NEXT PRACTICES: Cities + Water


Brian Jencek, HOK Global Director of Design and Planning, explores multi-disciplinary design solutions to emerging challenges in our built environment.  This presentation focuses on HOK’s current climate responsive projects that are designing new territories between cities and their waterfronts around the world.

6 thoughts on “NEXT PRACTICES: Cities + Water

  1. Brian’s lecture on cities & water was very informative. The evolution of urban design topics from reconnection, sustainability, resilience to adaptation indicates that we are trying to find ways to gradually shape the city in harmony with nature and prepare for future changes.

    Sea level rise is always a major topic in the field, and it takes a much longer planning horizon than we are accustomed to for any adaptive strategy we choose. However, the uncertainties about sea level rise will raise numerous questions making the planning process even more complicated and drawn out. The Horizon levee seems like a very good approach in the current situation since it can integrate very well with urban parks, but what will happen if the sea keeps rising? Given the uncertainty of sea level rise speed and impact, is it a good idea to build new development in places like Hunters Point or even Mission Rock knowing that the proposed design will only able to prevent flooding for 80 to 150 years but will happen eventually?

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  2. It was great to be taken through the evolution of design ideologies in landscape architecture, to see the different themes that firms sought to embody in their design as the cultural perceptions of humanity’s relationship to the environment changed with time. In some way, these ideologies (Reconnection, Sustainability, Resilience, Adaptation) never were completely replaced but instead compounded and expanded upon with greater environmental consciousness. They are all still words that I hear used in contemporary discussion of what is missing or what has been employed.

    It will be quite a challenge to implement these design concepts as the next generation of landscape architects and architects are employed to reimagine the SF city-scape. How much of the current development is expected to survive the next 50 years as we rework the design solutions that structure our urban coastal systems? Even now new buildings have higher entryways in anticipation, they do not agree with the surrounding landscape, it is going to take a regional revetment of basic infrastructure before true adaptation is underway. Questions remain: Will it be either a proactive or reactive response and where will the money come from? What systems and solutions will be instituted if it is a proactive approach and we have time to develop and adapt? What systems and solutions will be instituted if it is instead a reactive approach and we are scrambling to mitigate the damage? Which will ultimately be the most cost effective? Is it only delaying the inevitability of a coastal retreat from rising waters and land subsidence? Will horizontal levees prove to be successful buffer zones?

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  3. Due to a historical reliance on waterway shipping, nearly every city today is confronted with a growing concern of rising and turbulent oceans and rivers. Brian’s presentation—with a dual focus on case studies of Louisville and San Francisco’s Southeastern waterfront—was an important reminder that the management of changing water bodies confronts cities on both the coast as well as far inland.

    In particular, I was impressed by Brian’s ability to weave together and balance the various and sometimes conflicting concerns at these water-adjacent sites. These communities need to both acknowledge and address issues such as historically questionable land use choices (I.e. dredging and fill techniques in San Francisco), the economic advantages of desirable waterfront sites, the importance of ensuring equal access, and, of course, the increasing concerns of climate change’s impact on water levels and cycles.

    While his ability to tell the story of these sites was rememberable, this was undoubtedly facilitated by his way with language and tone. Or, an ability to fully acknowledge the various interests, but make clear that hard choices will need to be made. To sound a logical warning, but not come off as alarmist and threatening. In order to work through precarious situations with climate change, our choice of words requires a delicate balance, and Brian’s approach provides a good model.

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  4. I found Brian’s lecture quite relevant. I hear a lot of landscape architects within the school and in the professional field beginning to address and combat environmental pressures that either our society has created or exacerbated, in innovative ways. What is really telling about Brian’s lecture though, is that we as a human race can be incredibly adaptable. Yes, we can do a lot without thinking, be persuaded by the power of money, and act quite slowly but the design typologies presented (reconnection, sustainability, resilience, and adaptation) shows that we can evolve and change our views rather quickly. It is also telling how quickly we developed the concrete jungle of our society. I think what is critical to the future of landscape architects is that we view these challenges as agents for change. They provide us with opportunities to think differently and be bold with our design moves, which mostly stems from design competitions. These competitions are place to experiment and present what no one has before. It began a long time ago with parc de la villette and continues with such competitions as Rebuild by Design and the Central Waterfront Project in Seattle. These competitions provide a platform for innovative ideas and have shown to define the direction of landscape architecture.

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  5. Brian’s talk on a designer’s outlook onto the future of their designs, even if it is past their life time, was a very stimulating though. It is interesting to think about our designs should not just the here and now, but what consequences they leave behind once we the designers are no longer living. His example of the large housing complex in a central San Francisco area is a great example of how HOK forecasts the lifespan (to 2100) thus giving them guidelines on how to design their project and pitch their ideas.

    The need for cross disciplinary work is also so important to designing environmentally sensitive projects. Brian’s example of the South Point Park in Miami was a great example of this. There openness to reach out to biologist shows how collaboration with different fields is an effective way to solve what would otherwise be complex costly dilemmas. Also, fun fact to know that sea turtles cannot perceive as much of the light spectrum as we do!

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  6. Brian Jencek’s talk on the multi-disciplinary design solutions to the challenges that the climate brings was very relevant to today’s problems. The problem of the rising sea levels has been a very important one for a while, but it is disappointing to know that it is the one that many planners do not take seriously so the fact that Brian made sure to acknowledge it was exciting. It was great to hear some critical opinions in the class as well, for example to whether there is a point of putting so much money into a park if according to predictions it is going to be gone at some point anyways. My favorite idea from the lecture was definitely making something that was once destroyed or changed into something beautiful and to not resist nature, but rather protect it from many unpredictable disasters such as flooding.

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