Ruhrbanity: Fostering Landscapes for an Uncertain Future

by Sebastian Schlecht and Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, ASLA

image: © Sejk

The Landscape Laboratory of Ruhr Metropolis and the First Biennale of Urban Landscape

Ruhr Region: A Continuous Transformation 

For most landscape architects in the US, the Ruhr region of Germany is best known for its successful post-industrial renovation projects, such as Duisburg North Landscape Park or IBA Emscher Park. But its story of transformation did not stop there. Being one of the biggest metropolitan areas in Europe, the Ruhr region is still facing complications and challenges from its past and present. Its sprawl and polycentric urban form make energy, mobility, and infrastructure upgrades less straightforward. With the unthinkable re-opening of coal power plants due to the European energy crisis, the region is once again at the center of focus: What will Ruhr do in an uncertain future?

It is fair to say that its industrial past brings not only challenges, but also unique niches and capacities for the structural transformation of its landscape. With more land area in between the network of smaller post-industrial cities, special emphasis is placed on the adaptation to climate change effects, ecological restoration, and function as a key to economic and social progress. This of course includes the transformation of industrial heritage, the necessary livability of neighborhoods, and integrated urban landscape revitalization. The region is calling for new ideas, and exploring the opportunities and new qualities of its possible futures.

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Nurture the Palette for Your Own Murals

by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, ASLA

Green wall
Green mural at Clariant ten years after installation / image: Mingzhu Nerval

An Interview with Antoine Nerval on International Practice and Planting Design

“The potential of landscape planting design is often limited by the supply of plant materials, especially when proposing a complex and diverse living system. Such proposals are in many cases considered unrealistic and too expensive…that is why we decided to start from plant collection and plant nursery.”
– Antoine Nerval

Antoine Nerval is an agricultural engineer who designs vertical gardens. He has created living murals and built nurseries around the world, and is currently working on one of the world’s largest botanical gardens in Normandy, France. This interview—conducted by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, past chair of ASLA’s International Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN), for a research project—sheds light on Antoine’s unconventional practice and approach to landscape architecture and international planting design.

Coming from a French agricultural engineering background, what did you find particularly different working in the field of landscape architecture? Did anything catch your attention practicing alongside landscape architects in the United States?

It has been easy to communicate with landscape architects because I myself also love to draw or ‘graffiti’ on the paper, and the scale of landscape is similar to larger murals. From my point of view, it is a perfect mix between agriculture engineering and art.

I think in the United States, the landscape architecture industry is very mature and professional, but the specialization also leads to the disconnection between plants and design. Working alongside many excellent teams, I was surprised to find little design discussion about planting materials in the early conceptual phase. The plant selection often only got serious at a much later phase, where designers have less control. It is quite a missed opportunity for many talented landscape designers. For me, my first thoughts for any design projects would always be inspired by particular plants or settings, and then the designs evolve around them.

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Urban Landscapes as Building Blocks of Cities’ Resilience

by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, ASLA

Riverfront Park
Resilient design at Wuhan Yangtze Riverfront Park / image: SASAKI

Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities through the Design of Innovative and Inclusive Urban Landscapes: a summary of the panel discussion at the 10th Global Forum on Urban Resilience
Bonn, Germany | June 26-28, 2019

For a decade, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability has been providing a global forum on urban resilience where local governments, researchers, businesses, NGOs and citizens could meet as equals, contributing and sharing with their first-hand experiences and know-how. Past years’ themes have included disaster risk reduction, insurance financing, urban food systems, refugee reception, and digitalization. To mark 10 years of experience and expertise-building in supporting cities to thrive in the face of challenges, this year the Resilient Cities Conference aimed to present a comprehensive view on delivering urban resilience: pathways towards implementing resilience; innovation in the realm of urban resilience; and building cohesive, healthy, and resilient communities. With the above goals in mind, for the first time the congress curated a special panel, “Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities through the Design of Innovative and Inclusive Urban Landscapes,” focusing on landscape architecture and how the profession delivers nature-based solutions in urban resilience building.

Why landscape architecture? At the forefront of shaping resilient urban environments, landscape architects are often challenged to translate complex site-specific risks into tangible transformation. This unique position requires deep an understanding of urban ecology, place-making, and stakeholder engagement to deliver impactful solutions. For many local governments and inter-governmental institutions, landscape architects’ trans-disciplinary working process could be an excellent model to inspire innovative pathways and holistic approaches.

