5.1 Urban Seascaping as a research contribution
Research Questions (RQ) & Corresponding Hypothesis
How can design research methods and practice from the spatial design disciplines of LUDP contribute to the changing spatial boundary between city and sea, human and nonhuman, due to climate change?
The projective (speculative) quality of research-through-design as a methodology for knowledge production of certain design parameters and principles that can arrive at new ideas (for the future)
There is a research and practice gap in coastal adaptation projects that integrate nature-based solutions, which has largely been the domain of engineers and biologists. Therefore, the projective element of design could offer unique insights into an imaginative possible solution that does not exist yet, especially given the need for sustainable urban landscapes to be projected by design first. Design research has the task of evaluating the projections’ “preferability” and then reflecting on their transformative capacity (Prominski and Seggern, 2019, p. 44). Moreover, the projection of different future scenarios communicated by drawings, models or digital media can play a key role in the ability to collaborate with other disciplines and actors through a shared legible visual medium. Hence, the contribution of the research-through-design methodology lies in its capacity to synthesise various future opportunities for socio-spatial development through the act of designing. Transformational research like research-through-design is an appropriate and productive approach towards tackling issues of green transition through the synthesis of different knowledge towards a holistic realisable spatial outcome (which can then be analysed further for its capacity to catalyse societal transformation).
Furthermore, since it can be argued that there is no untouched and “undesigned” nature left in the Anthropocene, designers have a proactive role in embracing the possibility of design as a way to engage with the nature-culture entanglements. Kanten/The Edge design competition winning entries were an example of this process. It was a testing ground for new knowledge and solutions in a “real-world” context to facilitate the transferability of solutions to other contexts in Denmark.
The role of designers (as demonstrated in the winning entries) in the competition became one of synthesising complex transdisciplinary knowledge across various scales and timeframes, pushing the usual boundary of what designers (i.e. landscape architects, urban designers and architects) are increasingly asked to do. This meant that designers had to engage with the ecosystem services of coastal ecosystems, different nonhuman perspectives and how Kanten/The Edge could bring forth these entanglements into the aesthetic, atmospheric and spatial realm, especially while addressing the broader issues of climate change and green transition via mitigation and adaptation.
Research Questions (RQ) & Corresponding Hypothesis
What ways of thinking and doing (i.e. world views, representational and analytical tools) can help the spatial design disciplines of LUDP address the aforementioned research questions? (i.e. RQ and SRQ1)
Hybrid mapping methods that synthesise transdisciplinary knowledge and increasing complexities while engaging with various visual mediums for analysis and curation.
The starting point for the investigation into hybrid forms of mapping was due to the need for multiscalar, temporal and projective engagement needed to design large-scale relational spatial nexus of the landscape-seascape continuum in Vejle. The search for suitable methods and tools for the challenges associated with this issue came about with an online network mapping tool called Kumu, which was an apt medium to accumulate, connect, synthesise, assess and curate the different transdisciplinary knowledge and data associated with investigating how to “urban seascape with seaweed” in Vejle (using Kanten/The Edge design competition entries as data). The Kumu map was re-designed and repurposed from its original purpose as a stakeholder relational mapping tool to incorporate a spatial element by embedding territorial mappings, animated GIFs, drawings, sections, photos, videos etc., into a “node” within a larger network map. This meant Kumu maps could operate as a “master map” (i.e. maps within maps) to show the interconnection between visual mediums/findings and interactive for the user to engage with online (i.e. it is an activity-inducing mapping tool). Kumu is an emerging type of new hybrid form of mapping that is created for this research to highlight the need for accommodating the increasing complexities and entanglements that characterise urban developments in the Anthropocene. Thus, the methodological contribution of the research lies in its demonstration that the role of network mapping can play in multiscalar contextual deep site analysis and a temporal way of curating future projections and mapping complexities through multi-modal relational understanding.
Generalisable outcomes: The mapping process of a Multiscalar network map, Temporal-projective map and State-of-the-art map in Kumu.
Table 4. An overview of the research questions, the initial hypothesis and the overall research contributions of Urban Seascaping. The methods used to attain the outcomes are: Literature review, Case study, Expert interviews, Fieldwork (i.e. site visits, workshops and meetings) and Research-through-design via mapping.
In this dissertation, Urban Seascaping (USS) has served as a working hypothesis through which I could answer the research questions. The design principles were developed with an intent to depart from the current nature-culture divide, both perceptually and physically in coastal urban environments, territorial biases and a dominant hard approach to coastal development that constantly excludes and degrades the marine environment. Fundamentally, the research presented here is part of an ongoing discussion to question the current adverse relationship between some of the most powerful forces in the world, the market-driven urban development models and the rising sea.
In this regard, the research on Urban Seascaping presents an “original” contribution towards the paradigm shift that is urgently needed in the transformation of future urban development. This also includes a new view of the phenomenon of sea-level rise and its marine life (i.e. seaweed) as a resident and an actor, which the project suggests can play a key part in coastal cities and their blue-green transitions. Therefore, USS attempts to cultivate a world that allows us to co-exist in ways that are just and livable for more-than-human entities, such as seaweed and other marine species. Ultimately, this is achieved through the acknowledgement of their intrinsic values and the ongoing effort to grant them a space that may foster a better meeting place in the contested coastal zone. As such, USS constitutes a novel spatial design practice that may culminate in an urban blue commons – the success of which will be determined by the citizens of the terrestrial and the marine world.
Furthermore, the research has been centred around an ambition to use design as a method (i.e. Research-through-design), which contributed to new context-specific knowledge in Vejle, in which certain aspects of the findings were transferred to a level of general validity and broader impact.
In the following Table 4, I outline the three main contributions that the present research on Urban Seascaping has sought to produce:
Research Questions (RQ) & Corresponding Hypothesis
How can coastal cities of Denmark integrate the sea and its lifeforms to contribute towards re-envisioning urban development in light of sea-level rise and frequent storm surges?
Urban Seascaping with seaweed – the potential of “seascaping” with seaweed in coastal cities as a response to alternative urban development and coastal adaptation.
The act of bringing forth the forgotten and unexplored actor of seaweed into the urban realm and coastal adaptation strategies, especially as a marine nature-based solution, constitutes one of the primary innovations of the PhD. In this context, the project suggests that seaweed be conceived of as a representative of the marine realm and as a rightful resident in catalysing the transformation of the current waterfronts into a new form of urban blue commons. This means taking into consideration both seaweed’s instrumental and intrinsic values, such as its various ecosystem services, in particular the ability to contribute towards coastal protection in the form of floating kelp farms in the deeper parts of the sea while closer to the urban shoreline, as a key actor in the creation of projects like Kanten/The Edge design competition, an urban landscape approach to rethinking the current edge conditions. The findings have shown certain design parameters for the two major interconnected zones in the fjord where seaweed can be implemented (in Vejle), the shallows, and the deeper waters as a floating kelp system.
Moreover, the findings from Kanten/The Edge competition entries, while focussing on seaweed, arrived at a conclusion about the need to expand the conventional notion of a fixed, singular and territorially-biased view of a site to one that identifies multiple scales, reciprocal and nonreciprocal relations with the intersection between different territories that all contribute towards urban spatial networks. Furthermore, dealing with the real-world issues of sea level rise and increasing storm surges is directed to the need to work with long-term time scales.
Generalisable outcomes: The four main Urban Seascaping propositions to guide future coastal adaptation strategies with marine nature-based solutions (i.e. seaweed) and an alternative to the current B-A-U urban development models in coastal cities. It is a small contribution to the emerging practices of blue urbanism, coastal urbanism and marine landscape architecture.