Softer Ground: Reclaiming Wetlands through Design

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© David Lloyd, SWA

Architecture is shaped by its environment and natural forces. Inherently, the discipline focuses on the design of objects over systems, on formal morphology over networks or ecologies. However, no building exists outside its context; every structure is sited among ever-changing climates and cultural conditions. How designers respond and connect to these larger systems can radically change the nature and quality of their work. Often, it is the greatest constraints that produce novel solutions.

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© Nelson Garrido

Straddling the line between creation and preservation, the following projects looks at wetland architecture and how different sites are being reclaimed through design. As part of the monthly topic on Collective Design, they represent the process and development of architecture that converges different disciplines to improve quality of life. Conceptualized as part of greater buffer zones, runoff areas or watersheds, the projects explore the liminal space between water and earth, the tension between natural systems and architecture. Looking at private and commercial projects alike, they are a broad mix of designs showcasing how projects can balance construction and their local environment.

The Loopvillage / MAaP

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© MAaP

The Loop Village Resort Hotel project is located in the bamboo forest valley of Miaoshan Village. The construction area is mainly composed of earth-covered buildings, combined with the slope valley landscape to form a small resort. The vegetation on the original site is divided into two systems, one is the wetland marsh plant community and the other is the bamboo forest community. As part of the construction, the team retained the wetland swamp system.

Usaquén Urban Wetland / Obraestudio

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© Daniel Segura

Obraestudio was awarded first prize in the open national design competition for the exterior platform of the Santa Barbara business center. The competition was sponsored by The Colombian Architects Society. The 8,500 sq. meter landscape transformation aims to revitalize common access to an emblematic public space of northeastern Bogotá. The project's design concept is based on the wetlands of the Bogota Savannah, their neighboring rocky areas and their typical abundant plant species.

Swan Lake Bridge House and Viewing Tower / TAO - Trace Architecture Office

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© Hao Chen

Located in Rongcheng, Swan Lake Park is a natural wetland near the Yellow Sea, flat and vast, with reed spreading wildly and water streams meandering. Every October, groups of swans migrate south to this site from Siberia. This magnificent scene, as well as the beautiful landscape of the wetland, attracts large groups of tourists. The local government wishes to build a public facility that provides tourists with services such as viewing and catering.

Chicago Riverwalk / Chicago Department of Transportation + Design Team

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© Kate Joyce Studios

The Main Branch of the Chicago River has a long and storied history that in many ways mirrors the development of Chicago itself. Once a meandering marshy stream, the river first became an engineered channel to support the industrial transformation of the city. A series of piers and floating wetland gardens offers an interactive learning environment about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants.

Suspended Pavilion / TJAD Original Design Studio

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© ZY Architectural Photography

The Suspended Pavilion is located on the Bank of Maozhou River in Bao'an District, Shen Zhen. The original site is cut into two landscape zones by a transverse embankment top road, one near the water bank, the other a low-lying green space. The design takes the integration of context as the starting point to create a large landscape system of architectural landscape integration. The newly built steel trestle system is suspended on the wetland, connecting the wetlands on both sides of the embankment top road, forming a continuous wandering path.

Minghu Wetland Park / Turenscape

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© Turenscape

Through a series of regenerative design techniques, particularly measures to slow down the flow of storm-water, a channelized concrete river and a deteriorated peri-urban site have been transformed into a nationally celebrated wetland park that functions as a major part of the city-wide ecological infrastructure planned to provide multiple ecosystem services, including storm-water management, water cleansing, and recovery of native habitats.

Xixi Wetland Estate / David Chipperfield

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© Simon Menges

Xixi, a national wetland park located on the outskirts of Hangzhou, is a built landscape and an area of nature, which has been shaped by man for over a thousand years. The omnipresent relationship between landscape, architecture, and water is key to the atmosphere in Xixi. This atmosphere has been integrated into a new development of apartment buildings. The apartment buildings are surrounded by a water garden, which, as a reference to the wetland park, is a mostly wild landscape.

Wasit Natural Reserve Visitor Centre / X Architects

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© Nelson Garrido

Wasit Natural Reserve was originally a waste-water and rubbish dump. The rehabilitation process of the damaged eco-system started in 2005, 40,000m2 of rubbish removed, 35,000 trees been re-planted, healing the land from toxic chemicals and conservation of the Unique salt flats and costal sand dunes. A wetland visitor center is established on site to continue protecting the natural environment, educate people on the richness of the wetland ecosystem and provides information about the birds that frequent the area and other wetlands areas of the emirate. 

Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II / SWA/BALSLEY + WEISS/MANFREDI

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© Albert Vecerka, ESTO

Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II transforms 5.5 acres of an abandoned industrial landscape into a new waterfront park. Phase II of the park begins south of 54th Avenue and wraps around Newtown Creek to complete the full vision of Hunter’s Point South Park initiated with the Phase I park, resulting in nearly 11 acres of a continuous waterfront park. A trail meanders along the causeway, elevated slightly above the river, a stroll of shifting perspectives of the skyline and close-ups of the marsh habitat along the river’s edge and protects nearly 1.5 acres of newly established wetlands.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Collective Design. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Softer Ground: Reclaiming Wetlands through Design" 06 May 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© David Lloyd, SWA


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