5 provocative ways to think about cities & neighborhoods | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

5 provocative ways to think about cities & neighborhoods | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.


Zoorea – Zoological Garden

Empowering the Infrastructural Green Belt:

What can we do in an isolated place with little infrastructure, few inhabitants, and almost no visitors? We see the potential for green growth in the region – a case study to define a tourist region based on sustainable development only, where natures and structures function in equilibrium, symbiotically feeding one another. The program is a new zoo on a small, relatively undeveloped island off the southwest coast of South Korea, but we see the potential for the project to strategically redefine an entire region.

Geographic Identity:

The island of Dochodo is the missing vertex of an isosceles triangle described by Seoul (first city and business hub of South Korea) and Busan (second city and industrial hub). Located on the southwest coast of Korea, Dochodo’s potential to attract tourism from the surrounding Asian megacities, especially from Shanghai, is clear and compelling.

Three Topographies:

The natural island landscape of peaks and valleys suggests the method for configuring the island’s development. The low, flat land in the center of the island, currently covered with rice fields, is the ideal location for the future zoo. The high mountainous peaks are protected from development and treated as nature preserves. The medium height topography is the area available to build on. We select a datum height of 20 meters, which defines a meandering band across the entire island as our locus and boundary of development. Everything above remains untouched and wild, everything below becomes a controlled nature reserve.

Active Infrastructural Green Belt:

All infrastructure and program (transportation, energy, water, waste treatment, and building systems) are grouped within the development band, creating an “infrastructural green belt.” While the typical green belt passively limits development, the infrastructural green belt actively enhances surrounding ecologies. Transplanted from the city to nature, our green belt acts as sustainable infrastructure, a machine to enhance the ecological health of the surrounding natures.

From “Sustain” to “Ability”:

Towards moving beyond the tired label of ”sustainable design,” and shifting our focus from “sustain” to “ability,” the project adheres to a set of simple design ambitions, the kind of basic principles that hopefully soon will not need to be made explicit.

1) Development: We will minimize the development footprint. We will maximize the density, impact, and beauty of the development that we do propose.

2) Transport: Other than the proposed through-road traffic and service deliveries, all island transport will produce zero carbon.

3) Energy: The island will use only as much energy as it can collect. All energy will be collected from renewable energy sources; solar, wind, wave, and bio-waste. Energy generation will be embedded within the island development, reducing the loss of energy from long distance transmission.

4) Water: Rainwater will be collected and stored for use throughout the development. In the zoo sanctuaries and protected nature preserve areas, the characteristics of the natural pre-development hydrological system will be maintained as much as possible.

5) Waste: Waste will be thought of as the food for other processes. All plant, human, and animal waste will be reused as composted fertilizer or bio-fuel energy.

6) Biodiversity: The development band will act as a kind of active growth boundary, protecting and encouraging the biodiversity of the existing island animal and plant ecologies.

The diverse programs on Dochodo Zoological Island influence and become increasingly dependent on one another; architecture, infrastructure, and landscape integrated into a comprehensive ecology of exchange.

  • Project name: Zoorea – Zoological Garden
  • Location: Dochodo, Jeonnam, South Korea
  • Program: Zoological island
  • Area: Project Size: 43,587,000 m2
  • Client: Commune Of Jeonnam
  • Project by: JDS Architects
  • Team: Team: Julien De Smedt, Heechan Park, Wolfgang Mitterer, Isabella Eriksson, Ryan Neiheiser, Robert Huebser, Francisco Villeda
  • Others: Collaborators: DEMC
  • Text: Courtesy of JDS Architects
  • Images: Courtesy of JDS Architects


Curtis Hixon Park

Curtis Hixon Park located at Tampa, Florida, United States is a project by Thomas Balsley Associates.

New public space is “crown jewel” of city’s waterfront revitalization.

Acting as a “front lawn” to the new Tampa Museum of Art and Glazier Children’s Museum, a new nine-acre park by renowned landscape architects Thomas Balsley Associates has transformed the city’s downtown waterfront district. Described as the “crown jewel” of Tampa, the new Curtis Hixon Park is the centerpiece of a plan for the area that fuses recreation, urbanism, culture, heritage, and entertainment, all in the city’s outdoor “urban living room” along the Hillsborough River. The firm’s bold planning and design have replaced the old museum and parking garages that blocked access to the river with a sparkling new civic park.

