The Emergence of Vertical Gardens

Leigh Nicholson



In 1938 an American by the name of Stanley Hart White applied for a patent for his vertical garden structure and concept. This was duly granted and nothing more was heard about it, until recently. 

The emergence of vertical gardens as landscapes was brought about by growing legislation to control the quality of air in urban areas and so architects started looking for ways to increase greenery in dense urban spaces. The French botanist Patrick Blanc fascinated by how plants survived and adapted to peculiar situations, in particular vertical surfaces, came to the rescue. Blanc’s approach was that plants do not need soil. He claims soil is nothing more than a mechanistic support. He suggested that water and the many minerals dissolved in it, together with light and carbon dioxide to conduct photosynthesis, are the only essential things to plants. Blanc’s assessment was that plants in the wild are growing on vertical surfaces and wherever water is available; in tropical forests, in temperate mountain forests and that the plants can grow on rocks, tree trunks and soil-less slopes. In Malaysia for instance, out of the 8,000 known species about 2,500 are growing without any soil.

Thus if you think of a cliff with plants growing on it; what you have is a vertical structure with a medium where the plants can establish their roots and support themselves while also getting the required nutrients for growth. Therefore the idea of a living wall is nothing more than a wall completely covered in vegetation. Modern day vertical gardens attempt to simulate the same environment and can do this in a number of ways. 

One approach is to create large scale rigid structures which are incorporated into the infrastructure of architectural designs. They are used to clad buildings, (both indoors as well as outdoors), along with other landforms such as tunnels, slopes and walls. The majority of systems have evolved from the Blanc hydroponic style, no longer utilising soil as the growing medium, but using layers of inert growing mediums with nutrients provided via irrigation. These gardens are commonly referred to as ‘artificial green walls’.Other variations which utilise soil as a growing medium have emerged and these are typically referred to as ‘natural green walls’. The benefits of soil based vertical gardens is that these types of gardens have a greater impact upon the biodiversity of the environment and allow a greater variety of plant environments to be established, providing natural habitats for both additional flora and fauna. 

This form of urban gardening is often designed as an art form to decorate buildings in cities and has been hailed as one way to make cities more enjoyable, healthier and ultimately greener places. From this a new science has emerged on how humans need nature to be healthy and happy. Biophilia is the term which literally means ‘love of life or living systems.’ It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Edward O. Wilson, the American biologist, introduced and popularized the biophilia hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984), where he defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. The hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology. Research into this area is providing some interesting findings correlating human health with a proximity to nature. Studies shows the emotional and psychological benefits of nature is mounting and can result in reduced stress, improved recovery from illness, enhancement of cognitive skills and academic performance, assistance in moderating the effects of ADHD, autism and other childhood illnesses. All these values are in addition to the immense economic value of the ecological services provided by natural systems. 

Hanging Gardens recognizes the need for biophilic workplaces, for healing gardens in hospitals, for homes and apartments that provide abundant daylight, natural ventilation, plants and greenery. However less attention has been focused on the city or urban scale, despite the fact that the planet continues an inexorable trend in the direction of urbanization. The agenda is one that must extend beyond conventional urban parks and beyond building-centric green design. It is about redefining the very essence of cities as places of wild and restorative nature, from rooftops to roadways to river fronts. It is about understanding cities as places that already harbour much nature and places that can become, through bold vision and persistent practice, even greener and richer in the nature they contain. These factors have stimulated urban design and modern architecture to focus an increasing amount of attention on these areas to ensure that the quality of life is maintained in urban areas. As a result vertical spaces are being viewed with new interest and ‘living walls’ and ‘vertical gardens’ have become generic terms for these types of spaces. 

On the broader scale, health and climate change concerns are driving increasing amounts of legislation regarding the quality of the environment. According to Tim Flannery in his book ‘Here on Earth’, CO2 levels peaked naturally about ten thousand years ago around 265 parts per million. CO2 slowly began to increaseand around 1800 it stood at 280 parts per million. It is suggested that this rise was due to the growth in agriculture, in particular rice production. Over the past 200 years, humans have increased the CO2 in the atmosphere by a whopping 30%. The excess has come from two sources, 40% from the destruction of forests and the rest from burning fossil fuels. James Lovelock believes that 9 out of every 10 of us living in this century will die from climate impacts, leaving a population clinging in refuges in places such as Greenland and New Zealand. If we could reverse the deforestation trend and by 2050 restore between 8 and 17 percent of what we have destroyed, then between forty billion and two hundred billion tonnes of CO2 could be captured in the growing rainforest. 

It is sometimes claimed that if humanity became extinct the earth would look after itself. That may be true in the very long term, but in the shorter term disaster would befall many species and ecosystems. That is because theyhave been so deeply compromised and only human efforts keep them functioning properly. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy, along with the Aboriginal land holders, keep dozens of species from extinction. In New Zealand and many other islands, species are kept in existence only through the most careful protection from introduced pests. Even in the UK, active management is required to preserve species. As the pace of climate change increases and as urbanisation intensifies, to the point where for the first time in human history, more people live in urban areas than in the rural environment, our efforts to protect nature will become more critical. 

What makes the emergence of vertical gardens so interesting, is that gardens were originally used as mediators between the rural an urban environments where there was once the city and then the garden. This concept changed in 1857, when Olmstead led the movement, with his plan for Central Park to have the garden in the city. The garden was seen as the solution to the ills of the unhealthy industrial city.

