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S U D e s conference september 21st, 2011 lund, sweden



UC Berkeley

Rolf Larsson Lund University Dilip da Cunha Mathur/daCunha Delia Moldoveanu SUDes, Lund University Martin Felsen Urban Lab Kongjian Yu Turenscape

Donlyn Lyndon

Summary by Donlyn Lyndon Water connects, water is everywhere, water is scarce, water delights, intrigues, terrifies; water is wasted, water is provocative, water is our most precious resource. These and many other considerations swirled through enlivening discussions in the conference Urban Water, Urban Form held by SUDes, the Sustainable Urban Design Programme at Lund University’s School of Architecture on September 21, 2011. The annual event is sponsored by the Ax:son Johnson Institute for Sustainable Urban Design. This year’s conference took place in the newly built Great Hall of the School of Architecture, celebrating its renovation. Speakers brought insights and illustrations from their works and studies in China, India, Africa, the USA and Europe, and Kritian Skovbakke Villaden of Gehl Architects moderated the following discussions...

UC Berkeley

Water, Urban Dynamics Studio 2009



it, coming together in settlements depends on it. Access to water and its management and distribution are essential to our lives.

DESCRIBING WATER Harrison Fraker UC Berekely

Harrison Fraker, Guest Professor at Lund and former Dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley started the swirl of ideas with a flow of words and images revealing the many ways that we describe water and the way it enters into our lives , ranging from the water cycle and watersheds, through various forms of water bodies and their edges. In conclusion he noted that “The current dominant paradigm about water in our cities is to get rid of it as quickly and efficiently as possible,

to make it invisible. On the other hand, the lack of available drinking water is recognized as one of the most serious health and environmental challenges we face. In rethinking how the design of cities can help address this challenge, water – in all the ways we know it – has a tremendous potential to reshape urban form, to make water visible again as one of the ways of knowing our cities.” That in most urban areas we can draw healthy, nourishing water from a spigot in the corner of a room is a small miracle – an event that we take for granted many times each day, yet one which relies on the installation and coordination of innumerable pipes, a myriad of pumps and filters, the slopes of the land and its geological underpinnings… and a benevolent climate.


Lund University

To bring this point home, Rolf Larsson, Head of Lund University’s Department of Building and Environmental Technology, diagramed the water supply sources and channelized routes that bring water to Lund and its region, then went on to describe much more demanding issues. There are many, many who do not have such ready access to healthy water and, as the sources of their water become depleted or befouled or the infrastructure that supports their distribution is destroyed, many more will come to lose the access The Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite by Nicolas Poussin

Photo: Carley Friesen

Photo: Nick Bigelow


they have. We know that there are and will be great areas of deprivation across the globe. To illustrate, Larsson showed sections of Africa that that suffer the dire consequences of water loss, noting that we must care and we must learn to translate that care into action. Water Resource Management, he concluded needs to be much more vigorously pursued, particularly with respect to the increasing quantities of storm water and wastewater generated by increases in population and by rapid, expansive urban growth. Citing inadequate data, he stated, “It’s easier to find problems than solutions,” noting, however, the promise of new developments in water harvesting and recycling Water, it is clear, is a precious resource and we must learn to treat it that way. Instead, in most urban centers it has come to be seen primarily as a carrier of waste to be flushed away, and as a nuisance that sometime falls from the sky and must be channeled out of our way; out of sight and out of mind. A new paradigm is needed. Understanding what water can be in our lives requires reaching farther into the investigation of its forms and how they interact with the land and our use of it. It requires learning to trace water’s processes and shapes, understanding how it filters through the earth and the surfaces we build. We must come to recognize and keep in the forefront of our minds the intricacies of a watershed and the diverse and marvelous adjustments that have been made as we adapt culture to the places in which we live and/or adapt places to the cultures we seek to become. We must admire ingenuity even as we must exercise humility, but we need to reach beyond conventional problem-solving and preconceived actions.