To cover the theme from different perspectives, the congress invited two landscape practitioners, one city representative, and two landscape researchers to participate. They are: Michael Grove, ASLA, from Sasaki; Kotch Voraakhom, ASLA, from Porous City Network; Lee-Shing Fang from Kaohsiung City; Chih-Wei G.V. Chang from Gravity Praxis University of Cologne; and Antje Stokman from HafenCity University. The panel was moderated by Daniela Rizzi, Officer of Green Infrastructure and Nature-Based Solutions at the ICLEI European Secretariat.

The panelists shared their first-hand experience in resilience building in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. By engaging with the panelists and their processes of design thinking, the panel highlights insights on collaborative, design-driven problem-solving as a means of finding solutions for complex urban challenges and building more resilient cities.

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Out There: Landscape Architecture on Global Terrain

Lima, city in the desert: aerial view of informal settlements encroaching the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Lima, 2012 / image: © Evelyn Merino-Reyna, Lima

An exhibition devoted to landscape architecture in global development entitled Out There (in Germen, Draußen)” is being held at the Architekturmuseum der TU München through August 20, 2017. Having frequently showcased the social relevance of architecture in recent years, the museum’s focus now shifts to a discipline with the potential to have a far wider impact on the use of land. The exhibition aims to give the public a deeper understanding of the changing concepts and strategies of landscape architecture in the present, and at the same time, to clarify its growing importance for the future. Landscape architecture today is dedicated to the spatial systems that will shape the society of tomorrow.

Though from as far afield as Spain, China, Rwanda, and South America, all ten projects featured in the exhibition share a primary focus on exploration. They do not claim any finality in the complex and unpredictable situations relating to the rapid urbanization of very diverse cultural geographies. This focus illustrates how there can be no panaceas or universally-applicable best practices. In all case studies, process and stakeholders determine the content, and not the other way around.

For example, the case study in Medellín, Colombia examines natural hazards such as landslides, which are intensified by climate change and predominately affect the lowest income groups in the city’s informal settlements. The collaborative landscape strategies offer those affected an improvement in their overall living situation, through a landslide warning system, slope stabilization, added amenities, and phasing.

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International Practice at the ASLA Annual Meeting

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award Winner - Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield by SWA image: courtesy of David Lloyd
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award Winner – Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield by SWA
image: courtesy of David Lloyd

The 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO will take place October 21-24 in New Orleans. We encourage all current and potential future members of the International Practice Professional Practice Network (IP-PPN) to attend and take advantage of all networking opportunities and education sessions. The world has become increasingly globalized in nature rather than being centered in North America—whether it’s a global challenge, or a localized solution, we invite you to participate, learn, and maybe contribute to a better environment without borders.

The following events at the Annual Meeting offer rare opportunities for us to meet to share our knowledge and make valuable connections—between experienced and emerging professionals as well as students. These connections may lead to friendships and future collaboration. Let’s meet up in New Orleans!

International Practice PPN Co-Chairs:
Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, ASLA, SWA Group, Sausalito, California
Jack Ahern, FASLA, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Special Events:

PPN Live: International Practice PPN Meeting
Sunday, October 23
1:30 – 2:15 PM, City Park Stage on the EXPO floor


  • Meet and Greet + Introduction
  • IFLA updates: past and upcoming world agenda
  • Education session overview, and 2016 award-winning project presentations
  • Brainstorm: ASLA’s worldwide leadership
  • Member Networking/Socializing

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The 2016 IFLA World Congress

Technical tour at Parco Dora, Turin image: Chih-Wei GV Chang
Technical tour at Parco Dora, Turin
image: Chih-Wei GV Chang

This year’s International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress took place April 20-22 in Turin, Italy. The congress theme, ‘Tasting the Landscape,’ included four sub-topics: Sharing Landscapes, on food production in urban areas; Connected Landscapes, on creating new economies; Layered Landscapes, focusing on stratified landscapes and innovative practices for preserving history; and Inspiring Landscapes. Each sub-topic included keynotes, extended speeches, PechaKucha presentations, poster sessions, and text sessions to allow attendees to present and interact.