Says designer Thomas Balsley, “Successful 21st century urban parks must balance creativity and innovation with proven recipes for design programs. For [this project], we’ve created spaces ranging in scale from large open lawns to small intimate overlooks and garden rooms, able to accommodate large or small events.” Sculpted topography includes lawn panels stepping down from the museum terraces and garden promenade; the southern edge consists of a series of park and garden overlooks and a linear park pavilion with restrooms, café, and a visitor center.

Located along the river are a contemporary play area and urban dog run which take their sculptural cues from the Museum of Art. Louver jet and mist fountains at the park’s key plazas are child-friendly displays designed to capture the public’s imagination while cooling its feet. Timber lawn “rafts,” lounge chairs, and picnic tables with distinctive swivel loungers make up the innovative array of park furniture that is critical to the park’s success and a hallmark of Balsley’s design-as-public-amenity approach.

Masses of spartina and tree groves make up a large portion of the park’s native plantings. Lawns and garden areas as well as the fountains operate on a reclaimed water system. Distinctive LED fountain pavement lights and others throughout the park extend its nighttime curb appeal and downtown activity.

More than becoming the city’s cherished space to play and celebrate, the park’s place-making powers have made it a new landmark for Tampa and re-energized the city’s sense of civic pride.


Velenje Sports Park

Velenje Sports Park located at Velenje, Slovenia is a project by enota.

The area of the new Velenje sports park lies on a very important location between the City Park and the lake. Lake area is already a popular recreation point of citizens and it also offers great scenery with lake, extensive greenery and beautiful hills behind. Velenje Sports Park is therefore designed as an open uniform surface, accessible as much as possible to the townspeople and other visitors.

Throughout the new sports park, the great number of major sports facilities and outdoor sports areas are planned. Thus big objects designed for competitive sports events also take a lot of space. Despite the fact that most of the time, training and recreation take place on them and therefore the sport surfaces could be freely seen, usually the are closed to the outside views because of the small fraction of operating time, when tickets are sold for the events. Visual link of visitors with sport fields at no-game time increases a feeling of spaciousness of the area. Constant contact with the action on the playing grounds contributes to the attractiveness of the area and lift enthusiasm for the sport, because it brings it closer to bigger amount of people. The establishment of open views to the playing areas during no-match time, was therefore one of the primary goals in designing architectural solutions for the area.

Setting the roofed stands on the outer edges, creates large arena with a lower middle field on which the visitors can walk in no-match time and from which they have unobstructed views of the stadiums. During the events, the main promenade of course closes. That is achieved through access control placed on narrow spots on access roots to elevated central square. In such spatial organization no additional fences are required as this role is played by level differences between the programs and stands alone.

The three required programs, sports hall, athletics and football stadium are organized around a central facility with common program, which is placed under the connecting paths between the playgrounds. Partial burial of the central part of complex enables separate construction of main sport objects at any time and any order. Commercial public program is placed at the lakeshore side but also all the other programs of Sports Park are opening towards the lake and its picturesque background. All the sport facilities of the area are surrounded by extensive preserved and supplemented greenery.

With new Sports Park the city is not gaining only contemporary sports facilities intended for professional sport events at the highest level, but also a new urban area, which offers a number of opportunities for active leisure and connects city center with until now somewhat truncated lake area.

  • Client: Municipality of Velenje
  • Location: Velenje, Slovenia
  • Type: Open anonymous competition, first prize
  • Architecture: enota
  • Project team: Dean Lah, Milan Tomac, Nuša Završnik Šilec, Alja Cerne, Polona Ruparcic, Nebojša Vertovšek, Petra Ostanek, Maruša Zupancic
  • Size: 29.300 m2
  • Year: 2010


Solberg Tower & Park


Solberg Tower & Park located at Sarpsborg, Østfold, Norway is a project by Saunders Architecture.

Sarpsborg is a green, flat and calm piece of South Norway and a traditional stopover for travellers on the route to and from Sweden. In 2004, the Norwegian Highway Department together with the Regional Government approached Saunders for a new project in the area; uniquely however, without having predetermined the commission’s particular needs.

– The project leaders had been following my work and asked me to do something in the area, although they didn’t have a specific idea of what they wanted me to do, Saunders recalls. – In a way I had to almost come up with the program myself, it was very free and creative.

Focusing on the site and aiming to identify its challenges and advantages in order to define its problems and opportunities, Saunders worked closely with the client, not only to develop the optimum design solution, but also the project’s own brief. – We discussed what we needed and the architecture came out of that, he explains.