the principals of Mathur/daCunha, urged that we do just that, arguing that in the West water has been dominantly conceived in terms of controlling flows and that the equally important aspects of absorption have been neglected. Conceiving water primarily as linear flows to be controlled has led to vast public works meant to channel and contain water’s path, often in vain or to the detriment of surrounding countryside. He calls for a ‘new imagination”’that would think in terms of rain terrain and riverbeds; rather than waterfronts and lines of control. SOAK, the title of his most recent publication, aptly states the challenge. Showing work near Bangalore, where real estate developers imagine a ‘city of lakes’, he illustrated how the area can be more properly conceived through mapping swales in a way that would account for seasonal spread and multiple ways of considering the land. This, and similar ways of opening the imagination to local variations can


Dilip de Cunha, architect, planner and one of Soak by Mathur/da Cunha


also engage neighborhood groups and foster small, demonstrative changes. Da Cunha referred to traditional maidan, open spaces in India, often areas of the city near rivers, which were left undeveloped. These were areas that offered scope for diverse initiatives, places where many things could happen according to the season; temporary occupations of land, festivals, markets, all forms of recreation, or more simply places where water could seep into the land. Water is also a great convener. It bonds people in time as they give it their mutual attention - at the shore and the beach and in places of gathering where it brings people together. It serves to prompt gossip at the well, or reveries by the banks of a watercourse and often its edge becomes an impromptu stage. Water is a place, one might dare to say, where insights and reflections can be shared. Great bodies of water, rushing streams and mighty channels capture our imaginations. But so very often we have seen water within the city presented trivially; in circular or geometric fountains, unrelated to anything except the benches that ring them, holding spouts that do nothing but spout and ripples that tickle our attention only fitfully. They have no scope.

program made a lovely presentation showing the ways that ideas about water had permeated her most recent design project. Stating, “Water is a great playmate,” she noted its capacity to remind us in many ways of the qualities of life that can take place within what we design.


The ways in which urban design can gather the flows of water into a palpably valuable regenerative force are particularly evocative and important. There begin to be many examples that can trace and make advantage of the myriad paths that water takes as it is absorbed into the ground or finds its way to lakes and seas or to underlying aquifers. One of the most notable is the Growing Water


Delia Moldoveanu Master’s Student, SUDes Programme

That’s changing. There are some marvelous ways that the water in our lives has been reimagined, from the rushing cascades of Halprin fountains in Portland, Oregon, and the quiet evocative spaces of Levi Plaza in San Francisco, to Jeppe Aagard Andersen’s bold, varied and ingenious waterfront promenade at BO01 in Malmö, or the flat surfaces of the Corajoud’s riverside plaza in Bordeaux which are alternately filled by a thin mirroring sheet of water, a field of bubblers, or mists creating an enveloping low fog, each becoming in time the other; all peopled with children and adults immersed in the water of the moment. Delia Moldoveanu, a Master’s student in the SUDes Growing Water by Urban Lab


proposal for Chicago, Illinois, put forward by the firm Urban Lab and described by Martin Felsen, one of its principals. They call for nothing less than the re-directing of the entire flow of used water in the city, recycling water back into Lake Michigan, from which the city’s water supply comes. It’s not so surprising when they explain that in the last century the Chicago River and the city’s storm and waste water had been channeled away from the natural watershed running towards the great lake and redirected through public works and a network of large tunnels to watersheds leading in the opposite direction, eventually to the Mississippi River and its flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Reconfiguring many streets as ‘EcoBoulevards’ where surface catchment areas and filtering beds are part of the fabric of city form, they outline the creation of a great network of Eco-Boulevards running towards Lake Michigan, linking urban spaces and installations that would both cleanse the storm water more effectively and efficiently and serve as resources for greater green foliage and places of enjoyment. These show the importance of working with patterns of recovery and diffusion; emblems of natural forces at work. This is becoming much more feasible now as computers in ubiquitous use can track all manner of forms and processes derived from flow patterns and register their effectiveness in ecological terms.


