Landscape Urbanism…Decoded?

Landscape as the framework for urban design. Can African cities adopt this approach?

Michel Fontaine

The Master Plan for the Central Delaware reflects an increasingly mainstream acceptance of landscape as the framework for urban design. image © Kieran Timblerlake / Brooklyn Digital Foundry

The Master Plan for the Central Delaware reflects an increasingly mainstream acceptance of landscape as the framework for urban design. image © Kieran Timblerlake / Brooklyn Digital Foundry

“What is landscape urbanism? Is it a method, a practice, or a result? What does this term mean to contemporary practitioners of landscape architecture?”

These were questions that inspired the latest installation of OLIN’s Theoretical Symposium, which I moderated with my colleague Katy Martin. Katy and I both knew that this would be a daunting topic, raising all manner of opinions and added questions, so we broke up the discussion into a few key stages. In the days before the symposium even kicked off, we posed these questions to the studio and collected the answers. On the day of the event, we started things off not with the questions, but with a history of “landscape urbanism”—the people, projects, and practices that influenced…

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Mill Race Park

Great idea for those low areas where periodic flooding is a problem….

laud8 -landscape architecture+urban design

Mill Race Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc, is located at the confluence of two rivers, and much of the parkland is an active floodplain.


Prior to the construction of the park, the site was cut off from adjacent business and residential districts by regional railroad tracks. Community members, eager to put the land to public use, had spent many years informally building trails, but the site remained a large swath of feral landscape.


Foremost among the constraints of the Mill Race site was the issue of annual flooding. Rather than attempt to prevent or shut out the regular flood waters, MVVA’s design explores numerous ways to integrate this natural annual rhythm into the use and experience of the site.


The overall affordability and durability of the site materials reflect an intentional efficiency of means and materials in both the construction and the maintenance of the park…

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Africa from above

Into the wild

Flying is the ultimate human dream. Flying over Africa is that dream on acid.

Up from above , the Earth looks different. No other point of view provides a more complete perspective or sense of place of our planet.

True, it might not be the most intimate or interesting point of view for wildlife, but it sure is one that provides a sense of fulfilment and

connection to that that surround us. .

Watching the world from above gives you wings.






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Undoing the ‘Drinking Nation’ Curse

Yet again, local news, radio and tv discussions are awash with the problem of Alchohol. Mr. Mututho is the star of the moment. We are irked that 80 people have died needlessly after consuming Countryman! Everyone is accusing government and officials concerned of negligence. We want heads to roll. We want those involved to be found and severely punished.

But our anger and frustrations will soon fade away. We will bury the victims and move on with our lives. People are born, live for the time that they have been assigned and ultimately die. That’s the process of life! Something else will happen, like a teacher’s strike or, God forbid, another terrorist strike, or something more dramatic and juicy like naked photos of a politician in a hotel room. We will completely forget this tragedy. Until it happens again. Then we will repeat the same script all over again.

Solutions to the alcohol problem go beyond regulating it’s production, advertising and consumption. It is a social problem, a symptom of the poor lifestyle and quality of life that the regular citizen has been exposed to due to the systematic disregard for an essential human need: recreation.

The need to do something for recreation is an essential part of human biology and psychology. Unfortunately the regular Kenyan has has nothing to do for recreation besides going to the bar or a drinking den. Only the rich can do such things as go to the park for picnic or play a game of basketball or soccer. The Kenyan poor has no access to recreation.

Our villages and neighbourhoods and the socio-economic structures therein are designed to stress and turn the youth into alcoholics! Spaces that were initially set aside for recreational use have long been grabbed, converted to other ‘important’ uses or are undeveloped or in a dilapidated state! There has been very little investment towards giving the ordinary Kenyan any worthwhile recreation options.

We need to start prioritising investment in cultural,sport and recreation infrastructure as a matter of urgency particularly at the village and neighbourhood level. Otherwise the tough regulations will only shift the problem to the black market.

Nearly Unknown in the West: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Cultural Landscapes

Africa indeed has some of the most insightful cultural landscapes.More needs to be done to conserve them though.


According to Professor Ikem Stanley Okoye, University of Delaware, “there has been no scholarly work that explores African landscapes that doesn’t somehow implicate the Europeans.” That statement may be less true given a recent conference on cultural landscapes in Sub-Saharan Africa at Dumbarton Oaks. Organized by John Beardsley, the head of landscape and garden studies there, the two-day symposium was designed to contribute to a growing African understanding of their own landscapes, including pre-colonial landscapes and how perceptions of these landscapes were altered during the era of colonialism. Speakers also examined how landscapes are intimately linked with cultural and political identities today.

Beardsley said Africa has an amazing range of “biotic zones,” filled with elephants, lions, or, as conservationists like to call them, “charismatic mega-fauna.” Beyond the wildlife though, Sub-Saharan Africa is also the “oldest inhabited landscape, the cradle of human species.” With thousands of years of history…

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“Public seating sets the scene for chance encounters, people watching, connecting with nature, or just taking a break.” Indeed, public spaces without seating can seem pretty uninviting. To create an iconic bench or “street seat” for the Fort Point Channel area in South Boston, Design Boston invited all types of designers from around the world to submit concepts to their Street Seats Design Challenge. Nearly 170 concepts came in from 23 countries. Just 20 made it to the semi-final round. According to the organizers, the goal of the competition is to create a “sense of livability” in a pretty rugged urban area, while also being “socially and environmentally conscious.”