‘Tasting the Landscape’ is a fascinating and complex theme which is relevant across cultures, territories, cultivations, and people. All these aspects make every site distinctive, simple and complex at the same time, and require specific and thoughtful intervention. ‘Tasting the Landscape’ is intended as an invitation and a call to nourish and taste, as well as to take part in the making of the landscape of our planet. This agenda requires knowledge and dedication, together with a shared commitment to participate in its completion.

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The 2015 World Garden Show in Nagasaki

“Spirits of the Mountain” by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang and Po-Shan Chang of SWA Group designed for Taiwan Garden image: Huis Ten Bosch
“Spirits of the Mountain” by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang and Po-Shan Chang of SWA Group designed for Taiwan Garden
image: Huis Ten Bosch

One of the most prestigious flower and garden shows in the world was held last month at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki, Japan. Now in its sixth year, the show has featured numerous renowned designers and garden makers. For 2015, the Gardening World Cup (GWC) has the theme “My Country, My Culture,” focusing on diverse regional characters and gardening approaches. The event showcases more than 40 gardens in cooperation with designers from more than 30 countries.

Selected from highly competitive submittals, the gardens were granted a full support team and implementing partners that assisted with every detail from beginning through to installation. The workmanship by Japanese contractors has consistently received accolades from designers for their relentless work ethic, high standards, and attention to detail. With such high level sponsorship, the event provides a unique opportunity for international designers to test their innovative design process and expand the boundary of garden making.

Beyond being a garden exhibition, the World Flower Garden Show is also a platform where industry professionals and garden contractors gather to forge partnerships and cater to the needs of Japanese clientele. Japanese garden masters and artists also take advantage of this opportunity in marketing their meticulous craftsmanship and sensibility to the world stage. Important figures who made this event possible include host and sponsor Hideo Sawada of Huis Ten Bosch, Brian Snow, Hitomi Urabe, Yuko Nagamura, and the planning of operation team Gardenia.

You can see more garden entries on the event website.

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International Practice Preview

image: IP-PPN Leadership Team
image: IP-PPN Leadership Team

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO will be November 6 – 9, 2015 in Chicago. This is a great opportunity for all current and potential future members of the International Practice Professional Practice Network (IP-PPN) to take advantage of networking opportunities and educational sessions! The world of the 21st century is becoming increasingly global in nature rather than being centered on America. Although ASLA has thousands of members, only a few hundred of us have shown an interest in international issues and work. Of these, fewer still have shown up and become actively involved.

The following events at the Annual Meeting offer rare opportunities for seasoned, as well as students and emerging, professionals, to meet to share our knowledge and make valuable connections. These connections can lead to friendships and future collaboration. We especially urge you to attend the IP-PPN Meeting on Sunday, November 8 at 9:15 AM, to share your ideas on how we can build the PPN and make it more relevant, active, and useful for all of us.

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Slow Down, Soak Deeper

Wusong Riverfront: Landscape Infrastructure Pilot Project in its third year, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province - ASLA 2012 Analysis and Planning Honor Award Winner image: Hui-Li Lee, SWA Group
Wusong Riverfront: Landscape Infrastructure Pilot Project in its third year, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province – ASLA 2012 Analysis and Planning Honor Award Winner
image: Hui-Li Lee, SWA Group

2014 was an uneasy year for most landscape professionals practicing in China. Once fast and furious, the market’s sudden slowdown has left well-adapted practices, both local and international, stumbling to regain their balance. This January, the government announced the country’s 2014 GDP growth of 7.4 percent, which was the lowest in 24 years, and the first year to fall behind the target. Private developers suffered from the policies regulating an over-heated real estate market and stagnant sales. Local governments struggled with heavy debt burdens from previous wasteful decades and became fiscally conservative, especially under the current anti-corruption campaign. When the major drivers of the building industry started to lose their momentum, the looming climate makes everyone wonder which direction this world economic powerhouse will be heading.

Let’s not forget that China’s slowdown is partially due to an increasingly large economic base, and there is still endless potential waiting to be explored. From my own observations, further densification in built environments, integration of stormwater management, and rural redevelopment might be several avenues worth noting for my fellow international landscape practitioners.

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