Aqueous Ecologies

Project: Aqueous Ecologies
Location: Willets Point, NY
Designer: Michael Ezban
Year: 2013
Program: Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Faculty Advisor: Chris Reed

Project Description: ‘Aqueous Ecologies’ imagines a future for Willets Point, a derelict peninsula in Queens, NY, in which new ecologies, economies, and cultural identities of the city are intertwined with landscape-based solutions for adaptive, polyfunctional, and publicly accessible wastewater management and treatment. Aquaculture becomes a foundation for an ecological urbanism.

Rather than starting with a traditional masterplan, this project proposes a productive ecology of multi-trophic aquaculture (closed-loop fish farming) as a catalyst for urban development. A 50-year process for cultivating aquaculture and urbanism at Willets Point increases wildlife biodiversity and creates cultural and economic synergies over time, at both local and regional scales. Over time, synergistic relationships between aquaculture and urbanism mature, establishing the urban core as a greywater and stormwater supply for a burgeoning aquaculture industry.

At areas of high urban density, waters flow through hard- and soft-bottom channels, from sidewalk swales to plaza basins. The alternating conditions of saturation and desiccation at these urban spaces foster a dynamic range of recreational and commercial activity. At the littoral zone of Willets Point, the character of the landscape is quite different. Biotic succession and daily tide dynamics are evident in the expansive salt marshes, while kelp cultivation groins — thriving on aquaculture wastewater — extend into Flushing Bay, becoming armatures for sediment accumulation and spontaneous vegetation. The kelp can either be exported into culinary and medicinal economies, or remain within the aquaculture system as processed fish meal.

Public access throughout the littoral zone, via boardwalks that convey wastewater for treatment, allows for immersive cultural experiences and an opportunity to experience the dynamism of succession and daily tide dynamics. Processes of sediment deposition and accumulation against these boardwalks lead to the emergence of publicly accessible habitat islands. During storm events, public activities shift to elevated civic spaces that float above temporarily flooded civic spaces. The raised infrastructure connects to existing elevated transit lines and roof gardens and allows aquaculture and wastewater filtration to intertwine at multiple levels within the fabric of the city.


Featured in Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure 


Perimeter City 238

Project: Perimeter City 238
Location: Lincoln, NE
Designer: Andrew Ferentinos
Year: 2012
Program:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Faculty Advisors: Alan Berger, Alexander D’Hooghe

Project Description: Even though the U.S. metropolitan area population is an expanding suburbia, most research on cities is focused on high density, compact urban areas. Metropolitan horizontal scale has largely been neglected even though it is likely to remain the model for many years to come. Lincoln, Nebraska is taken as a model to research innovative models of suburbanization that can be applied to other U.S. cities.

The issues Lincoln face are common to many cities. Majority of inhabitants share the suburban desire to have both city and country at their fingertips. Unfortunately, under the status quo of concentric-ringed expansion, the peri-urban edge—the interface where countryside and city meet—is constantly unstable and fleeting. It is only a matter of time until the edge is consumed by expansion, turning it into a massively thick, low value middle ground, neither city nor country. Agricultural land is constantly consumed, pushing food sources further from their demand.

PERIMETER CITY 238 provides an alternative. It accommodates a doubling population—an increase of 250,000 people by 2050—into a plan that achieves three main goals. It stabilizes, protects, and maximizes the highly sought after peri-urban edge. It distributes a network of relatively higher density urban nodes easily accessible to the low/mid density peri-urban edge. It minimizes and eliminates low value, unwanted middle ground.    

This plan is achieved by using infrastructure to focus growth into eleven new linear cities, or Fingers, that link Lincoln’s satellite towns to the existing city. The result is a new asterisk shaped city that maximizes perimeter and radically increases contact between city and agricultural land from 107 to 228 linear miles. This plan maintains Lincoln’s scale and character as a mid/low-density city, and ensures the continued presence of the agriculture, industry, and prairie landscapes that define its origins and productive future.

Finger-Structure:  The particulars of local topography serve as an organizing principle for the plan. Each of the Fingers, roughly 7 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, contain a population of roughly 25,000. These linear footprints are aligned roughly along ridgelines, leaving lowlands and floodplains to the areas in-between serving as agricultural and prairie habitat.

Transportation: A new continuous parkway, the Cornbelt, traces the outer edges of all eleven Fingers, clearly defining the boundary between city and countryside. An Interior Belt marks the threshold between Lincoln’s existing urban fabric and the new finger extensions. Another highway, the Ring Road, runs perpendicularly across the center of each finger and provides a cross connection between each Finger.

