The central pursuit of the project was to insert a robust and full eco-system into an ecologically deprived area of the City to act as a catalyst for establishing a healthier public realm defined by an ecologically principled and visually dynamic new landscape, which in turn provides a more suitable and sustainable context for future city expansion.
The goals of this project were:
To establish a healthy and robust ecological corridor for people, birds and pollinators within a neighborhood where such corridors had been defined by hot, undifferentiated, treeless expanses of asphalt paving.
To lower the ambient air temperature of the surrounding public realm.
To improve the air quality and livability of the associated neighborhoods with the introduction of a layered planting palette defined by the planting of over 200 mature canopy trees, dozens of understory trees and diverse and native ground covers.
To establish meaningful physical connections between an ecological corridor to the east with the cultural center of Taichung (The Taiwan Opera House).
The project is located in Taichung, Taiwan, a city of approximately 3 million people located in central Taiwan along the western coastline. Located in the Taichung Basin, the City of Taichung was originally planned and developed by the Japanese while Taiwan was under Japanese rule. More specifically the project is situated in the Sixth Precinct in downtown Taichung, a planned mixed-use neighborhood, often referred to as the cultural center of Taichung. The Sixth Precinct is home to the Taiwan Opera House designed by Toyo Ito.
The site consists of two boulevards: east/west and north/south. The north/south boulevard is two city blocks long (approximately 600m long in total) and includes a pocket park and a pedestrian connection between an existing neighborhood park and shopping mall. The east/west corridor is approximately 800m long and links a river front park system to the west with the Taichung Opera House at the east end of the ‘site’.
As is the case in many Cities throughout the world, in Taichung the street scape was designed to first accommodate the automobile. The quality of the urban experience for the pedestrian and cyclist was almost always an afterthought. Thankfully, in more recent times, thinking relative to improving the experience of the pedestrian has been evolving. This new wave of progressive thinking has given rise to sometimes radical transformations of the urban landscape. Such is the case in Taichung.
Accordingly, the project began as a collaboration between City Agencies and Private Development and as part of Taichung’s ‘Street Adoption’ program. This project only became feasible when a concerted effort was made to reduce the widths of travel lanes and with the strategic elimination of on-street parking along two major boulevards, which, in turn, provided more real estate for the linear, street-side landscape intervention.
In addition to the problems associated with very wide boulevards, large expansive parking areas defined the context of the adjacent landscape and public realm. Essentially treeless and with only feeble planters situated intermittently between the sidewalks and adjacent parking areas, the impacts of the urban heat island effect were almost unbearable, making pedestrian movement between blocks next to impossible.
Posing a very particular problem for planting on the site was the reality that over 75% of the site was located on top of an excessively wide underground utility bank, buried less than 50cm below finish grade. Accordingly, all plants with sizable root systems would need to be planted in elevated planters of some type.
Our strategy for responding to subsurface conditions and toward making a strong pedestrian corridor was to reach more towards a regional idea of the dynamic and seismically active Taiwanese landscape. New pedestrian ways are embedded within angular and sloping granite retaining walls, providing the necessary soil depths for the trees while creating a zigzagging and overlapping ‘ripple’ figure of place-making. These landforms create a hierarchy of scales from larger ripples at the street edge and to screen views towards the parking lot—to smaller ripples at the center. This ripple motif is carried through in a more subtle manner to the stone pavement and benches to animate the ground plane. Finally, to extend the landscape into the rest of the city, the ripples move past the plaza’s boundaries and provide a counterpoint to the straight line of the street edge, resulting in a variety of garden-like niches along the sidewalk. The faceted raised planter system also acts as the connective tissue between the diverse architectural styles of the adjacent buildings and guides the fluid movement of pedestrians through a series of experiences.
The primary goal for the planting was to create a healthy and habitable environment for people, birds and pollinators. The completed landscape is defined by the planting of over 200 mature Taiwanese Zelkova serrata (Ulmaceae) trees, Crape Myrtle and various other native understory plants and ground covers. In addition to being one of the oldest native tree species in Taiwan, the Taiwanese Zelkova is a source of great social pride and is imbued with great cultural meaning. Our proposal for canopy and understory plantings relied heavily upon local, native forest-based plant communities.
Accordingly, the project which has come to be known as the Urban Public Realm Project establishes a strong, landscape-based, urban identity for a large portion of the Sixth Precinct of Taichung, Taiwan.
Today, the precinct is defined by shade covered pedestrian pathways, which link together formerly disconnected urban fabric and cultural centers. The pedestrian experience has been radically transformed. Further, bird patterns and nesting habitat has also been greatly enhanced in this area of the city.
Name of the project: Zelkova Urban Public Realm
Lead Designer: Michael Blier, Principal, Landworks Studio, Inc.
Landworks Design Team:
Michael Blier, RLA ASLA, Principal in Charge
Kris Lucius, RLA, Project Manager
Tanja Kerzig, Designer
Katerina Creamer, Designer
Wileen Kao, RLA, Designer
Jackie Martinez, Designer
Project location: Shizheng North 6th Road, Taichung, Taiwan.
Design year: 2011
Year Built: 2012
Additional Project Credits:
Civil Engineer: Pao Huei Construction Co., Ltd, Taichung City, Taiwan
Lighting Consultant: Lighting Design Alliance, Long Beach, CA
General Contractor: Pao Huei Construction Co., Ltd, Taichung City, Taiwan
Photography: Robert Miller Inc., Great Falls, VA & John Horner Photography, Somerville, MA