urban form. Now we are finding diverse new ways to capture this magic. In China, Kongjian Yu, Dean of the School of Landscape Architecture in Beijing and leader of the firm Turenscape has created an amazing array of new projects, merging innovative approaches to water and landscape with the extraordinary pace of development in China. As consultant to mayors in many cities, he has brought about changes that establish new patterns of relation between people and the landscapes created within the reach of development. Using examples as varied as the design of a great storm-water park, the Qan Li National Urban Wetland, the riverside Houtan Park in Shanghai associated with the World Expo, and the much publicized and memorable ‘Red Ribbon’ bench and promenade structure weaving through the reclaimed banks of the Tanghe River, as well as the roof garden of his own apartment in Beijing, Yu gave shape and


For long we have admired those cultures that have developed the technologies of control and reclamation and the urban forms that have resulted, transforming pools and rivers into channels of commerce and pleasure, creating embankments and building sites along the way in many historic cities. However, when these become too narrowly focused and over-engineered they destroy the potential for innovative, integrative ways of making evocative Tianjin Bridged Gardens by Turenscape


example to his approach to water in the city. His approach as described in his publication The Art of Survival, centers on integrating ecological process and storm water filtration with bold imagination rooted in agricultural traditions and careful attention to human experience. Noting the contrasting but complementary Chinese concepts of Nu Wa and Da Ya, ‘Fix It’ and ‘Live with it’, Kongjian Yu exercises a fusion of the two…living with the means of natural processes of filtration and growth, and supplementing them with structures that integrate the fiercely aggressive forces of contemporary urbanization and centralized decision-making, through structures that derive from traditional forms of adjustment to the land, like terraced rice paddies and gently banked rivers that accommodate the spread of variable waters. In these works large areas are laid out with vigorous seasonal plants like tall reeds, sunflowers and rice, or wetland vegetation, which are then

crossed through and looked over by elevated urban walkways and benches that weave through the sites, allowing people new experiences of the landscape, at once both far-reaching and intimate, while the processes of ecological filtering and regeneration take place beneath and around them.


and within the grasp of water, deluging themselves in the refreshing wonder of water - from constructed beaches and water fun houses to subtle pavilions and intricate promenades that merge our bodies and their paths with the sampling of water’s forms and its generative power. These bring people into touch with the stream of life. Water can bring nature close.


There are also great threats that water brings too close to our lives. We have seen in current times a roster of them: drought, flooding, Tsunamis and the rise of water levels globally. These we must urgently take seriously and learn to cope with; they also require that we look in fresh ways and use our greatest efforts to offset the limitations of popular, professional and political outlook that retard integrated responses. All this is part of an extensive reformation in our understanding of where and how we fit into the larger configuration of forces in our world… and of finding ways of representing that to ourselves in discourse and exploration. Then we must learn to work with it…in real time and in cooperation with others. What’s called for is a re-forming of our search for urban structure, probing for deep understanding of natural and cultural process and caring for social equities in the distribution and use of our most


indispensable resource. It is a work that belongs to all of us. The task is to absorb and transform the swirling flow of ideas into tangible actions, close to nature, that can help bring about a world of sustainable urban places; actions that meet the challenge posed by Peter Siöström, Director SUDes at the outset of the conference - learning to make places that are ‘both livable and lovable’. The conference, presentations revealed many ways that water, attended to with care and imagination, can help us to meet that challenge. •

Water, Urban Dynamics Studio 2009


SUDES CONFERENCE Every year the SUDes programme invites 200 students and professionals met to take part in an international and interdisciplinary design conference. The topic of discussion in 2011 was urban water, urban form. This topic combined with last years discussion on urban green, urban form, and expanded on the exploration of a way of describing and designing the city as a holistic, urban tissue. Architects, planners, and landscape architects from around the world commented on their own theoretical and practical approaches. This document is a summary and discussion of the day’s discourse, authored by DONLYN LYNDON Eva Li Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Design at UC Berkeley AX:SUD Vising Professor

Sustainable Urban Design Programme School of Architecture Lund University Layout and Design by Carley Friesen


Sustainable Urban Design Programme

AxS u d

Ax:son Johnson Institute for Sustainable Urban Design

Urban Water, Urban Form  

A summary of the SUDes Conference, Urban Water, Urban form, with lectures from Martin Felsen (Urban Lab), Kongjian Yu (Turenscape), Dilip da...