How will technology, climate change and globalization influence the work of landscape architects in the future?
Taran Aanderaa, Landscape Architect, and Vaar Bothner, Landscape Architect.
Landscape architect Brian Jencek works on these topics at a daily basis in his job as co-director of the global planning practice at HOK. Based in San Francisco, Jencek is working on projects all over the world, challenging the way we think of our physical environment by using new technology, materials and innovative solutions. He is also teaching graduate-level design courses at the University of Berkeley, California, focusing on climate change and resilience especially. This spring, he visited The Norwegian University of Life Sciences where he held a lecture on the relationship between nature, people and cities. KOTE was able to arrange a talk prior to the lecture, to discuss the role of landscape architects as cities grow larger and climate change brings on new challenges for cities and communities.
A transdisciplinary future
More than 80 % of the global population will be living in cities by 2050. This rapid urbanization is forcing us to come up with new solutions for smart land use, safe and resilient public spaces and supplies of food and other goods. Jencek thinks technology and transdisciplinary projects are going to play an important part in this development. He emphasize cooperation with the transportation sector in order to develop smarter infrastructure systems.
“Roads are traditionally designed to have sufficient space during the one time of day when it is filled up with cars. Smart cities technology allows the infrastructure to be aware and responsive to where the demands are. This way, we can build fewer lanes, and design broader sidewalks. That’s why landscape architects have to become friends with the transportation sector.” In addition to transportation designers, landscape architects will have to work closer together with engineers and scientists to solve the challenges that arrive as millions of people move into cities every day.
Learning from nature
The relationship between people and nature is also going to influence and expand our discipline in the future. “We need the nature in order to be healthy and survive as a species. A future challenge for landscape architects will be to preserve and teach people the importance of nature as the cities grow bigger. Children who grow up in big cities today have a very different understanding of nature, compared to earlier generations. Adequate conservation of nature, including the services and goods it provides us with, depends on people’s perception of nature as something fundamentally important to human health and wellbeing.”
Jencek also comes up with examples of how nature can be the source of inspiration for new technology. “Nature has used millions of years to build regimes. The technology that is found in ecosystems is so much more complex and perfected than any technology humans are able to develop. Much of the technology that is developed today is enhancing natural systems in order to become sufficient. This is called bio mimicking.” An example is how modern ventilation systems are inspired by termite chimneys. Too keep the eggs at the right temperature, the termites make small holes in their chimney. At night, they plug the holes to conserve the heat that has accumulated during the day. This initially inspired the development of ventilation of buildings.
New challenges to be solved
Learning from nature is also relevant in order to deal with challenges connected to climate change. Floods, droughts, forest fires and sea-level rise, intensified by climate change, represent some of the greatest threats to our cities and communities. Many of these challenges can be dealt with by utilizing and enhancing natural systems such as wetlands, vegetation and landforms. An example is how restoration of wetlands along the coastline of San Francisco Bay protect buildings and infrastructure from sea-level rise. This changes the role of landscape architects from planners and designers of physical environment, to protectors of people and cities through design solutions.
The road ahead
A challenging, yet exciting time is ahead of us. The interplay between new technology, globalisation, climate change and natural systems is constantly making the profession of landscape architects more complex and transdisciplinary. Our role as designers entails a responsibility to constantly work for better solutions that can respond to new challenges as they arise. While globalisation makes it easier to take advantage of good ideas from different parts of the world, we rely on skilful landscape architects to redevelop and adapt the solutions to local communities and conditions.
Jencek is working every day to stretch the meaning and discipline of landscape architects. “I think our job will be even more important in the future. It can be boundless. There is nothing that does not happen in the landscape.”