Sponge city: wastewater environments go mainstream

Architectural award acknowledges the importance of a pragmatic and natural approach to tackling urban wastewater

How can we manage an increase in rain and flooding in cities? That is the question that landscape architect Kongjian Yu, founder of the firm Turenscape, aimed to answer with his ground-breaking designs for the ‘sponge city’.

For his work Yu has received his field’s highest honour – making him the second laureate of the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize, an award issued biannually by the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

As the effects of climate change become clearer, cities will need to adapt to new weather conditions, including the prospect of an increase in rain which can cause flooding and endanger lives. However, with Yu’s new design approach to public space, the impact of increased rainfall can be mitigated significantly.

In the Chinese city of Harbin, Yu has created 80 acres of public space which can filter storm water into the park from the hard urban surfaces surrounding it and, using water-retaining ponds and clever planting, create an urban wetland that can absorb the worst of the city’s rainfall. This approach has had a profound impact on Chinese urban policy, illustrating the effectiveness of a natural approach to managing water levels in urban spaces.

‘Using water-retaining ponds and clever planting, this creates an urban wetland that can absorb the worst of the city’s rainfall…’

The space also uses elevated platforms to allow visitors to wander through the space and make the most of the environment, positively benefitting the local community through allowing them access to the natural environment.

By turning the city’s parkland into a giant rainwater ‘sponge’, Yu has future-proofed the city against increasingly difficult weather conditions while creating a more positive surrounding for locals.  Could this natural approach to rainwater collection catch-on elsewhere? Perhaps as other cities around the world look for solutions to face-up to their own urban rainwater issues this will become a standard procedure world-over.

Read Imogen Privett’s monthly Design Roundup in WORKTECH Academy’s Innovation Zone here.

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