Quoting Jedediah Purdy “humanity has outstripped geology”, Kelly Shannon’s rather satirical introduction to the inevitability of a global environmental crisis opened the lecture, urging architects, urban planners and landscape architects to be more involved in a challenging environment that is widely dominated by politics and economics.

Examples of her works spanning three continents from the developing to the developed worlds, demonstrated how landscape and urban design can alter existing environments and perhaps decelerate anthropogenic climate change. The port designs in Antwerp, Belgium exemplified the “transforming, optimizing and correcting an existing condition”, whereby floodable landscapes were created in order for more areas to become urbanised and industrialised.

In Vietnam, the Mekong Delta projects were of the typical scale, speed and scope of a fast-pace developing world; hence a hierarchical landscape system was created to guide urbanism in a challenging political arena. Shannon’s most recent project of Pershing Square with Agence Ter, was instrumental to bring green landscape back into the concrete jungle of Los Angeles whilst providing transport and social connectivity with the rest of the city using diverse sustainable design methods.

Of particular interest is Shannon’s idea of floodable landscapes, illustrated in the Antwerp ports by creating nature at the expense of urbanism, such as breaking dykes in order to let water in, and give space to water. In Vietnam, as the Mekong delta is constantly threatened by massive dam building and settlement loads changing, the Cần Thơ master plan of a dispersed city, highlights areas of elevated dry islands for urbanisation, while low lying areas can be flooded when necessary, creating systems for water purification and quantity control through retention, drainage and irrigation – a choreographed flooding system.

As Shannon stated, climatic extremities could be reversed by man-made intervention.

However, one issue which needs to be explored further is the increased frequency and unpredictability of extreme weather conditions. Statistics indicate the ‘100-year flood’ scenario is becoming more common, an example of this being Brisbane’s floods of 1893, 1974 and 2011. Further, Shannon’s approach of flooding low-lying areas and urbanising the more elevated parts of the city is also questionable, whereby re-planning already heavily urbanised cities such as Brisbane will be a lengthy and expensive process.

Shannon’s approach to landscape urbanism, such as premeditated flooding, is to be applauded for its creative intervention methods. However, the ever-changing natural environment and increased densification of urban centres calls for landscape interventions which are not only diachronically analysed, but synchronically justified and optimised at a local scale. How can these systems be adapted to counter an ever changing natural environment is yet to be proven.


Photo credit
Cover image: Kelly Shannon by Judit Losh.
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