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5.2.3 The invisible actors

COVID-19 played an important role in receiving more resolved and sophisticated entries, as all top three winning teams had compromised workloads during COVID-19, resulting in working on the competition for several months, a rare opportunity to dedicate their full attention to the competition. The entries indicated that dealing with these complex transdisciplinary issues outlined in the competition brief required a decent amount of time invested, unlike conventional open competition projects done in haste by architecture companies[261] due to the limited budget. It can result in superficial entries, emphasising impressionable visualisations rather than more daring and resolved proposals. The interview with all the winners also revealed their determination to win (partly due to the loss of work), but they were also able to think deeply about the project with spare time on their side. Their written and visual outputs demonstrated the time and thought spent on the winning entrants’ proposals which were noted during the deliberation meetings with the judges. One of the entrants also pointed out that these “larger-than-courtyard size” coastal adaptation projects rarely involve landscape architects (usually only involving coastal engineers or marine biologists). Thus, Kanten/The Edge provided a unique opportunity that piqued their interest to participate.

   However, the competition project did not involve citizens[262] or anthropologists who could have contributed to discussions around the changing narratives and socio-cultural ideologies required at the urban shorelines. Furthermore, it could have also been interesting to include discussions on looking at Kanten/The Edge from the marine life’s perspective (i.e. the missing actors), which only the SUPERFLEX/Baldios team attempted to do[263]. Furthermore, making the invisible seaweed (and other underwater marine life forms) visible and other imperceptible phenomena like sea level rise, which happens incrementally over a long period of time, became one of the major concerns for Urban Seascaping (as a proposition). Therefore, initiatives that help make these seemingly invisible things visible to the average citizen play an important role in raising awareness. It is difficult to show concern for something that does not seem urgent or perceptible and make it visible. Therefore, the research reinforces the role of creative disciplines (answering SRQ1) by providing space for people to be able to see and interact with the marine world.


   My experience with workshops involving the implementation of (marine) nature-based solutions to improve biodiversity, water quality, coastal erosion, and carbon sequestration fell short of engaging at a deeper level when addressing the agricultural industry’s impact in Denmark. This impact does not only concern the agricultural industry’s sizable carbon footprint but also its significant contribution to the degradation of Danish water bodies that inhibits the implementation of NbS (refer to Figure 13 and Figure 155 in section 4.1.6). As shown in my research, it is clear that this is one of the biggest contributors to water pollution in Denmark and is something that marine biologists have been battling with the farmers for several decades (Organo Quintana, 2020; Fjeldsø Christensen, 2021; Hedrup, 2021). It is a complex ongoing issue that does not seem to be resolved anytime soon (despite efforts from Vejle Municipality). The ethical implications of excessive meat consumption and production in Denmark are controversial and intertwined with economic benefits and cultural identity, making it challenging to address the problem (Levitt, 2020; Perez-Cueto, 2021). However, this is not just an issue in Denmark – but a global problem in developed countries with excessive agricultural product consumption, resulting in the exponential use of artificial fertilisers as part of the “Great Acceleration” (Steffen et al., 2015) – an exponential increase in the use of resources and degradation of ecosystems since the middle of the last century. Coastal cities like Vejle are at the mouth of the river where the pollutants are expelled, thus making the coastal water bodies next to the cities a challenging environment to implement NbS (such as Kanten/The Edge projects). Before starting my research, I had no idea that the research would have such a big focus on poor water quality due to the Danish agricultural activity. There is growing pressure to implement NbS from many different sources (i.e. national level, EU level) to revive salt marshes and eelgrass as part of coastal resilience. However, the caveat is that the impacts of NbS will be less effective, laborious and costly unless water quality is sufficiently addressed and resolved.

    Poor water quality thus has implications for Urban Seascaping. Floating particles from fertiliser runoff render the Danish coastal waters more opaque (and cause more harmful algal blooms), meaning that the world under the water becomes literally invisible (see Figure 24, section 1.5.3 of Vejle’s algae blooms). I tried to address this water quality issue by exploring the potential of large-scale NbS via a floating kelp system in Vejle Fjord. The kelp could provide various benefits along with the potential for organic fertiliser (less damaging than artificial ones) while absorbing excess nutrients (while also providing wave attenuation). However, under the current economic model in Denmark, seaweed as organic fertiliser would be too costly to be economically feasible (i.e. high labour cost and low market demand – contrary to South Korea with thriving seaweed farms as shown in Figure 176) (Hornbek Nielsen, 2020). These findings indicate that even in cases where environmentally sound solutions are present, such solutions will not see the light of day unless they have profit-generating capabilities or are heavily subsidised by the state. This means that these green solutions have difficulty being implemented. It is with the hope that as the benefits of seaweed become more well-known by the public and private stakeholders through initiatives like Kanten/The Edge (along with education and regulation) that could aid in cleaning up the waters of coastal bodies in Denmark, both at the source of pollution on land and in the water.

Figure 176. The dark squares that make up the checkerboard pattern in this image are large-scale seaweed farms viewed from a satellite image. Along the south coast of South Korea, with a thriving aquaculture industry, seaweed is often grown on ropes, which are held near the surface with buoys, an example of a “production landscape”. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen on January 31, 2014 (NASA earth observatory, 2015) and LeafScore (Hollow, 2021).


[261] This is based on my professional experience working in architecture firms in three different countries over a span of seven years.

[262] However, Vejle has been proactive in involving citizens in the discussion of coastal adaptation through its many other engagements, such as workshops, events and online platforms.

[263] This entry by SUPERFLEX/Baldios would have been overlooked if it was not for the artist (advisor) pushing forth the merits of this project (both philosophically and aesthetically). Therefore, the involvement of artists as advisors to the judges also played a role in selecting the winning entries that departed from B-A-U proposals. This entry would have easily been overlooked as too “radical” in its design form by some of the judges to be selected as a finalist.



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