With the Sea levels rising, floods are becoming frequent, and cities are at a greater risk than ever due to climate change. Especially the low lying areas experience greater risk than others because of local terrain, local hydrological factors, and oceanic currents, among other regional and climatic factors. Unfortunately, many large cities are located on coastlines and come to standstill during floods and monsoon. A community of Landscape architects is trying to come up with resilient building solutions for such vulnerable cities and convert them into living sponges and restore the wetland habitat. One such celebrated professional is Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a Thai Landscape architect who actively works on building green public spaces that tackle climate change.
“Every rainfall is a wake-up call.” ~Kotchakorn Voraakhom
Voraakhom is an Echoing Green Climate Fellow, Atlantic Fellow, and Asia Foundation Development Fellow. She completed her master’s in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Kotchakorn is a Bangkok native and has founded the landscape architecture design practice called Landprocess. She is also the founder of Porous City Network, a social venture working towards solving urban environmental problems in climate-vulnerable communities and increase urban resilience across Southeast Asia by communicating about resilient landscape design.
As a child, she grew up in a row house next to a busy road always filled with traffic. The concrete parking lot in front of her house was her playground. She, along with her friends, was amused by the little plants growing through concrete cracks in the pavement and would try to elongate the crack to help the plant creep out, more and more. Bangkok is a capital city with one of the lowest ratios of public green space of just 3 Sq.m, compared to the average of 9 Sq.m per person. The city, like other coastal cities around the globe, has lost its absorbent capacity. Her becoming a landscape architect was no coincidence. Kotchakorn found her calling and decided to help her city.
Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, Thailand
Chulalongkorn University is designed on an 11-acre land with a public park, and 1.3 km avenue extending from its core campus at the heart of the city. Opened in 2017, this project very efficiently demonstrates how a park can help the city tackle urban flooding while helping the city dwellers to reconnect with nature. This is one of the celebrated works of Kotchakorn Voraakhom and has won the 2019 WLA Awards and 2019 ASLA Professional Award.
Three underground tanks store rainwater absorbed from the green roof and have the potential to irrigate the park for a month during dry seasons. Excessive runoff from the green roof flows down to four constructed wetlands, two on either side of the park, and then to the Retention pond. The main lawn at the park’s center is an open space used for recreational activities. Visitors, too, can become an active part of the park’s water treatment system with the help of stationary water bikes along the pond and joyfully use their exercise to keep the water aerated.
Considering 50 years of rainfall intensity and the frequently overwhelmed public sewage system, the park is capable of holding up to a million gallons of water during heavy rainfall. With an area of 5,200 square meters, the roof is laid with native grass and weeds to attract local birds and insects and provides a unique experience of wetland habitat with a dense urban backdrop.
Thammasat University, Bangkok
Thammasat University is another landmark project by Voraakhom as it merges the elements of architecture, landscape architecture, ecological design, climate resiliency, and Traditional agricultural practices, seamlessly. It is the largest urban rooftop farm in Asia with an area of 22,000 sq. m. (236,806 sq. ft.). Mimicking the traditional terraced farming of Southeast Asia, the rooftop farm uses gravity to cascade rainwater down each level.
The rainwater travels down the slopes in a zigzag fashion, helping each level to harvest runoff from the previous slope, forming clusters of micro-watersheds along the terrace. This particularly slows down water 20 times more efficiently than a conventional roof.
The building has four retention ponds, which can hold up to 3,095,570 gallons of water. The rooftop farm has 50 kinds of edible species, including rice, indigenous vegetables and herbs, and fruit trees. The rooftop landscape also has Photovoltaic panels installed, generating 500,000 watts of electricity per hour. The green roof further insulates the building, reducing its cooling energy needs. And air that passes over the retaining ponds is cooled before it reaches the building, creating natural air conditioning.
The H-shaped form of the building represents the university’s long-standing commitment to equality and democracy. In the spirit of egalitarianism, there are 12 social spaces set within the farming terraces that function as outdoor classrooms.
Climate change is real. Sea level rise is real. The warning signs of global warming are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. The submergence and flooding of coastal cities could result in the displacement of thousands of people, destroying millions of acres of land, and loss of livelihood, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater. A growing number of cities are stepping up to the challenge of sea-level rise and taking People-oriented measures including Ecologically sensitive landscape design, revitalizing neighborhoods, building social resilience to future water threats. Before the coastal cities and nations disappear, the rest will need to adapt, and quickly.