Local Knowledge / Global Future
by Stuart Scobie
The Landscape Australia Conference held in Sydney last weekend is the major annual knowledge event for the Landscape Architecture profession in Australia. This year’s theme reflected on what cross-cultural learnings practitioners could gain from our regional Asian neighbours. As to be expected, quite a lot! What did I learn? ….. I’m so glad you asked! Wrapped up in the warm and protective blanket of my western culture, I discovered some of the climate change challenges facing Thai Landscape Architects Shma Design. Notably, how increased flooding in Bangkok has resulted in a huge concrete wall being constructed adjacent to the Chao Phraya River to keep this massive waterway inside its banks. This has created a disconnect to the lifeblood of that city for the common people. This landscape firm is actively arguing for more long-term design solutions that mitigate flooding through detention and absorption by increasing public open space instead of more development. No doubt more work to do there! During a recent visit, I discovered that Singapore is a surprisingly green city despite its intense urbanisation. Vertical gardens and rooftop gardens are commonplace and a pleasant relief to the oppressive heat and humidity of this metropolis. Salad Dressing is a design firm that espouses a strong intent to use unique and innovative design in the tropical genre as evidenced by the temporary installation of an outdoor cinema in the canopy of a tree in the jungle in Borneo…..as you do! This temporary, sustainable installation was removed after a month or so without any environmental impact. Take only photos, leave only footprints! Treetop Cinema Singapore, Paving South Korea, Solar Panel Roofed Housing India South Korea, apparently, has difficulty in sourcing reliable plants which has resulted in an increased focus on hard landscape works. Landscape Architects have been traditionally constrained by very limited paving options as stone in two colours was the accepted 'norm' and many were fearful to break out of this mental monopoly. The firm Parkkim decided to 'break the mould' and 'tread their own path' (sorry about that) by designing their own concrete paver that provided greater opportunity for design innovation and stability. More power to them. Finally, I learned a great deal about land degradation, overpopulation and modernist residential design from a firm called ArchitectureBRIO based in India. This firm is focussed on sustainable design solutions that create beautiful homes and public buildings without destroying the land on which they are built. They are passionate about creating design solutions for overcrowded living conditions whilst increasing renewable energy production by allowing people to build their own homes using the solar panels from solar farms as the roof of the structure. Big picture stuff! Ultimately, none of the issues raised were either a surprise or new to me as they are a local symptom of a global problem facing all countries. What I did find was the passionate intent of designers to be not overwhelmed by the problem but instead focused on innovative and unique solutions. In that sense it was a refreshing reminder that we, as designers, are an important part of the solution for creating a more sustainable and equitable community wherever it is we live.