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Urban greenery initiative takes top prize in Corobrik’s Most Innovative Final Year Landscape Architecture Award

Increasing global temperatures have spurred on industries to look for useful solutions to mitigate the problem. The world of landscape architecture is part of this movement, with architects and students working on concepts to counteract expanding urbanisation and address the issue of global warming. One such individual is Stuart Kelly, a landscape architect who recently graduated from the University of Cape Town (UCT), and received Corobrik’s Most Innovative Final Year Landscape Architecture Award for his concept of urban greening. 

The annual award is given to a landscape architecture student with the most innovative dissertation, with external examiners assessing the project concept, searching for a new idea that sparks interest rather than the student achieving the top mark. All graduating students in the UCT Master of Landscape Architecture programme are eligible for the award with each dissertation, worked on for six months, entered into the award programme. 

Currently residing in Claremont, Kelly drew on his farming background, having grown up on a farm in Creighton, KwaZulu-Natal. “I always envisioned working with soils and growing plants which is why I incorporated grafting into my thesis,” he explained. “I chose the Mowbray area because I am familiar with the terrain and it’s not a very green area.”

The specific focus site were the pedestrian routes leading up to Mowbray transport hub because, once greened, they could expand creating corridors of ‘green lungs’ between the mountains and river. It was here that Kelly performed his site work, which included identifying trees or green pockets, erf access points, surface run-off and drainage opportunities, shaded zones, wind shelter and rainwater harvesting options, among others. 

His dissertation, entitled “Grafting the Sub-Terrain: Working from the ground up in Mowbray, Cape Town” investigates how to encourage natural growth in the urban area by developing the sub-terrain, which is the area below the earth’s surface. ‘Grafting’ in the horticulture world, refers to the combining of two different plants, with a similar genetic makeup, to create a modified plant type. Kelly’s dissertation looks at grafting various soil types, as opposed to plants, to create a diverse landscape that caters for various plant types because of the different soil conditions.

“The sub-terrain is the foundation for plant growth, however, soils found within the urban environment have been negatively impacted and altered by human activity, resulting in poor structure and depleted soils,” he explained. “The aim of the project was to redesign the area where plant’s grow along prominent routes leading to Mowbray’s transport hub.” 

In an effort to improve the sub-terrain, a specially designed synthetic aquifer would have to be applied to the area. The aquifer is an area of rock below the earth’s surface which absorbs water needed for plant growth. This aquifer would then be lined with a synthetic fabric, known as a geotextile lining, with underground storage tanks inserted at varying depths beneath the ground. 

“This would ensure the route has access to sufficient ground water,” he continued. “We would then place different types of soil into the excavated route because different soils allow different plant species to grow along the same route.”

This rejuvenation of this underground area would improve the soil, allowing for the growth of productive trees. In addition, re-designing the soil profiles leads to greater biodiversity, improved ground water storage and generally a more productive landscape. 

Fellow architectural landscape student, Saudah Asmal, placed second with her dissertation entitled “Living on the land: Redesigning land use relationships in the Philippi Horticultural Area”. The area in focus is Cape Town’s primary farming area with the idea of consolidating environmental, agricultural and development forces in an effort to support one another, resulting in the protection of all food and water resources in the area. 

“I believe that ensuring protection and sustainability of this marginalised area and its people is necessary to safeguard against food insecurity in the city,” she explained. 

Corobrik’s Manager Western Cape, Christie van Niekerk, said the 2016 projects showed how upcoming students are using the knowledge learnt to improve the lives of those around them. 

“These transformative ideas, mitigating the devastating effects of climate change and ensuring food sustainability for the impoverished members of community are ideas we feel are important to support and nurture,” explained Van Niekerk. 

Dr Julian Raxworthy, Convenor of the Master of Landscape Architecture programme at UCT, said Kelly’s unusual focus on soil thoroughly impressed examiners. “The dissertation’s emphasis was on the invisible layers below the surface which then caused different conditions on the surface. In addition to the theory, his beautiful graphics really ‘made the ground speak’.”

Commenting on the awards’ programme, Raxworthy said: “Landscape architecture is a small industry and the attention Corobrik gives really emphasises its importance. Knowing this award exists motivates our students to come up with new ideas.”

Caption: 

Corobrik 1333:  Back row, from left, Christie van Niekerk of Corobrik, Dr. Julian Raxworthy UCT lecturer - course convenor, Siyanda Mapekula and Werner Oelofse of Corobrik

Front row is runner up Saudah Asmal and the winner of Corobrik’s Most Innovative Final Year Landscape Architecture Award, Stuart Kelly