AECOM Roof Garden: From Corporate Garden to Nature Space Advocacy, Part 3

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

Teamwork to revitalize the roof garden / image: courtesy of Chen Liang

This is the final installment in a three-part series on the evolution of AECOM’s green roof in Shanghai. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

2021 Revitalization, Stage 2

In 2021 the roof garden vision was updated to: “increase amenities, encourage outdoor garden use by employees, increase contact with nature and fresh air.” In line with corporate environmental, social and, and governance (ESG) strategies, the roof garden offered a real opportunity for employees to protect the environment, socially interact, to have equitable access to nature, and to govern the garden for the benefit of people, place, and nature. The increasing biodiversity also demonstrated the roof’s potential as an ecological stepping-stone for a greener community.

Improving the garden included plans for a range of quiet, semi-private spaces and open multi-functional spaces to create more attractive and engaging places for employees. This included new vibrant colored moveable tables and chairs to activate lunchtime use. Additional plant containers were added to increase nectariferous species for greater ecological and social benefits for employees, our community, and for wildlife.

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AECOM Roof Garden: From Corporate Garden to Nature Space Advocacy, Part 2

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

An AECOM employee waters the new containers in early summer. / image: courtesy of Lee Parks, AECOM

This is the second installment in a three-part series on the evolution of AECOM’s green roof in Shanghai. Click here for Part 1, published last week.

As the plants established during the comfortable spring weather, employee engagement was high. The increase in flowers saw a direct increase in visiting pollinators, mostly bees. Flowers and foliage added visual amenity of the space, with ornamental grasses and flowers combining to create a vibrant display. Employee photo sharing on social media celebrated the beauty to be found in nature, recording wildlife spotted and seasonal highlights. The garden supported a ‘Wellbeing At AECOM’ campaign by encouraging employees to relax and enjoy contact with nature. Friends and families joined in the maintenance and watering. By June the salad and herb garden was productive and bearing results to be enjoyed.

All appeared well until the fiery and crushing July heat became a challenge for gardeners and the garden. Employee engagement quickly faded and only the core Roof Garden Committee members sustained interest to maintain and monitor plants. With no automatic irrigation system, the containers relied on employees to hand water with watering cans or a hose during dry periods.

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AECOM Roof Garden: From Corporate Garden to Nature Space Advocacy

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

Ornamental grasses in autumn on the AECOM Green Roof in 2016 / image: courtesy of Lee Parks, AECOM

In June 2016, AECOM moved its Shanghai office to the Knowledge Innovation Community (KIC) in Yangpu District. AECOM leased floors nine to twelve of building 7 which included space for an outdoor roof terrace on part of the twelfth floor. The terrace was initially designed to meet corporate requirements for leadership visits, hosting events, client receptions, and employee social interaction, resulting in a contemporary design with a hospitality-style space.

A limited selection of structural planting was selected to form and enclose space, to screen utilities, and create a low maintenance, formal garden. For seasonal highlights, groups of ornamental grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) were used in timber seating platforms and eight over-sized pots with flowering trees were placed on a central lawn (Lagerstroemia indica).

However, between 2016 and 2018 very few corporate events took place outdoors, and the terrace primarily provided the green backdrop to indoor events, functioning more for visual amenity rather than encouraging social interaction, or enjoyment of nature. In 2018, landscape practice leader Lee Parks, International ASLA, instigated a roof garden initiative to diversify the roof garden.

Original Site Conditions

Prior to leasing the office space, the property developer provided a simple extensive green roof system, flexible for tenants to adapt to their needs. Extensive green roof systems characteristically consist of a shallow layer of growing media—typically, less than 80mm deep—planted with a variety of drought tolerant hardy plants, such as grasses and sedums. The system is lightweight and helps to mitigate urban heat island effect and minimize stormwater run-off by absorbing rainwater in the vegetated areas. Non-vegetated areas used permeable gravel paths to enable access for maintenance and further enhance stormwater management.

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The Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions, Part 3

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

The Singapore-Nanjing Eco Hi-tech Island / image: © Zoom Arch

Exploring of the Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions: A Reflection on Professional Practice over the Last Two Decades

Part 3: A Nature Positive Future

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are actions designed to work with and enhance natural habitats to take advantage of the ability of healthy natural and managed ecosystems to sequester carbon and support biodiversity recovery. The first part of this series focused on greening grey infrastructure; part 2 covered incorporating naturalistic landscape into the public realm. Here in part 3, we continue to explore how NbS can be pushed into the realms of social awareness and everyday recognition by policy makers and the public at large and in turn, support wider and longer term international environmental successes.

