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Urban green - the Landscape Institute Awards 2014 winners

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The Landscape Institute Awards reflect a growing concern with green infrastructure, writes Hattie Hartman

Londoners are fortunate to live in a city where almost 40 per cent of its area is public green space. The city famous for its Royal parks is topped only by Singapore (47 per cent) and Sydney (46 per cent), while cities such as Istanbul and Mumbai fall below the 3 per cent mark, according to research released earlier this year by the World Cities Culture Forum.

The unprecedented popularity of New York’s High Line since it opened in 2009 has energised the debate over the enduring value of greening our cities. With the third and final phase having opened to the public in September, the High Line is a reminder that city greening, like city building, is a long-term proposition. It requires vision, persistence and collaboration. Announced this week, the ninth annual Landscape Institute Awards provide a snapshot of leading work by UK practitioners who share that vision. The awards are about much more than parks, though upgrades and regeneration of three London parks have been highly commended. With 16 categories, projects range in type, scale and scope from a masterplan by Broadway Malyan for a multi-block area of downtown Calgary, to a modest public realm project for a west London street market.

Most engaging are the interdisciplinary projects that address not just landscape but green infrastructure. This term has gained increased currency in the last three or so years, with a flurry of publications by the Landscape Institute, CABE, RICS and the Victoria Business Improvement District. The Greater London Authority’s London Infrastructure Plan 2050, released in July, devotes an entire chapter to the subject.

Andrew Grant of landscape architect Grant Associates acknowledges that, despite quite specific connotations within the profession, many still consider green infrastructure a woolly concept. ‘Very few clients say: “we need a green infrastructure plan”, and very few have actually been implemented,’ he says. Driven initially by a joining-up of landscape and engineered solutions to the handling of water - from routine drainage to flooding - green infrastructure also connotes the development of interconnected urban green spaces where biodiversity can flourish. The thrust of green infrastructure is to promote strategies that make our cities more resilient to climate change.

Three examples of how different London boroughs are looking after their parks have been highly commended. At Burgess Park in Southwark, LDA Design has restructured an ad-hoc, post-war park with improved entrances, new sightlines and rationalised footpaths, along with extensive tree-planting and horticultural meadows. LDA was also involved with Croydon Council at Wandle Park, a project that includes restoration of the Wandle river for flood alleviation, simultaneously enhancing its recreational potential. At Brockwell Park in Brixton in theLondon borough of Lambeth, LUC undertook sensitive restoration of 18th and 19th-century park features to upgrade this 52ha park.

Scooping this year’s top prize, the President’s Award, is Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon by LDA Design. This charts new territory by tackling landscape enhancement, waterfront regeneration, public realm and renewable energy. Currently in for planning with a decision due in the new year, the scheme would be the world’s first purpose-built tidal lagoon. Such a project is feasible in only a few places in the world with a large enough tidal range - the differential between low and high tide. Swansea qualifies with a tidal range of 7-9m. The advantage of tidal

power over other renewables is that it is more reliable and less visually obtrusive; to date, higher costs have limited development.
The lagoon would be enclosed by a 9.5km long causeway for both pedestrians and cyclists. A concrete structure located 3.5km offshore would house a battery of more than 20 turbines, each approximately 7m in diameter, which would generate power four times daily as the tide ebbed and flowed between the lagoon and the sea.

Adjacent to the turbine housing, an information centre by Juice Architects is proposed, while on the seafront, FaulknerBrowns has designed a boating centre and oyster hatchery. If successful at Swansea, client Tidal Lagoon Power would like to construct similar tidal lagoons at five other sites across the UK with the ambition of supplying 8 per cent of Britain’s power requirements.

Landscape Institute director of policy and communications Paul Lincoln compares Swansea’s aspirations with the Olympic Park as a game-changing approach to landscape design. At Swansea, the step change is incorporating renewable technologies into the public realm. The tidal lagoon design is predicated on placemaking for people and recreational activities.

This brings to mind The BIG U, Copenhagen architect BIG’s proposal for post-Hurricane Sandy flood defence in lower Manhattan. Its use of public realm for waterfront recreation is integral to the engineering solution. Each component of the scheme serves multiple purposes. Grant confirms that this new call for resilient landscape design of a people-centred public realm is global, as much in demand in Singapore as it is in London and New York.

Less ambitious than the Swansea scheme, but equally transformative and with tremendous potential to be replicated across UK cities, is another London scheme, the Church Street and Paddington Green infrastructure and public-realm plan, commissioned by Westminster City Council. Employing a toolbox of green infrastructure strategies, Grant Associates together with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and BuroHappold undertook a micro-inventory of under-used, council-owned sites where public realm improvements could create a network of urban green spaces around Church Street Market. The idea is to marry engineering - drainage - with improvements that sustain the market and provide social improvements for local residents. Reorganised car parking and the use of shared surfaces are proposed to unlock new areas for play, tree planting and rain gardens.

This is an approach we need more of. The CGIs resemble the ambitious (pre-financial crisis) designs for the Olympic Village - dubbed ‘a blueprint for 21st-century living’ - that never came to pass.

A key strength of the Church Street scheme - and of BIG’s flood-defence scheme for lower Manhattan - is extensive community consultation, as well as careful phasing. A spokesperson for the New York City mayor’s office confirmed that the city ‘recently received federal funding to implement one segment of Manhattan’s integrated flood protection system on the Lower East Side, with BIG’s proposal as a starting concept’.

Approximately £18 million of funding is in place for Phase 1 of the Church Street scheme. It may not be the High Line, but this fine-grained consideration of urban green spaces is just what London and many other cities need. With more interventions like this, London might just claim the top spot in the global ranking of public green space in cities.

The Landscape Institute Awards 2014 winners

  • President’s Award Strategic Landscape Planning LDA Design with FaulknerBrowns Architects and Juice Architects, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
  • Fellows’ Award for Climate Change Adaptation LDA Design, Adapting to Climate Change: Launching the Debate in the Lower Ouse Valley
  • Neighbourhood Planning Grant Associates with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Buro Happold , Church Street and Paddington Green Infrastructure and Public Realm Plan
  • Medium-scale Public Patel Taylor Eastside City Park, Birmingham
  • Small-scale Public LUC (Land Use Consultants), Tumbling Bay Playground, Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park
  • Adding Value through Landscape Gillespies, Maida Hill Market, London W9
  • Policy and Research Urbis, A Comprehensive Street Tree Management Plan for Hong Kong
  • Student Portfolio Paloma Stott
  • Student Dissertation Jacqui Jobbins, ‘A New Ethical Design Process’
  • Communications and Presentation South Pennines Local Nature Partnership, South Pennines Watershed Landscape Project

For a full list including highly commended schemes, visit www.landscapeinstitute.co.uk/awards

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