Why Hypernatural Landscapes Are What Our Cities Need

Apr 2 • Best of 2015, Landscape Architecture, MONTRÉAL • 2976 Views • No Comments on Why Hypernatural Landscapes Are What Our Cities Need

NIPPAYSAGE on the younger generation of landscape architects, hypernatural urban spaces, and their conceptual framework for lessening the environmental impact of the construction of Canada’s busiest bridge.

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1. Explain the new wave of landscape architects.

That is a good question! NIPPAYSAGE was founded 14 years ago, after time spent working for Martha Schwartz and George Hargreaves, two American landscape architects who are known to push the envelope. At the time, we wanted to develop a younger, more innovative and artistic approach to landscape architecture and design. We felt most of the existing offices in Montreal were large firms who did good, but conventional work. We felt that they were not really exploring what landscape architecture could be as an expression of man-made culture and nature. Inspired by Claude Cormier and his work, we decided to start our own thing. The name of the firm, NIPPAYSAGE (NIP is the French acronym for Personal Identification Number), directly refers to our efforts to give each project its own identity and personality through personalized quality design.

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Today, we are happy to say that there are many design firms doing interesting and thought-provoking work all around us. People are working on how the landscape can be used to build healthier greener neighbourhoods, improve quality of life and create urban animation opportunities. But there are also very large corporate firms who have hundreds (sometimes thousands) of employees working in all fields of planning and design.

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NIPPAYSAGE may not be so young anymore and not such a small firm, but we strive to keep things interesting and diverse, offering an alternative to generic design: We make sure all projects (whether very big or very small) have a distinctive flavour and strong design narrative. I guess we could say we want to develop a “boutique experience” equivalent for public landscape architecture: to work in strong collaboration with cities, architects, planners and engineers, to imagine, nurture and grow each project into truly original, meaningful and recognisable designs that embody our client’s needs.

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2. Describe the YUL project.

YUL is one of the few residential projects we have worked on over the past 5 years. The client and architects have developed a strong vision for the project, where common and shared spaces play a central role and cover more than 5,000 m². The challenge for the landscape was to create a unique garden setting where residents will have many opportunities to relax, walk, meet and socialize. The client also wanted a signature garden expressing Montreal’s specific personality, so we developed a concept inspired by the patterns of snow as it is sculpted by the wind.

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To achieve this, we developed a system of non-linear paths, special paving and expressive topography to make the courtyard feel bigger than it actually is. We used white colours when selecting hardscape and softscape materials to focus on the project’s different textures and the way light filters into the courtyard. We also designed the space thinking about how it would look and feel during the winter months, when a blanket of snow will cover the entire site. A wide variety of plant material has been included, creating shade, movement, verticality and seasonal interest to the garden. Selections include white blooming trees and perennials that will illuminate the garden by day (and by night, through discreet lighting) throughout the summer months. The project also includes a fog fountain, pool, spa, townhouse gardens, etc. Even if the project is built in different phases over time, the landscape will be seamless and continuous, giving unity and coherence to the entire project.

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3. Using The Leaf in Gurgaon as an example, how is the idea of hypernatural reflected in your work?

Our colleagues’ work at Michael Van Valkenburgh’s office first attracted us toward the concept “hypernature,” this idea to use natural elements in original, highly compressed yet ecologically functional compositions. We later developed this idea in projects where vegetation plays an important role, like Place de l’Acadie park, as described in Emmanuelle Viera’s article.

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For the Leaf, we had a large site with numerous building types, densities and uses. In this project, hyper nature is expressed through dense tree planting, a rich palette of native understory species and innovative water management infrastructure. Most of the site is actually an underground parking, so a large portion of the landscape will be built on “artificial ground.” Integrating various planning, programming and spatial constraints, we suggested the project’s landscape could be developed as a unique urban arboretum to showcase some of Northern India’s rich biodiversity. The tree cover also provides the much needed shade (and shelter during the rainy season). Trying to use all green and open spaces together within one coherent and connected planting system, we worked with the client to achieve sufficient planting depth. The few areas without underground structures are used as rain gardens and retention ponds. The leaf is currently under construction, and is already starting to be visible from Google Earth!

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4. How can landscape architecture lessen the environmental impact of the new bridge for the St. Lawrence?

NIPPAYSAGE was asked to work on the urban and environmental integration documents, in collaboration with Arup and Provencher Roy. We are not working on the final design and we cannot know for sure that our recommendations will be integrated by the selected team. The main objective of our involvement in the project was to provide a conceptual framework for integration of the new infrastructure into its environment.

The project for the new bridge will have a huge impact on many kilometres along the St. Lawrence River, the quality of life of the surrounding neighbourhoods and beyond. More specifically, the new bridge will require the widening and raising of the expressway on the Island of Montreal, between the neighbourhoods of Pointe St-Charles and Verdun. In such a road infrastructure intensive context, our landscape and urban design work has two main objectives:

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1. Foster a greater connection between the neighbourhoods that the new expressway will cut through, and reconnecting them by focusing on improved pedestrian walkways underneath it.

2. Increase the amount of vegetation, making the area more green and enhancing its biodiversity. Since the new expressway will take up more green space, we developed a strategy to compensate for this loss by adding more vegetation. In the long run, this will reduce the visual impact of the expressway and improve the air quality around it. Meanwhile, the intervention will produce a new landscape experience along the expressway. This strategy is focused on the reduction of heat islands, increasing the biodiversity, improving the quality of life and increasing the amount of shaded zones. The greening will occur in different places and in different ways, varying by landscape unit to offer a diversity of green space: restoration and reconstitution of natural habitats, forests, meadows, areas for storm water management, vegetated walls on the highway structure and a generous planting of trees on the streets perpendicular to the expressway. Finally, the project calls for the embankments on each approach for the new bridge to be restored to uphold the balance of the ecosystem along the shoreline and to reduce the risk of long term soil erosion.

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