retrofit

Visiting green roof company in Shitamachi

屋上と壁の庭はきれいなんです。

Recently, Mukunoki Ayumi gave me a tour of Kuboco, the construction and roof garden company where she works in Shitamachi. She graduated from Nodai, where I am a research fellow. The meeting took place thanks to Edgy Japan‘s Yanigasawa Hiroki.  I immediately recognized the building when I spotted the incredible wisteria that is trellised across one building and climbs to the top of the adjoining 8 story building, where it provides rooftop shade on a trellis structure. Mukunoki-san told me that the vine is just eight years old and very vigorous!

Kuboco designs roof gardens and vertical gardens for commercial and retail buildings as well as residences. Since they are a construction company, they are able to combine garden design and maintenance with structural engineering, water-proofing, and retrofitting trellises for vines and vertical gardens onto older buildings.

Mukunoki-san reports seeing a shift from roof lawns to vegetables in Tokyo. She attributes this to customers wanting less maintenance and greater value from their outdoor spaces. Kabuco has roof gardens on both of its buildings, one a more social space and the other full of experiments with soil depth and new vegetables. Kuboco is very hands-on in providing advice about how to build roof gardens and what to grow. Mukunoki-san explained that last summer she grew tumeric because one of her clients wanted to grow it. On my visit, I saw blueberries, carrots, onions, parsley and other food on their demonstration gardens, and admired how they are testing out what can grow in 5, 10, 20, and 25 cm deep soil boxes. And for a while Kuboco’s roof garden provides fresh vegetables to a local onigiri restaurant.

She also introduced me to the Japanese term for “local food”: 地産地消 (chisanchishou, locally produced and locally consumed, with the first and third kanji being the word soil).

The 8 year old wisteria looks like it’s been on this building for much longer. It blooms best when trained horizontally.

I would love to try blueberries, too. It would be so satisfying to eat fresh blueberries, rather than the supermarket ones that have travelled from as far as Chile.

Clip-on retrofit of cities

Vanessa Keith has a provocative article about urban reforestation. Rather than focus on new buildings, a small percentage of any city, Keith proposes rebuilding through a “clip-on” to existing urban structures and infrastructures. Keith considers roofs, walls, and highways as valuable surfaces that increase by factors of two (for in-fill structures) or six (for free standing structures) the total surface area of a city.

Her clip-on ideas include green roofs, roof ponds, vertical gardening, waterfalls for cooling and power generation, wind bands, and more urban trees. I like how she connects urban solutions with rural deforestation, and considers government incentives and the potential role of large developers and community groups in creating a demonstration block in New York City.

Tokyo University Sanshiro-ike garden in fall

On a beautiful warm November day, I discovered Tokyo University’s Sanshiro-ike garden. I had a few moments before a meeting, and saw on the campus map that there was a central garden on the main campus. I had assumed it would be a formal garden.

I was very surprised to descend a small hillside and encounter this natural looking pond. Looking in all directions, one sees only trees, water and sky, despite the compact size of the garden. Even on a warm weekend day with early fall foliage, few visitors were there. I was enchanted by the incredibly natural and removed-from-the-city feeling in this garden inside central Tokyo and Japan’s most famous university.

It takes a lot of artifice to make a city garden look so natural. The waterfall is amazing.

Continue reading to see some more images from Tokyo University, aka Todai.

Continue reading

Fiber City: Tokyo 2050

Green Fingers Fiber City: Tokyo 2050

Fiber City: Tokyo 2050 is a vision of the future of Tokyo with a radically new balance between natural and built environment, conceived by Professor Ohno Hidetoshi of Tokyo University. I am fascinated by how this future vision responds to four urban challenges that involve shrinking: decreasing population, aging society, environmental crisis, and earthquake potential.

The overall vision is that a shrinking economy makes many facilities and houses surplus, freeing up land for a green city. While unprecedented population declines have been predicted for Japan due to falling birthrate and continued resistance to immigration,  I wonder if the metropolis will shrink as much as the countryside. Nonetheless, Fiber City provides new models for urban living in greater harmony with nature, with better access to mass transit, and improved livability with reclamation of historic features like Edo canals and bridges that have been covered by elevated expressways.

The four strategies include Green Fingers (image above), Green Web, Green Partition, and Uban Wrinkle. Taken together, they allow for greater green space, more mobility, reclamation of history, re-use of elevated freeways, emergency access for disasters, and restoration of historic urban features. As a visionary view of Tokyo, from macro to micro, Fiber City provides a model for global cities retrofitting for enviornmental and human benefits.

Green Web Fiber City: Tokyo 2050 Green Partition Fiber City: Tokyo 2050 Urban Wrinkle Fiber City: Tokyo 2050

Entering the Ecological Age

80% carbon reduction by 2050

Last week I heard Peter Head of ARUP present “Entering the Ecological Age,” the Brunel Lecture for the Institute of Civil Engineers. Director of ARUP’s “integrated urbanism” practice, Head focuses attention on the potential devastation of climate change and the role of cities in launching a new ecological era that uses renewable energy efficiently.

Head’s most sobering prediction is that by 2100 there is a 50% chance of earth temperature rising by more than 5 degrees celsius, which would lead to the end of human civilization.

Urban transit options

The solution is massive reduction in carbon dioxide by retrofitting old cities and building new ones organized around non-polluting transportation. Surpassed only by Australia, the US uses twice the energy per capita of Japan and Europe because of its reliance on the automobile as the primary transportation vehicle and the great distances between housing, work, schools and shopping.

I was interested in Head’s advocacy for “biomimicry.” Janine Benyus’ 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature lists ten principles include uses water as a resource, diversfty and cooperate, gather and use energy efficiently, optimise not maximise, use materials sparingly, clean up not pollute, do not draw down resources, remain in balance with the biosphere, run on information, and use local resources.

I also found it interesting that Head believes cities are the most dynamic and capable of meeting the challenges of the post-industrial age. He cites the work of C40 Cities as climate leaders. Some urban initiatives he cites are Seoul’s removal of a freeway above the Cheonggyecheon River, and Singapore’s introduction of dragonfly habitats to reduce mosquitoes and dengue fever.

Head advocates an 80% carbon reduction by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels), which will require massive change in advanced and developing countries. His work seeks to contribute to the 2009 COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen (Convention on Climate Change), the most important since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

You can download a lengthly PDF version of the talk on the ARUP website, and watch video of the lecture on a website called Resilient Futures.