As Sarpsborg is one of the first tastes of Norway the travellers from Sweden experience, it was important for the client that they would be able to slow down and spend time discovering the surrounding nature. The local forest and coastline form a beautiful, yet largely unknown part of the country. The neighbouring highway’s speed and noise only enhance the traveller’s need for a break and re-connection with nature, so a green resting space was on the top of the list. A low walled ramp spirals around the rest area, defining the 2000 sqm area’s limits, while spring-flowering fruit trees adorn the courtyard. Within it, Saunders designed seven small pavilions working with graphic designer Camilla Holcroft, showcasing information on the local rock carvings from the Bronze Age, an exhibition, which continues on the ramp’s walls.

The surrounding forest is full of rock carvings but no one knows about them because everybody just drives through trying to get to Oslo, says Saunders. The structures also offer the option for temporary artist exhibitions.

The flatness of the landscape meant that the beauty of the surrounding nature could only be enjoyed from a certain height, so the creation of a tower quickly became a main part of the brief. The ramp’s asymmetrical walls rise from 0 – 4m, then forms a 30m simple nine–storey-tall structure on the site’s northern edge, including only a staircase and an elevator. Named Solberg (which translates into ‘sun mountain’), the tower’s aerial views towards the nearby coastline and the Oslo fjord are truly dramatic.

Finally, the design’s style and aesthetic was developed in relation to the environs’ existing architecture; minimal and geometrical contemporary shapes were chosen, contrasting the local farming villages’ more traditional forms. The main materials used were beautifully-ageing CorTen steel for the exterior walls and warm oiled hard wood for the courtyard’s design elements and information points. Local slate and fine gravel pave the ground level.

Underlining the area’s natural and historical attractions, supported by strong architectural forms, Saunders produced a complex, in direct response to both the clients’ and site’s requirements. A cooperation between several municipalities, the regional government and the national highways department, the Sarpsborg project completed summer 2010.

  • Project name: Solberg Tower & Park
  • Location: Sarpsborg, Østfold, Norway
  • Program: Lookout and park
  • Area: Project size: 2,000 m2
  • Year: Completion: September 2010
  • Project by: Saunders Architecture
  • Team: Project team: Todd Saunders, Mats Odin Rustøy, Inês Moço Pereira, Mathias Kempton, Attila Béres, Joseph Kellner, Michaela Huber, Greg Poliseo
  • Others: General contractor: Veidekke ASA • Construction management: Sweco Norge AS (Karin Anja Arnesen) • Structural engineer: Sweco Norge AS (Per Jo Treimo) • Electrical engineer: Sweco Norge AS (Bjørnar Isaksen) • Mechanical engineer: Sweco Norge AS (Liv Normann) • Glazing consultants: Saint-Gobain Bøckmann AS (Henrik Ronneberg Nilsen, Trond Karlsen) • Steel consultants: Jotne Mekaniske Verksteder AS, (Terje Johannessen, Helge Thorsen, Vidar Larsen, Stein Aune) • Landscape architects: Kristin Berg, Statens Vegvesen • Graphic designer/info graphics & illustration: Camilla Holcroft
  • Text: Courtesy of Saunders Architecture
  • Images: Courtesy of Saunders Architecture.


Sai Van Park

Sai Van Park located at Avenida Panorâmica do Lago Sai Van, Macau is a project by VLB Arquitectura e Planeamento.

 Project’s programme: Landscaping for bridge access areas.

The face of Macau has undergone profound transformations in the past years, due in part to the successive waves of reclamation required to cater for the pulsations of development. The place prior to the project was organized mainly by flyovers and road access to the new cross river bridge that defined leftover islands isolated by traffic and a casual monument derived by the insertion of the 3rd bridge over the existing causeway.

The landscaping project for the 3rd Macau-Taipa Bridge access areas grabs the opportunity to research new urbanities in a contemporary way. From the existing islands the new park invents a network of movements and scenarios for pedestrian and ludic use, and by rotating/tilting these pieces of landscape towards the water on both sides (river and lake), and away from the vehicular thoroughfares at the central axis, a sense of purpose and visual fruition is achieved for an otherwise hostile leftover terrain. The flyovers with its inevitable presence are incorporated into the project as porticos that bring rhythm to the city vistas and water planes.

