Landscape as Infrastructure

In the 21st century, it seems waste will be the new food.

Once the sole purview of the profession of civil engineering, infrastructure- which includes the management of water, waste, food, transport, and energy- is taking on extreme relevance for landscape planning and design practices in the context of changing, decentralizing structures of urban-regional economies. Food production and energy networks can no longer be engineered without considering the cascade of waste streams in the cycling of raw material inputs…Put simply, the urban-regional landscape should be conceived as infrastructure.

Pierre Belanger, Landscape as Infrastructure

Contemplating Waste

All forms of waste are eventually consumed, used, and recycled in a chain of matter and energy flow. But humans have persistently mismanaged their waste, creating new types at an increasing pace and in excessive quantities without establishing recovery mechanisms that enable their flow and circulation back into the cultural / natural systems…[waste] is a link in the continuous flow of matter and energy.

Mira Engler, Designing America’s Waste Landscapes

Landscapes of Embedded Energy: The Lifecycle and Use of Geothermal Energy in Iceland

Iceland has become the leading global producer of geothermal energy per capita. Geologically one of the youngest countries in the world, it has only emerged out of the ocean in the last 20 million years. Iceland sits on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a 10,000-mile long divergent fault line-crack along the ocean floor caused by the slow separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, two of the largest within the northern hemisphere. This unique geological condition occurs only in Iceland and is responsible for the abundance of geothermal resources the country has. By moving away from each other at a rate of 2 cm per year, pressure releases and exposes lava to the sea between them. The lava bubbles to the surface and cools, forming new land. It is the only place in the world where fire creates new land while ice simultaneously shapes the landscape. These geological conditions provide the circumstances in which a society may begin to sustain itself by integrating their operations of agriculture, aquaculture, industry, and recreation with the heat and electricity generated by the geothermal resource. This Penny White Research Project observes Iceland as a case study for understanding the cultural, social, and economic importance, significance, and implications of the active renewable energy source.

The photo essay displayed here catalogs the lifecycle and use of geothermal energy in Iceland. It moves sequentially in the process: resource, exploration/extraction, processing, delivery, industrial and recreational uses, emergent ecologies, and end of use/questions of afterlife. The goal of the project is to document what the current uses are, and uncover what waste byproducts are produced to foster emergent economies and ecologies.

Please contact me if you’d like more information.

Subaks in Bali

In June 2012, UNESCO listed a new World Heritage Site – The Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy. Since then, I have been working closely with Julia Watson on mapping and developing landscape planning strategies for the sustainable development of the newly designated sites. Using GIS, I generated a series of scaled maps showing the different sites, as well as enlarged areas of these sites. To plan for tourism development, we propose to establish various interpretive walks, and to upgrade designated sites as pilot projects for sustainable development. The original maps were published in two publications for the Indonesian government. In May 2013, we developed more detailed maps, which offer a closer look at the sites. These maps were designed for use in a traveling exhibition for design charettes across Bali in Summer 2013.

Indigenous Landscape Systems

In early 2012, I started working for Julia Watson in her firm Studio REDE. I conducted preliminary research into a number of indigenous cultures to further study and analyze in detail various infrastructures, cultural areas, and adaptive management strategies.  They were diagrammed, modeled, and mapped.
I also worked with Julia to create a classification system to describe the different cultures. The challenge is generating terms broad enough to encompass a diverse range of cultures, but still specific enough to address the complexities of each individual society. The goal of this work is to create a body of knowledge of indigenous techniques and strategies which could be used as a tool for contemporary landscape architects.


Material Ecologies: Mapping Material Lifecycles and Properties

While studying landscape architecture, I took a class with Jane Hutton called “Material Ecologies.” Each student selected a landscape material within a certain site to trace. The materials were then analyzed and their lifecycles were catalogued, with a general overview of where they were sourced and the processes they underwent to become a material in the landscape. That summer, Jane received a PITF grant to synthesize the coursework. Over the following year, I worked with her to develop a more in-depth analysis of the materials selected in the course.

I developed a codification system to diagram the 16 materials’ lifecycles and used GIS and data from manufacturers to generate a global map. The map illustrates the points of origins of raw materials and admixtures, as well as points of manufacture, which were involved in the production of the 16 materials on their way to the study site in Cambridge, MA. The diagrams illustrate to-scale linear distances traveled by materials to arrive at the study site. The map describes and visualizes the implications of landscape material choices and decisions, and illustrates how materials used locally have global impacts, depending on their points of origin, methods of extraction and production, as well as methods of disposal.

Energy Afterlife: Choreographing the Geothermal Gradient of Reykjanes, Iceland- Masters Thesis

Energy is the basis of life and the fuel for modern civilization. The energy industry can be reconsidered by uncovering where operations can overlap and hybridize with other infrastructures, economies, and ecologies. Energy Afterlife explores the reutilization of geothermal effluent from Reykjanes Geothermal Power Plant in southwest Iceland. Reusing its residual energy creates a post-production, spin-off process that yields a new landscape formed by thermal principles and the compression and extension of its temperature gradient. Algae cultivation and production, revegetation strategies, and temperature’s experiential qualities are interwoven to form a thermal resource park. Heat is reexamined as an invisible, phenomenological design material, which can be captured, contained, and released through conduction, convection, and radiation properties and techniques inherent in particular materials and forms.