4 Towards a Nature Positive Future

4.1 COP26 Advocacy

Prior to the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) held in 2021, leading scientists presented a conceptual shift which puts forward Nature (the environment) as the context for all life, human society, and all human activities (including all economic activity). Similarly, at COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Prince of Wales, who has for over fifty years championed action for a sustainable future said: “…after billions of years of evolution, Nature is our best teacher – in this regard, restoring Natural Capital, accelerating Nature-based solutions and leveraging the circular bioeconomy will be vital to our efforts..”

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The Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions, Part 2

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

Constructed wetlands
Taibai Lake District landscape design project, constructed wetlands / image: © Lee Parks

Exploring of the Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions: A Reflection on Professional Practice over the Last Two Decades

Part 2: Incorporating Naturalistic Landscape into the Public Realm

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are actions designed to work with and enhance natural habitats to take advantage of the ability of healthy natural and managed ecosystems to sequester carbon and support biodiversity recovery. The first part of this series—on greening grey infrastructure—was published last week; here in part 2, on incorporating naturalistic landscape into the public realm, we continue to explore how NbS can be pushed into the realms of social awareness and everyday recognition by policy makers and the public at large and in turn, support wider and longer term international environmental successes.

3 Incorporating Naturalistic Landscape into the Public Realm

3.1 NbS for City Green Infrastructure

Qufu, a county-level city in Jining, Shandong Province, is the birthplace of Confucius and Mencius, the great Chinese sages of the Spring and Autumn period. Around 2010, impressions of Jining were of a coal-based economy and a city in need of a transformation. When considering a transformation towards an ecological future, an article published in 2001 by renowned Confucian scholar Tu Weiming, a professor at Harvard University and Peking University, called “The Ecological Turn in The New Confucian Humanism: Implications for China and the World” inspired a landscape concept called the ‘Ecological Turn.’

This concept by Lee Parks promoted an ecological image for a new streetscape, canal, and lake for the southward expansion of Taibai Lake District. It also provided an opportunity to put Nature-based Solutions into practice in Jining.  Taibai Lake District landscape design development covers some 350 hectares where AECOM led the planning and design of a new lake and park, canal parkland, streetscape, and administration center. The project represents a shift away from formal urban streetscape planting in favor of naturalistic swathes of ornamental grasses and perennial communities. A proposed land use plan placed a large new commercial complex over a planned canal—this was challenged by the landscape architect, who subsequently shifted the development parcel 200 meters northwards, re-aligned roads, adjusted the land use plan, and restored the integrity of the planned green and blue infrastructure. Nature-based Solutions were employed to create vegetated canal embankments, provide purification of water, and ensure habitat creation through to the new lake.

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The Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions

by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing

Landscape practice of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in the Scottish Highlands: The Howard Doris Centre in Lochcarron is a care center for adults with supported accommodation, social facilities, and day care. The landscape was designed to enjoy views to nature, native planting, and to encourage community gardening for social interaction. / image: © Lee Parks

Exploring of the Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions: A Reflection on Professional Practice over the Last Two Decades

Part 1: Greening Grey Infrastructure

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are actions designed to work with and enhance natural habitats to take advantage of the ability of healthy natural and managed ecosystems to sequester carbon and support biodiversity recovery. Informed by a career dedicated to working with nature, this article explores the evolution of a landscape planning and design approach from single-purpose solutions to systemic thinking and holistic design, together with a change from experiential/qualitative decision making to quantified solutions. This evolution is presented in three phases of professional practice:

  1. greening grey infrastructure,
  2. incorporating naturalistic landscape into the public realm, and
  3. a nature positive future.

Over the next three weeks, each section will explore how NbS can be pushed into the realms of social awareness and everyday recognition by policy makers and the public at large and in turn, support wider and longer term international environmental successes.

1 Introduction

1.1 Nature-based Solutions

Cities are facing an increasing frequency of disruptive events and many sustainable development challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, drought, extreme heat, wildfires, and water security. Our cities need more pioneering approaches to meet sustainability and carbon neutral goals and address biodiversity loss while also benefiting people’s health and well-being.

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