The New Urban Interface

Architype presentsDean Hill
Dean Hill, ASLADean Hill, ASLA, CGP is the Director of Sustainability at greenscreen®, the leader in green facade technology since ...
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Shifting housing trends leading to the redevelopment of urban areas and an infusion of stimulus redevelopment dollars have placed architecture, infrastructure, and landscape in a precarious but opportunistic position. Opportunistic because there are now in place additional green building rating systems and methods that can be used with new sustainable site and landscape metrics to positively influence urban redevelopment for the inevitable increasing population densities that cities will be facing. The potential of this design integration will provide interdisciplinary design teams the opportunity to provide for an urban environment that will embrace, envelope, incorporate and showcase a vital interaction with nature.

On the macro scale, lurking underneath the urban design opportunity is the functional reality of failing infrastructure and the increased demands that will be imposed upon an already crumbling system. As this crisis is being addressed, a more immediate consideration will be forced upon the architecture community; the interface between architecture and landscape or the precise point where architecture ceases levitation and physically connects to a site. This will be an opportunity to emulate the efficiency of nature’s systems as well.  In building and development programming the idea of balance with nature sometimes seems more like a struggle with building as artifice and landscape as foil. Our urban future does not have to continue this model because developments in technologies for system integration between building interface and landscape elements are contributing to a better possibility. While architecture and infrastructure are given necessities, the technical integration of landscape is the new potential. To drill down even further suggests that landscape can be an extension of architecture. The advancement of existing technologies and new challenging site constraints will shift the concept of landscape to applications that will affect the true building interface of roofs and walls.

For example, green roof technology is now well established, is successfully implemented into large scale projects and has been proven to be as cost effective and durable as conventional construction methods. Specifications are readily available and the body of study and research is impressive, incorporating widely accepted plant research trials and documentation, benefits of green roof technology in urban air quality issues, stormwater management related benefits, Urban Heat Island mitigation and additional building and site benefits. The science and breadth of scope demonstrates landscape interface value and thus should be at the top of the list of building programming (pun intended). The same passion and potential is the current driving force for the green wall industry.

Manufacturers of green wall facade technologies are collaborating with irrigation, lighting, and structural system technologies to invent adaptable solutions for architects and engineers that create a new dynamic for evaluating building envelope efficiencies. Research for the engineering matrix of shade effects on envelope heat gain is advancing while incorporation of this vertical technology into water reuse and stormwater control moves ahead. After many years of study, vertical biofiltration systems utilizing plant structures are giving significant increases to air filtration efficiencies while improving our interior spaces with biophilic benefit. Experimentation and development continues for living walls by adapting small scale plant modules to vertical surfaces that are accessible. Green facades are utilizing small footprints of the site to produce vine trees that can be used throughout our urban canyons. This building interface has never had so many available systems for adoption into an integrated design approach that includes landscape elements for human benefit and building efficiency.

The use of landscape for creating better living and working environments is not a new strategy, but one that certainly can be applied with mainstream interest as a part of our impending need to solve the developing crisis of our redeveloped urban areas.  If quality of life, architecture and landscape are important issues for the future of our advancing urban population then the design of our buildings and landscapes need to include the most important component; nature.  Anything else seems counterintuitive and misguided.  In addition, the localized successful building model is prescriptive and can follow a very linear delivery system that will eventually benefit the macro, regional scale.  Connect the building to the site by interfacing architecture with landscape on all surfaces, connect sites to adjacent sites and compound benefits by connecting multiple sites to natural systems to supplement green infrastructure.  Unfortunately, we are not at that discussion quite yet, but the role of the architect will be inevitable.

The relevant questions are not so much why, how or how much anymore, but instead why not? There is still plenty of work to be done, but this is truly a unique situation that can both be precarious and opportunistic at the same time.  We look forward to the conversation…

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