The project transforms a residual area into a place that permits an urban and natural interactive experience. In a place so characterized by lack of land resources, transforming a no-place into a qualified human environment is a significant achievement for Architecture.


Honour of excellence at the ARCASIA 2009-2010 Architecture Awards.

  • Project name: Sai Van Park
  • Location: Avenida Panorâmica do Lago Sai Van, Macau
  • Program: Landscaping for bridge access areas
  • Year: Design: 2003-2004 • Construction: 2004
  • Client: GDI – Gabinete para o Desenvolvimento de Infraestruturas
  • Project by: VLB Arquitectura e Planeamento
  • Team: Princiapl Designers: Manuel Vicente, Carlotta Bruni, Rui Leão • Colaborators: Helena Alcoforado Gomes, Fok Cheng Io
  • Others: Contractor: Tak Fat Ltd. • Structure Consultant: Profabril Asiaconsultores Lda • E&M Consultant: Tecproeng Macau – Técnica Projectos de Engenharia Lda • Landscaping: Circle & Square Import Export Trading Ltd.
  • Text: Cortesy of VLB Arquitectura e Planeamento
  • Images: Cortesy of VLB Arquitectura e Planeamento.


Kic Park

Kic Park located at Yangpu, Shanghai, China is a project by 3GATTI Architecture Studio. This project was submitted to Architecture News Plus (ANP) by 3GATTI Architecture Studio. Project’s programme: Public open spaces, gardens, playgrounds, resting areas, advertising supports.


Kik Park is a leftover urban area that Francesco Gatti is surprised to see has escaped being built-up and which is positioned at the entrance to the Kic Village, constructed in recent years for the students at the nearby universities of Fudan and Tongji. Since 2005 when the Italian architect transferred part of his professional activities to China he has recurrently been interested in the possibility of designing interstice spaces – as in the case of the In Factory JingAn Six Loft Buildings (2006), where the outside areas of the redevelopment project were treated on a par with a residential and work environment.

An essential element in his designs has always taken account of inter-activity: in this case between the people concerned (their actions and activities) and the influence of natural elements such as weather and sounds.

In this sense the forms and materials used by the architect (ethereal false ceilings constructed with metal wires, curved forms, faceted voluminous shapes, dappled coverings or panelling) vary depending on the project and its scale. Some solutions are used “una tantum” as they are in response to a specific and contextual condition.

This is the case with Kic Park where Francesco Gatti has imagined a pleated wooden floor destined to be suitable for all the functions that are indispensible in a public area (seats, green spaces, pathways, publicity panels …).

The image used by the architect to illustrate his idea – that of a sheet of paper cut and folded like a fan – brings to mind the epigenetic description that Deleuze gives of spaces characterized by the use of a fold:

Development and evolution are concepts that have changed their significance, because today they designate epigenesis or the apparition of organisms or organs that are neither pre-formed nor built-in but formed from different objects that do not resemble them […] With epigenesis the organic fold is sought after, produced, and multiplied from a surface that is relatively flat and uniform. *

In this way Gatti, using a generic and characterless basis, has accomplished plastic results that are both individual and original, and has introduced divergent intervals into an area that would otherwise be anonymous – thus enabling people to find their own personal space.

The architect has covered the whole surface with wood, an ideal primitive material that is both flexible and hospitable, that grows old and shows the temporary nature of the operation.

Where the wood rises up, one can see a living underworld made of grass and trees.

The architect in this way has predisposed specific spaces where people can chat together, have a rest, or even go skateboarding. A social carpet that does not exclude the coexistence of aggregation and individualism.

* Approximate translation from Le Pli, Leibniz et le Baroque, éd. Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1988

  • Project name: Kic Park
  • Location: Yangpu, Shanghai, China
  • Program: Public open spaces, gardens, playgrounds, resting areas, advertising supports
  • Area: Total floor area: 1,100 m2
  • Year: Completion: 2009
  • More details: Materials: Wooden deck, steel structure, brick walls, acrylic boards
  • Client: Shui On Development Limited
  • Project by: 3GATTI Architecture Studio
  • Team: Project team: Francesco Gatti, Summer Nie • Collaborators: Nicole Ni, Francesco Negri, Dalius Ripley, Michele Ruju, Muavii Sun, Charles Mariambourg
  • Text: Giampiero Sanguigni. Courtesy of 3GATTI Architecture Studio
  • Images: Courtesy of 3GATTI Architecture Studio