Presentation by Mark Saint Pôl: Water infrastructure as landscape

Mark’s presentation included 3 case studies of a range of projects. The following are notes taken during the presentation:


This is a build-on of a presentation on projects in city – how landscape architecture works at that point between green infrastructure and society and how we can begin to use landscape to change the places we live. If we start with a landscape agenda we can inform how we develop. Looking towards the US, Charles Waldheim wrote about landscape as ecology and how we can no longer use architectural models and metaphors to explain the bigger ecological flows. Examples of strip malls in the USA talk to what are your values and conceptual framework. Tropical storm Harvey is showing that we are living in a time of rapid climate change – this provides opportunities for landscape architectural design as people are starting to take notice of the issues.


Merriman Square

This was quite a hostile environment, developed in the 1980s to a different audience and context. It was city-owned and one of the requirements for the development of the new parking garage was the site was to be re-imagined. This was an opportunity to radically think about how we make space. The wonderful thing about the parking garage was that it was able to block off the south-easter and the site is also north-facing, which is beneficial for planting. The stormwater wasn’t previously dealt in a meaningful way. Here, landscape is used as infrastructure, to create a social environment – it’s great to see people using the space. The brief was to create a vibrant space but we also wanted to incorporate a response to water, so it became a layered project. The big wins for the project in terms of water were the systems used:

  1. The project was able to capture all the stormwater from the top of the building and store this in rainwater tanks which was then used to irrigate giant green walls in between the two towers. All those people in the towers had wonderful views of the city and now they’d have a view of a parking lot – so this enabled a green view.
  2. All the water that isn’t used for the green walls is piped down into relaxation chambers that reduce the force of the water and incorporate into biofiltration chambers.
  3. Most buildings (used to) pump out ground water from basements – we were able to convince the client the harvest the ground water – instead of pumping this water out into the sea. This water is pumped up into the tanks and used for irrigation on the site, although some of it can also be used for flushing toilets in the building.

Because this is all reclaimed foreshore land – this has been brought into the materiality of the landscape, with reference to decks and gangways. The project made use of timber and off-shutter concrete. The project also connects from the civic centre to the city and there was a hodge podge of trees so some were taken out and replaced with London Plane trees. When the client approached us, they were required to consult with the city to show that we were doing something worthwhile – we wanted to take it a step further and show that the entire boulevard could be used as an education space for how we could use water. The rainwater basins weren’t full permanently and so the client requested that a permanent water feature be installed but this gets used for washing. The space is used well and incorporates a lot of indigenous plant material that can cope with inundation as well as dry periods.


Somerset Lakes

We were involved in the master planning of Somerset Lakes – and so we were able to think about the whole site. We inherited some existing roadways. We convinced the client to install dams over different levels. The site can be developed over time so that these portions. The water flows into these basins and runs down towards the entrance precinct. We looked at the local fynbos and supplemented it with other Cape species to create a vibrant planting palette that also responded to local biodiversity. The sections show how the design deals with various road ways and conditions. It’s an attractive environment and we were able to pack in a lot of green elements.


Lilongwe market

Lilongwe market is a project that has developed informally alongside the river. The market is so busy that people are forced to dump their garbage alongside the river. The river is highly toxic and yet people are using it for bathing, washing shoes for sale, ablutions. So we were appointed to find a way to make the market and the river an asset so that main concept was to restructure the market – which already has an existing management hierarchy that we had to work in. We also had to incorporate the existing structures that people have developed to cross the river. Our plan for the site was to incorporate various amenities, including spaces to grow produce along banks of the river. Some of the ordering principles of the design focused around garbage collection and devising strategies for how garbage could be collected in a low-tech way and how the different sectors could bring their garbage to a particular point. Because the river floods, we also had to consider how we would work into the ecological rehabilitation of the site. Other key interventions included enabling people to practice good hygiene, move around the site.

Click here to download Mark’s slides (36MB).

Mark Saint Pôl is a landscape architect and director of Square One Landscape Architects

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