Nodes: Three types of architectural and landscape interventions organize the structure of the Fingers. First, within each Finger, a centrally located Civic Node acts as a growth magnet and center of economics, commerce, entertainment, culture, and civic space.  Second, Water reservoirs and constructed wetlands are located at the junctions between each Finger. This helps block suburban expansion into farmland. It will comprise a significant element of the future city’s water infrastructure, improving regional water quality as well as providing wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Third, land that is excavated in the process is used as fill to raise the elevations of the terminal ends of each Finger. Upon these terminal mounds, ethanol plants and Waste-to-energy facilities are located.

Open Space:  Each linear city will have a network of linked open spaces and natural areas that preserve features such as floodplains and forest while connecting existing parklands. A Constructed Central Park culminates at each finger’s Civic Node. Ringed with higher-density housing, this park accommodates a variety of public activities. The large areas of land lying beyond each finger will be preserved as a mix of productive farmland and prairie, maintained as a publicly accessible landscape preserve.

San Juan Island Development Network

Project: San Juan Island Development Network: Microcosm of America
Location: San Juan Island, Washington
Designer: Joshua Brooks
Year: 2012
Program: Louisiana State University, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture
Faculty Advisors: Lake Douglas, Van Cox

Project Description: This project proposes a process-oriented planning framework, focusing on built works, policies, community programs, and funding strategies, for the San Juan Island National Park and the supporting rural community of San Juan Island. This process-based approach can help the island absorb future growth, foster the unique local culture, and protect and enhance the native ecosystem as its population doubles over the coming decade.

Theory: By employing three theoretical strands—1) systems thinking, as synthesized by MIT’s Donella Meadows, positing that the understanding of the relationship between entities offers a greater understanding of the larger system; 2) Chris Reed’s “curated ecologies,” which proposes that designers can establish a series of interactions over time between humans and ecological processes to produce desired outcomes; and 3) Rem Koolhaas’s process planning concept from the article “Whatever Happened to Urbanism,” in which he points out how modern planning efforts often don’t result in the intended end-product because of the reliance on the planning of permanent objects, instead of the planning of the processes themselves—this project attempts to challenge traditional top-down planning and unlock the potential of engaging process and complexity.

Project Goals: Five project goals are proposed within a 35-year framework: (1) connect island ecosystems through restoration easements, conservation policy, and a network of trails (2) diversify housing options and add user amenities to increase year round livability (3) support local agriculture and decentralized renewable energy production (4) structure an efficient transportation infrastructure with minimal disturbance to the existing system; and (5) foster island culture, art, research, tourism, local businesses, and natural and native history.

Design (Pilot Projects): Phase One (HIGHLIGHT): American Camp Visitor Center | As part of phase one, the American Camp parcel of San Juan Island National Park receives several upgrades, including a viaduct on an eroding cliff, several public art projects, and new visitor facilities which serve as a catalyst and demonstration for sustainable building practices and resource management across the island. Housing a theater, research laboratories, rental space, administration offices, and a large display area with views to Mount Rainer and the Olympic Mountain Range, this building serves the National Park Service, the University of Washington, and the people of San Juan Island.

Phase Two (INCENTIVIZE): Harbor CO-OP and the Island Agriculture Initiative | A biointensive urban farm and farmer’s co-op is built in conjunction with Friday Harbor grocery store, University of Washington Horticultural Research Laboratory, and the Friday Harbor community center. Using best management practices the construction of this farm will turn a fallow urban lot into an eighteen acre productive landscape with onsite packaging and propagation facilities, encouraging sustainable farming practices, combating the inflated price of food on San Juan island, and growing the local economy. To further support the growth of local farming, a harvest pickup service is offered along a selected route which connects areas of the island that are deemed best for farming.

Phase Three (GENERATE): How to build a Green Corridor Network | A network of open space corridors is grown across the island, creating an interconnected trail system, while simultaneously promoting the protection and restoration of wetlands, streambeds, estuarine habitat, and rare prairie and savannah ecosystems, as well as increasing water infiltration and curbing aquifer drawdown. A tax break program offers incentives for landowners to create ecological corridors within their property, with incentives being weighted by ecosystem type, parcel size, and proximity to existing open space.

Rather than relying on closed systems, this project offers a flexible, design-driven and process-based approach to planning, providing guidance to the National Park Service as well as the county and towns of San Juan Island on how to deal with its projected development without sacrificing culture or ecology.


Infiltrated Cultural And Ecological Urbanism

Project: Infiltrated Cultural and Ecological Urbanism
Location: Kaohsiung City, Taiwan
Firm: Maxthreads Architectural Design
Year: 2011
Firm website:

Project Description: Kaohsiung Ecological District lies on the edge of the Kaohsiung city, along the Wan Shu mountain. The project represents an example of infrastructure-led gridded planning resulting in a cohesive network of new road systems and urban landscape along Kaohsiung port station.