The Reykjanes Geothermal Power Plant, opened in 2006, uses 15 boreholes to withdraw 300°C thermal brine from 1.6 ~ 3km below grade. This critically hot water passes through steam separators, which extract water and minerals before the steam is sent to the turbines. Thermal brine effluent is 190°C after the purification process, and is piped to a cooler where it is mixed with 8°C sea water to reduce its temperature before disposal. At 57°C, the effluent is sent down an 800m long concrete culvert and released to the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of 4,000 liters per second.

Energy Afterlife repurposes this effluent instead of discarding it. The temperature gradient can be used as a thermal device in the landscape to create micro-habitats, climates, ecologies, and economies.

Energy Afterlife proposes an alternative methodology for using geothermal energy by exploiting the thermal gradient, decentralizing the network of energy use, and seizing every opportunity for programming across multiple temperature scales — thereby moving towards a visible hybridization of industrial, ecological, and cultural processes. The variable uses of thermal gradients in relationship to multiple programs are manifested as Thermal Worlds, assigning meaning to temperature. This is highlighted in two particular Worlds. Extreme Heat creates a territory whose heat is experienced from a distance, through radiation and conduction. Heat in the form of radiation is captured and transferred with the use of materials. In contrast, Extreme Algae is a world whose temperatures, which are optimal for all programs to occur, are stretched and retained across a large swath of land.

Water is an element essential to Icelanders’ cultural identity. In Energy Afterlife, the material of geothermal water is both medium and subject, in all of its states and temperatures. It engages the senses and invites visitors to consider its thermal gradient: its effects, its texture, and the way it generates a natural process of making and a new cultural process of gathering, transporting, and arranging the heated material. The new landscape is a rare geothermal saline environment, interwoven with opportunities for research, education, and recreation. A landscape of Energy Afterlife is formed: effluent waste is reused and repurposed, becoming a spin-off from a residual geothermal energy production process.

Excerpt from 3/13 Article in “Landscape Architecture Frontiers”                   To download a PDF of the article, please go to the LAF website.

Urban Porosity

Due to a lack of infrastructure, Willets Point at Flushing Bay, Queens, NY experiences constant flooding. The rise in sea level, the rise of the water table due to fewer people pumping drinking water from the aquifer, and a hub of discharge points for combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in Flushing Bay all contribute to this phenomenon. By increasing the site’s porosity through dualizing infrastructure, the project aims to increase flooding capacity, keep water out of the CSOs, and send clean water back into the bay. The driving force behind the project is gravity, which dictates how water will move due to topography.

The urban form of the project is derived from and dependent upon the levels of porosity and the movement of water. Where urban density is highest, porosity is lowest and water moves more quickly. The movement of water is coupled with the movement of people. In locations where people move faster, water moves faster. Where people are at rest, water becomes absorbed. The city is about fluidity: the circulation of people, materials, and water. In this integrated network of circulation systems, human movement corridors are overlaid on water collection conduits, preventing streets from flooding while treating water and increasing vegetated surfaces. The project aims to increase the site’s capacity to handle varying water levels, to maximize the vegetated surface area for water intake, erosion control, and nutrient filtering, and to create more intimate streets and public realms.

Sections of my proposed design display the public realm and the interconnectivity of the water treatment system in relationship to the street. They reveal the components at play in the event of a storm. There is an emphasis on shared public space as well as on the fluid movement and containment of water. The selected series illustrates the site as a network of gradients: from hard to soft, impervious to porous, and high density to low density.

Ornithological Reserve

South Weymouth Naval Air Station is a former military Superfund site that has been closed under the Base Realignment and Closure program. The challenge of the studio is to develop strategies to remediate contamination, make regional connections, and develop the site through natural and infrastructural systems in order to produce a multi-faceted landscape that enhances ecology and provides a value-added benefit to the Boston metropolis.

My team developed the site as an Ornithological Reserve. Our main focus was the enhancement of the site’s natural systems and habitat functions. Over a period of time from the present to 2050, we proposed to transform the site into an ecological preserve that serves as regional green infrastructure while resisting the spread of low-density, inefficiently allocated development. The defining characteristic of the site is its open space, which provides expansive views that are unique to the region – and more importantly, the opportunity to establish an extensive grassland ecosystem. The region is lacking in these vital landscapes which were once common in New England, but have now been subordinated by forestland and agriculture, or else have become industrial “meadows,” such as airports and landfills.

Grasslands serve as an important habitat for bird species. Many birds currently use the site year-round or as a stopover for migration, and many more will be attracted to it in the future as a result of careful design and management. Grassland plants were selected and organized in accordance with the needs of bird species that use the site.

The forest management strategy utilizes a macro approach to maximize biodiversity. In order to maintain a wide variety of habitats, we proposed selective logging in rotating plots over time. This approach establishes multiple stages of succession while maintaining the forest’s average age. The maintenance regime aims to support highest possible biodiversity and maximize the population count between all groups.

Mycoremediation is the cheapest and most effective strategy available for on-site decontamination. We proposed to use fungal materials both to decontaminate the site as well as to provide ongoing ecological benefits such as decomposing unwanted wood and supplying food to the community. We also designed a land use strategy using a land banking process, in which parcels of land are set aside for future development as transit-oriented housing adjacent to the existing commuter rail station. The sale of land and/or housing units will help fund the proposed ecological improvements to the site. The Ornithological Reserve is a public regional infrastructure that provides a unique opportunity to maintain grassland and forest for ecological enhancement and economic stimulation, while offering an educational and recreational destination to the public.