The Ecosystems of Water featured on FuturArc Magazine’s Year-end Issue

The Ecosystems of Water featured on FuturArc Magazine’s Year-end Issue

enCity’s article, The Ecosystems of Water, on FuturArc Magazine’s Year-end Issue discusses the critical role that water plays in the planning and design of our cities and communities. Through this piece, we showcase inspiring projects that hold water as a unifying element in our living environments, and introduce ways to better embrace water in planning approaches.
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FuturArc is a quarterly magazine publication that focuses on green architecture and design, reporting on prominent projects and featuring in-depth discussions and commentaries of issues relevant to architects and industry professionals. In this issue, the enCity team contributed the main feature, The Ecosystems of Water, which discusses the critical role that water plays in the planning and design of our cities and communities. The article was authored by Dzung Do Nguyen (Co-founder & CEO, enCity) and Hoa Nguyen (Senior Associate, Policy + Planning).

enCity advocates for the central role of water in planning, design and architecture, at various scales and through various forms of integration into our economy and society. The piece is a culmination of enCity’s insights from various projects involving thoughtful planning and design with water, such as Thu Duc City Stormwater Management Strategy and Hue Sanctuary. View more of our projects here.

Original link on FuturArc: https://www.futurarc.com/commentary/the-ecosystems-of-water/

Access the full version here.

EMBRACING THE CENTRAL ROLE THAT WATER PLAYS IN ECOLOGY, CULTURE AND ECONOMY

Water is special also in that, left to itself, it will always lie level, but with the help of God, Nature and the artifice of man, it is capable of assuming an exuberance and vigour, and a symbolism difficult to achieve with any other natural element.

John Mayson Whalley

Life begins with water—this is a fact that goes back to the beginning of human civilisation. Many urban settlements began by organising around river banks and estuaries, where the soil is fertile, fresh water is abundant, and means of subsistence are available. One of the most established and earliest forms of economic exchanges is the trading port, made possible via water-based transit. Singapore and Malacca became prosperous ports, while Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok expanded from the river bank.

As history progresses, water began to take on more prominent roles, not just as a part of the natural environment, but also actively incorporated into our landscapes and built environment, as well as our daily and cultural life—habits and ways of living that have been shaped by our interactions with water.

TURNING OF THE TIDE

Most recently, in the past century or so, climate change has turned water from an object of awe and inspiration into one of immense threat to our sustainable development. Water is now frequently associated with unpredictable rainfalls, uncontrollable floods, rising sea levels, loss of groundwater and sinking cities.

Natural disasters involving water are not modern affairs, but with urban sprawl and expansion of our built footprint, we feel these threats and the resulting damage more severely than ever. In the past year, Vietnam has seen many of its mountainous cities such as Sapa and Da Lat being hit with severe floods, a rarity in the past. With the increase in both frequency and intensity of climate-related calamities, issues of climate refugees and material destruction have become common news headlines.

Once threatened, humanity is quick to put up our defences. We see large investments into dykes, embankments and various measures to keep water away, to safeguard our assets and developments. However, the force of water is much larger than our efforts, and much of this has backfired, evidently seen in many cases across the world. From India to the United States, the intensive construction of levees to enclose certain regions for protection has either led to deadly flooding elsewhere, or have failed to withstand catastrophic events.

An urban design and architecture proposal by enCity is inspired by historical built-scapes that are tied closely to water

Vibrant river markets and water commerce

 

Managing water threats cannot be equated with keeping water at bay. New movements like Living with water have arisen, in which water resource management is seen as a comprehensive and context-sensitive discipline, rather than just the mitigation of threats. In this approach, resisting water is often seen as futile, while embracing water and looking towards it for solutions, often in the form of green infrastructure, water-sensitive urban design and architecture, allow for gentler forms of accommodation to water, while providing important social, economic and identity anchors for the city.

Here, we advocate the role of water in planning, design and architecture to be central at various scales and through various forms of integration into our economy and society. Illustrating with case studies across Vietnam, a country rich with water resource and river networks, the main roles of water we aim to illustrate here are:

1) water as the source of ecological abundance—the natural ecosystem;
2) water as the defining element of individual and social organisation—the cultural ecosystem
3) water as the provision of livelihoods and development opportunities—the economic ecosystem;
4) and how design and architecture follow through from our relationships with water.

WATER AS THE SOURCE OF ECOLOGICAL ABUNDANCE AND DIVERSITY

In Nature, water is fundamental in sustaining all life, as well as maintaining biodiversity and wildlife, including many freshwater species such as fish and birds. According to the World Wildlife Fund, freshwater ecosystems cover less than one percent of Earth’s surface, yet are home to at least 10 percent of Earth’s species. These in turn provide ecosystem services to human societies, such as maintaining mental and physical well-being for people, providing education and recreational opportunities.

The master plan for the site of a new township project in Hue is organised around a central mangrove that is extensively connected to surrounding greeneries on-site and beyond

 

In the city of Hue, the capital during the monarchy era of Vietnam, water typologies played an important role in the daily lives of the people. The rich biodiversity was a defining element of Hue, and bird diversity was a prominent feature. According to King Thieu Tri who reigned in the 1800s, Dong Lam forest in Hue was one of the 20 heavenly sites on Earth. The kings and queens of the past, according to historical records, frequently visited this area for leisure and recreational bird-hunting.

However, modern day development and built-up have reduced much of this natural asset, with the loss of grasslands, waterways and mudflats, leading to a decline in local biodiversity. Development of settlements in various parts of the region have also reduced the connectivity and ecological pathways for animals, thus segregating their natural habitats.

Restoring biodiversity and revitalising ecological infrastructure

In a new township project in Hue master-planned by enCity, in conjunction with urban elements such as commercial and residential functions, original elements of the landscape that enabled biodiversity were studied and restored. A deep dive into the existing and previously abundant bird diversity laid the foundation for the extent of revitalisation necessary for the project to achieve its historical ecological heritage.

The resulting design for the site is organised around the central mangrove that provides connectivity to surrounding patches of green fields and rice paddies. New landscapes have been added to the overall green network by integrating detention ponds and bioswales into public spaces and streetscapes, allowing for continuous wildlife movement. Green belts also protect the site and its enhanced bird habitats from impending flood risks from surrounding developments, while adding another loop for ecological mobility.

Through conscious addition of wetlands and grasslands, managed landscapes that are bird-friendly, agricultural land use and water bodies, the site gained an additional 20 percent in ecological value. In a way, the landscape strategies attempt to reverse the ecological damage done upon our natural landscapes, and revitalise the site’s biodiversity.

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Managing water threats cannot be equated with keeping water at bay. New movements like Living with water have arisen, in which water resource management is seen as a comprehensive and context-sensitive discipline, rather than just the mitigation of threats. In this approach, resisting water is often seen as futile, while embracing water and looking towards it for solutions, often in the form of green infrastructure, water-sensitive urban design and architecture, allow for gentler forms of accommodation to water, while providing important social, economic and identity anchors for the city.

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