schwartz Partners
Perhaps taking its cues from Lawrence Halprin’s Keller Fountain Park, Fengming Mountain Park also draws  inspiration from its natural environment by echoing and abstracting the surrounding mountains, terraces, and streams that create the backdrop for the city’s skyline. The park pedestrian becomes the urban hiker, rounding switchback after switchback, never entirely sure what lies around the corner. Looking above the trees, the peaked pavilions are visible, guiding the hiker either down into the valley or up and up, to the crescendo.
Martha Schwartz Partners turned the site’s challenging topography into an asset and molded a steep hill into a sculptural abstraction of the regional landscape, replete with mountains, rivers, and trails. Schwartz’s  propensity for creating edgy and unconventional sculptural installations has stirred controversy before, but Fengming Mountain Park will not run that risk; the park design fits in harmoniously with the Chongqing landscape. An acute geometric hand combined with a sensitivity to native landscape forms is present not only in the park’s layout but also in every detail along the way.
Via Dezeen

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