Landscape and Infrastructure

Landscape architect Zach Barker trained and practiced in the US prior to moving to Aotearoa, where he now works as a Senior Landscape Architect for Isthmus. In this thought piece he examines integrated infrastructure solutions, explores the overlap between landscape and infrastructure and advocates for a holistic approach to ‘Shovel Ready’ projects.

Landscape Architecture Park Design Infrastructure

In an attempt to kickstart the economy the New Zealand Government is currently looking to fund infrastructure projects related to water, transport, clean energy, and buildings that are ready to start ASAP. During the next decade, extensive portions of Aotearoa’s infrastructure will be upgraded, rebuilt, or otherwise altered, all at a substantial cost. Unquestionably, this is an issue that affects us all.

Urban life is sustained by infrastructure. New Zealand’s development and economic future is dependent upon said infrastructure to collect, exchange, and distribute goods, people, services and kaupapa (knowledge) across vast territories. Highways, harbours, airports, power lines, broadband internet and trains largely figure as the dominant symbols of contemporary urbanization. 

However, the presence of these mono-dimensional engineered infrastructures—often found underground or at the periphery of urban centres—remains largely invisible until the precise moment at which they fail. Wellington’s underground sewer pipe failures are a recent example. We must build resilience into our infrastructure systems by moving from centralised infrastructures towards more holistic solutions.

Landscape Architecture Park Design

Right Taumanu Reserve strikes a balance between landscape and infrastructure adopting a broader lense that focuses on rebuilding the ‘natural’ characteristics of the coastal edge by using the geologies and coastal processes of surrounding areas as a guide for a new landform.

Aotearoa desperately needs high performance solutions that span the critical divide between ecology and economy. Landscape infrastructure is a design approach that moves infrastructure away from an exclusive focus on any single functionality. 

Multipurpose infrastructure can conserve land, share the financial load of its development, restore previously overlooked or damaged natural ecologies, reinforce healthy transit options, and provide public access to much needed open space.  

Resilient Wetlands Landscape Architecture

Isthmus’ Kopupaka Park is an example of how landscape infrastructure can abate stress on traditional infrastructure systems. The park represents a design-led approach that integrates community amenities with engineering and ecology. What once might have been considered ‘space left over after planning’ has been transformed into a hybrid park that challenges expectations around the design and use of stormwater reserves. Illustrating how urban growth can be balanced with ecological restoration, the creation of new public space and the development of a strong sense of place. While the Park provides the infrastructure for the attenuation and detention of stormwater run-off from the streets and the built form of the new town centre, it also represents a new type of civic infrastructure. One where traditional boundaries, constraints and functions overlap, a tight overlay of cultural, ecological, community and (mostly unseen) engineering objectives.

Below  Engaging with local schools for the new Te Ara Awataha Greenway located in the heart of the Northcote Town Centre and housing redevelopment currently underway.

Urban design community workshop

Likewise, Te Ara Awataha Greenway in Northcote demonstrates a synergistic approach to landscape, infrastructure, and civic space. This new urban greenway designed by Isthmus shares the financial load of its development with necessary improvements to the critical utilities of the rapidly densifying neighborhood. By daylighting a long hidden and degraded waterway residents will have access to much needed open space, as an alternative way to get around the neighbourhood on foot or by bike, and an opportunity to interact with and understand the ecological systems in their own backyard. 

Sustainable cities start with sustainable infrastructure. We must continue to exchange our current system of unsustainable one-dimensional grey infrastructure for resilient landscape infrastructure. Isthmus is committed to collaboratively designing systems to react to and function with natural and manmade environments. Kopupaka Park and Te Ara Awataha Greenway demonstrate the measurable immediate and ongoing benefits an integrated, holistic approach to infrastructure can have. As measures are taken to stimulate the post COVID economy Isthmus sits well poised to help the government balance the needs of land, people and culture.