The proposal draws inspiration from the grid of the historic train tracks and uses it as a planning base. A leaf-like spin channels through the site, lending a distinctive identity of its urban planning system. The proposal also exemplifies essential aspects of sustainable urban planning including an integrated mixed-use community that encompasses living, working and leisure within a compact city form and is complemented with a balance of civic and natural spaces.

Further, the development is inspired by the culturally and biologically responsive between the new city urban fabric and existing old town Yen Chan district. The guiding principle of the master plan proposal is to inspire a meaningful sense of community and a shared commitment for social and environmental responsibility. The proposal also introduces a series of urban agriculture farming and historically integrated parks. The strategy is to infiltrate and to conceal the community and biological diversity from the nearby Wan Shu mountain. It also reflects the historical transformation of Kaohsiung city from industrial city to a contemporary cityscape.

Presentation animation material:

Project Team Members: Max Yang, Eve Lee, Amy Millar, Wayne Chang

PatchWork, Living City Design Competition

Project: PatchWork, Living City Design Competition
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Firm: OLIN
Year: 2011
Firm Website:

Project Description: OLIN’s award-winning submission to the Living City Design Competition responded to ambitious standards of sustainable development within the historically rich, yet socially and ecologically underserved neighborhoods of Brewerytown and North Central in Philadelphia. Working closely with the architects and urban planners Digsau and Interface Studio, the OLIN team explored how sustainable design can be implemented within an existing urban framework by utilizing local resources, community engagement, and respect for vernacular culture and architecture.

Using an “evolving block” strategy, the team phased incremental and achievable improvements over a span of twenty-five years. To meet 100% on-site renewable energy for thousands of households, homes are retrofitted with façades of photovoltaic panels, and the commercial spine along Ridge Avenue is shaded with canopies that collect solar power. Vacant parcels punctuating blocks of row homes transform into a pedestrian-friendly network of green spaces populated by play areas, community gardens, and urban farms. Existing row homes are either retrofitted, renovated, or replaced. Structural materials deemed necessary for demolition are salvaged for reuse elsewhere in the neighborhoods, thereby supplying over thirty million bricks and three million square feet of wood for building new homes.

Rain gardens and roof cisterns combine with district-level “living machine” water treatment centers located along the green space network. This integrated system reduces the neighborhoods’ per capita potable water consumption from 69.3 gallons per day (the amount used by an average American) to 9.2 gallons, and eases demand on the city’s aging and over-burdened combined stormwater and sewer system. The long-abandoned Red Bell Brewery is refurbished, creating local jobs and opportunities for locavore farming. This measure contributes to the goal of meeting 80% of the district’s food needs within a 500-mile radius.

Image Credits: The Olin Studio.

Project Team Members: DIGSAU, Interface Studio


The Culture Now Project: Productive Landscapes

Project: The Culture Now Project: Productive Landscapes
Location: Flint, MI
Designer: Layton Petersen
Year: 2011
Program: University of California, Los Angeles
Faculty Advisors: Thom Mayne, Karen Lohrmann

Project Description: Converting blight into a city wide productive landscape.

The city has the highest crime rate in the United States. It has lost half of its population since 1960. The automotive manufacturing industry that once supported the city is all but gone. The city has six police officers for every 100,000 people. One-third of the city has been abandoned. However, Flint has a number of large foundations with over five billion dollars in combined assets committed to helping the local population. It has major educational institutions. It has an excess of vacant urban land. It has well-connected highway and rail infrastructure. It is in the center of Michigan, the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, with an agro-industry that generates sixty billion dollars for the state economy. Flint’s social, economic, and cultural assets lie in its agricultural potential and the recycling of post-industrial wasteland into productive landscapes.

The territory Flint occupies is too large, with too little population to fill it. The city is transforming into a town, but the urban spaces opened up by de-population have the potential to be the most valuable. Flint’s new empty spaces range in size from quarter-acre suburban lots to the two hundred acre Buick City automotive manufacturing site, creating a complex fabric of urban vacancy. The Genesee County Land Bank, one of the first in the nation, manages over ten thousand foreclosed homes and vacant lots around Flint, tearing down empty houses and selling under-utilized lots for private and public use at a fraction of their original cost.

Flint’s new agricultural economy is developed over three distinct phases: Ecological Remediation, Agricultural Education, and Agricultural Production. Phase one, Remediation, uses modified Poplar trees to clean polluted soil. Phase two, Education, trains a qualified agricultural workforce, and phase three, Production, transforms Flint’s surplus of space into an economic asset by developing micro- and macro-scaled agriculture on Flint’s empty land.

