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Fire-resistant Landscape Architecture dissertation earns UCT student top Corobrik Award

The devastating Knysna fires of June 2017 almost destroyed the family home of Louise Brukman, a former Master's student at the University of Cape Town. Her parents risked their lives to save the house and many people close to her were unable to their homes. These events inspired her to explore Landscape Architectural solutions that could prevent this kind of disaster.
Her dissertation - ‘Reconfiguring the Burnt Scar’- not only tackled this global problem but also earned her Corobrik’s Most Innovative Final Year Landscape Architecture Award for 2017.
The annual award – assessed by external examiners - is presented to a Landscape Architecture student with the most innovative dissertation. All graduating students in the UCT Master of Landscape Architecture programme are eligible for the award. Louise Brukman took this year’s top award, earning her the R6 000 prize with the runner-up, Roux Lubbe, walking away with R4 000 for his dissertation, ‘Bee-cause: designing to receive’.
“I’ve always been interested in ‘water-wise’ and ‘fire-resistant’ design and I was researching this subject in June 2017 when the Knysna Fires occurred,” explained Brukman. “I felt there were opportunities within the realms of Landscape Architecture to assist in repairing what was damaged and preventing future catastrophes on such a massive scale.”
Her concept has a range of applications from small scale domestic gardens to vast areas of land, including plantations and the like. It assesses fire management and maintenance practices together with the implementation of fire-resistant vegetation strategies.
“I researched integrated Landscape Architectural systems directed at the protection of both urban and rural areas from micro to macro areas,” she continued. “If a fire breaks out in a micro area, like a domestic garden, this system will form a protective mechanism, retarding and containing the spread of fire to proximate and surrounding areas.
While the dissertation focused on the Knysna region, the principle behind the concept can be applied to various regions globally, with adaptations made to vegetation types depending on the nature of the area.
She explained that the origin of the Knysna fire was within the vicinity of the Pine plantation – a vegetation type that is considered to be an ‘extreme fuel load’. Without sufficient and well-maintained infrastructure or regularly controlled ecological fires, the wildfire spread extremely rapidly to rural, urban and suburban areas including informal settlements. Brukman’s dissertation proposes, among other things, replacing portions of Pine plantations with other commercially-viable trees, which grow at a similar rate but have superior fire resistance characteristics. These areas would be further protected by the introduction of fire-resistant native and non-native vegetation, strategically placed fire breaks and stringent management systems. These systems can be replicated on a smaller scale for domestic gardens for which she has proposed a specific vegetation palette and planting arrangements.
Brukman is confident that the concepts set out in her dissertation are readily capable of practical, economic and effective application.

Taking the second-place title was fellow student, Roux Lubbe, whose ‘Bee-cause: designing to receive’ dissertation explored designing land forms and soil to encourage flowering species that would bridge the boundary between the Cape Honey Bee foraging grounds and bee-pollinated farms. The result would build valuable socio-economic, educational and environmental relationships while alleviating the local Honey Bee crises.
“It is our responsibility as, landscape architects, to weave ecological, economic and social threads through our projects,” explained Lubbe. “These should ultimately tackle environmental issues and drive the economy.”
The project proposes designing land-form in a set of corridors in the sub-urban/agricultural area of upper Elsieskraal River which would nurture a palette of high-nectar producing flower species ideal for bees. These seasonal flowering corridors would splice through farms, bridging the gap between when bees are required for agricultural crop pollination and when the mono-cultural crops don’t produce nectar, but bees still require nutrients for survival.
“The by-products from this scheme, including flowers, honey and other bee products, can be used to assist local small businesses, creating a prosperous local economy,” said Lubbe.
Commenting on the landscaping award, Corobrik’s Manager Western Cape, Christie van Niekerk, said: “This award serves to both acknowledge the work done in the landscape architecture field as well as promoting the incredible concepts emanating from our masters’ students. These dissertations are looking at practical solutions to global problems by encouraging positive work within the natural environment. I hope that those in positions of influence really take note of the ground-breaking suggestions being put forward by these leaders in the landscaping industry.”

Caption:  Louise Brukman is the winner of the 2017 Landscape Architecture student with the most innovative dissertation.  Her dissertation - ‘Reconfiguring the Burnt Scar’-  tackled this global problem following the devastating Knysna fires of June 2017 that almost destroyed her family home.   She is pictured with Siyanda Mapekula from Corobrik.