Judges chose the semi-finalists that best the design criteria: “innovation, durability, sustainability, aesthetics, and comfort.” Also, benches needed to be designed so they aren’t bolted to the ground.

The ones who made it to this round were clearly inspired by…

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What many landscape architects and designers know intuitively is increasingly becoming proven scientifically. In fact, more and more exciting research appears showing the cognitive and mental health benefits of being out in nature — in places like parks, or even just meandering down leafy streets. According to The New York Times, a new study from Scotland shows that “brain fatigue” can be eased by simply walking a half-mile through a park.

In The New York Times’ Well blog, Gretchen Reynolds writes that “scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.”

Green spaces help alleviate brain fatigue because they are “calming” and require “less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets…

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Landscape architects are increasingly recognized as the most critical designers of post-industrial sites, perhaps the only ones capable of transforming abandoned and often toxic industrial infrastructure into vibrant new parks and event spaces that also show a deep respect for the past. Like the ASLA award-winning Steel Yard Park in Providence, Rhode Island, or the Paddington Reservoir Gardens Park in Sydney, Australia, these three new projects from around the world, each with very different vibes, show how the bar is constantly being raised as landscape architects transform beautiful ruins into exemplars of public design.

In Genk, Belgium, Hosper Landscape Architecture and Urban Design created C-M!ne square, a new cultural center on the site of a former coal mine, writes Landezine. Forming a “spectacular” open space, the square also plays host to revamped former industrial buildings, a new theatre, cinema, restaurants, and Genk design academy.

Hosper’s team design writes: “An obstacle-free surface ensures that the square can be used for a wide variety of purposes.” Anticipating both heavy use…

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If we cant implement this, vision 2030 is a bluff.

Urban Health Updates

Rainwater Harvesting Seen as Solution for Drought and Flood Control

NAIROBI – Bitter irony: in recent years Nairobi has experienced severe flooding and widespread water shortages, due to poor urban planning and collapsing infrastructure systems that are failing to support the Kenyan capital’s expanding population.

Large parts of the city are not properly served by water and sanitation infrastructure, particularly crowded areas like the Eastlands estates of Umoja, Makongeni and Doholm but also wealthier enclaves such as Karen and Langata.

At the same time, the rapid expansion of the city has led to sealing off of large surface areas, increasing the speed and volume of storm water run-off. Furious flooding exposes and damages water pipelines and chokes drainage channels with debris, spilling raw sewage into the streets.

David Mburu, chair of the Kenya Rainwater Association, says because there is too much surface cover, rain water is prevented from percolating into…

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Harnessing Storm Water Beautifully

Landscape Solutions for Storm water(Published in Today’s Home and Away)

The heavy rains that have pounded the city for the last week have affected all of us in one way or another. Many city residents have had to put up with unbearable hours in traffic while others have become accustomed to wading in murky waters as the storms turned city roads into rivulets.

Still others have had to put up with frequent power outages as Kenya power’s infrastructure gave in under the heavy downpour.  And when it’s all done, The Kenya urban Roads Authority (KURA) will be repairing the city roads all over again.

But these are nothing compared to the lives and livelihoods that have literally been washed away as peoples’ homes and property are submerged or buried under rock and mud slides. Once again we are reminded just how vulnerable we are as far as managing storm water is concern.

Out of site Approach

While poor management of existing storm water infrastructure may be blamed for the perennial anguish that comes with the rains, the truth is, the way we have always dealt with rain water leaves a lot to be desired. The obsession with curbs, culverts and ditches that treat storm water as waste that need to be conveyed out of site as fast as possible is as tired as it is wasteful.

New approaches need to be sought urgently. Today there are new storm water management techniques that treat storm water as a resource that needs to be tapped at source and used to create amenities that enhance a site’s attractiveness and provide rich experiences for users.  They address storm water management in environmentally responsible ways and create expressive landscapes that celebrate storm water. Here are some of them:

Detention and Retention

Storm water detention systems detain and store collected storm water runoff for a period of time, releasing it slowly to reduce flooding. Many times such systems are disguised as ornamental ponds in the landscape.

Retention systems on the other hand hold storm water for re-use in the dry season. Incidentally, such systems don’t have to be the traditional round or square galvanized iron or plastic tanks. They can be innovatively incorporated as landscape features such as fountains and waterfalls.

Filtration and Infiltration

Filtration systems do more than just retaining or detaining water on-site. They also reduce storm water pollution through various methods. Bio-retention gardens, for instance, use certain plants to systematically filter grey water into fresh water that can be used to water plants in the landscape and maintain ornamental water features.

Green roof systems and constructed wetlands consist of a series of manmade tanks or ponds that separates wastes and recycles water before allowing it to slowly filter into the ground. Both systems can be designed, not as hard mechanical systems, but as ornate landscape features.

Infiltration systems promote groundwater recharge. French drains are a good example of such a system. They redirect storm water into the ground and allow it to percolate slowly overtime. They include Infiltration trenches and basins as well as porous pavements.