Flint’s value lies at the regional scale. Its new Productive Landscapes can feed over five million people, easily meeting the food demand of central Michigan while developing local economies of production and distribution.

Project Background: This project is one of eight proposals presented under the 2010-2011 UCLA MArch II Suprastudio. From August 2010 to June 2011, Thom Mayne, Design Director of Morphosis, Karen Lohrmann, and a group of advisors have been leading fourteen post graduate architecture and urban design graduate students in an inquiry about the dynamics of culture now. The project is going forward next year to include thirteen other universities with the hope of creating an extensive discussion about contemporary culture and the nature of American cities. Additional work and information is available for download on the suprastudio website.

Image Captions:
Image 1: City Analysis: Analysis of the geography, city image, cultural climate, and local leadership forms a strange network of possibilities.

Image 2: Vacancy Types: Flint has an abundance of vacant land categorized as park, residential, and industrial properties.
Image 3: Filling the void: Each vacancy type is associated with an appropriate type of agricultural production. City parks become dense forest, residential properties become low-yield urban gardens, and industrial lots become high-yield green houses.
Image 4: Forests, Farms, Greenhouses: The three types of agriculture transform the image of Flint.
Image 5: 21st Century Arcadia: Void spaces mapped throughout Flint fill with agriculture.
Image 6: Residential production: A house converted into a productive field.
Image 7: Regional production: Flint’s vacancy becomes a productive food hub capable of feeding neighboring cities within the region.


The Culture Now Project: High Speed Small Town

Project: The Culture Now Project: High speed / small town
Location: Merced, CA
Designers: Dylan Barlow, Wayne Ko, Sepa Sama
Year: 2011
Program: University of California, Los Angeles
Faculty Advisors: Thom Mayne, Karen Lohrmann

Project Description: Connecting isolated opportunities to create integrative solutions: How high speed rail and a state university will change the culture of California.

Located in California’s agricultural heartland, the city of Merced is experiencing rapid transformation from rural town to urban campus. With the establishment of the newest University of California campus in 2005 and a proposed station for the state’s high-speed rail line, a city once recognized only for agricultural production has been expanding quickly into the 21st century.

With the proposed high speed rail system, Merced’s access to the economic and cultural hubs of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles becomes possible. The high speed rail provides the conduit for expanding the reach of students attending a university founded on research and innovation. The rail station and university act as catalysts for High Speed Small Town’s proposed small town growth.

Rejecting existing plans that separate the city and university by a $400 million highway, High Speed Small Town aligns diverse interests into a hybrid urban system that encourages shared infrastructures and symbiotic expansion of education and culture.

This approach for Merced’s future growth engages three central components: the city, the rail station, and the university. By extending agricultural crops from the existing city’s edge and centralizing the university’s infrastructure, we create an integrated model for landscape preservation, city expansion and university outreach.

Merced has the potential to expand the dialogue for how a hinterland city can utilize existing assets and shared infrastructure to represent the twenty-first century high-speed university. What happens when extreme growth meets successful agriculture? How do you deal with the future now? How does a city prepare? High Speed Small Town seeks to explore and answer these questions.

Project Background: This project is one of eight proposals presented under the 2010-2011 UCLA MArch II Suprastudio. From August 2010 to June 2011, Thom Mayne, Design Director of Morphosis, Karen Lohrmann, and a group of advisors have been leading fourteen post graduate architecture and urban design graduate students in an inquiry about the dynamics of culture now. The project is going forward next year to include thirteen other universities with the hope of creating an extensive discussion about contemporary culture and the nature of American cities. Additional work and information is available for download on the suprastudio website.

Image Captions:
Image 1: City Analysis: Observing the Geography, city image, cultural climate, and local leadership a strange network of possibilities is formed.
Image 2: California re-organized: With the advent of hi-speed rail travel, the city of Merced, CA will be an hour away from Los Angeles, and San Francisco. This infrastructural addition will dramatically change California’s cultural landscape.
Image 3: Move the UC into the city: Both the University and the city are growing. We propose a symbiotic expansion of both and suggest the UC align with the city. If the city is integrated with the University then precious farm land may be preserved and the city will have opportunities to intensify.
Image 4: Proposed timeline: Growth pattern are re-thought over the course of 50 years. Out model shows the university moving into the city.
Image 5: Save some money: The city is proposing to build two majors roads to connect the university and the city. These new roads will be expensive and they will also cause the city to consume farmland. This could be avoided by mobbing the University into the city.
Image 6: Merced 2050: A hybrid model of dense city and agriculture is very appropriate and positions Merced as a culturally unique place in California.