In the second half of the 20th century Ian McHarg started the rise of the landscape ecology movement. This led to the concept of the garden as the city and placed the landscape at the forefront of future cities. This reliance ona beneficent ecology to control human activity fell short of improving human interactions. Cities require density and a legible civic purpose. Diminishing natural resources, rapid climate change, energy efficiency and population growth are delivering compelling economic arguments for dense forms of urban development. So now we are back to the garden in the city. As a result, the designed landscape, ecology, urban planning and the architectural form are now equal partners in the making of a city as part of the larger strategy of urban, environmental, economic and social regeneration. 

Within the urban fabric, designed landscapes must now mediate between the urban architecture and the larger landscaped ecological infrastructure and this must be an imaginative, sustaining and biophysical intervention to rejuvenate the urban culture with the idea of nature.

Vertical gardens have a significant role in the dense urban environments to bring gardens back into the city, as Olmstead advocated way back in the mid 1800’s. Vertical surfaces of buildings are part of the public realm and provide vast amounts of square metres that cannot be used by other disciplines, except art. These spaces must be maximised to manage water runoff, urban temperatures, noise, insulation, air quality and of course aesthetically, to bring the much needed garden back into the city for the preservation of biodiversity as well as for human wellbeing.

The Emergence of Possibilities: Garden of Knowledge

Heather Wilkins



According to the Quality of Life in New Zealand Cities Survey 2014 (1), population growth and change in our cities impact on the relationships people have with others and their sense of belonging to an area. Informal networks and how people connect with others are important factors for strong communities and social cohesion, which in turn supports social and economic development in our cities.

While a recent study by Auckland Council found that the majority of Aucklanders aged over 50 are satisfied with their lives, health and living standards, and are engaged with their families and communities, there are some challenging trends emerging. Increasing uncertainty amongst the older population around housing affordability, income security and personal security are feelings that many Aucklanders can relate to. What is more confronting are results which highlight that over half of the survey sample were lonely; depression was a factor for a significant minority, and too many experience everyday discrimination because of their age. (2)

Auckland’s population aged 65 years and over is projected to more than double between 2006 and 2031. Over 320,000 people aged over 65 will be living in the region by 2031, and of these, over 40,000 people will be aged 85-plus.(3) As the size of Auckland’s older population increases, so does the need for Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs); the way we have traditionally designed RACFs – sprawling single-level dwellings, set into park-like grounds - no longer satisfies either the market demand for independent lifestyle-lead care nor Auckland Council’s desire for a compact city.

These problems are not unique to Auckland or New Zealand. Globally the relationship between the design of RACFs and the surrounding environment is becoming a focus of attention as the world’s population grows and ages. As highlighted by the UK Design Council (4), a child born 50 years ago had a one in ten chance of reaching 100; a child born today has a chance greater than one in four; due to better nutrition, healthcare and safety. However, this does not necessarily imply increased mental or social fulfilment as Chief Design Officer Matt Hunter notes: “As our bodies weaken, so can our sense of purpose in life as well as our social networks… We have added years to our lives, but now we need to add life to our years.”

The links between the social and the physical environment however, have been neglected in empirical and theoretical research in the field of Environmental Gerontology, the study of the interaction between the older person and their social, natural and psychological environments. (5) There are very few examples of the use of community gardening specifically targeted towards older people sharing knowledge with younger generations. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (6) has produced a fact sheet on Elder Accessible Community Gardening, which highlights three community gardens that cater for the elderly. Cultivating Community Through Gardens: pairing gardeners (e.g., young-with-old and experienced-with-inexperienced) provides increased accessibility to community gardens and strengthens the communities where the gardens are grown. Knowledge of effective gardening practices can be passed from generation to generation, along with cultural information about the meaning of food and plants to different people from different times.


In response to the prevailing conditions, Garden of Knowledge aims to improve the quality of life for older people by establishing community gardens inside a residential aged care facility. As part of Committee for Auckland’s Future Auckland Leaders programme the project facilitates a partnership between local youth groups and a RACF. 

The project reduces social isolation and provides an outlet for cognitive and physical stimulation, with additional benefits such as increased interest amongst residents in the content and style of meals provided (raw, fresh from the garden) and participation in wider sustainability initiatives (waste reduction, composting). By bringing young local volunteers in to assist residents with getting out and working in the gardens, the transfer of knowledge is twofold: the younger people learn practical gardening skills from the residents, while the older people learn about what is happening in the lives of today’s younger generation.

Located in Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital in Epsom, the pilot project has received great enthusiasm and support from staff, residents and volunteers from St Cuthbert’s College and St George-Epsom scouts. To establish the trial gardens a community build day was held to construct four new wheelchair accessible garden beds and refurbish two existing planter boxes. The day was intentionally structured to be non-prescriptive, allowing for interactions between young and old to occur and decisions to be made by the participants. While the beds were not exactly built to plan and plants were put in using the ‘throw-it-in-and-see’ approach, what emerged empowered all those involved. 

The typical role of an older person, particularly one residing in a care facility, is that of a submissive agent and a receiver of information. Transforming this role to a provider of information and leader of group decision-making has not always been easy during the trial period. Physical factors such as ill health, inclement weather and unfinished ground surfaces limiting access, have at times hindered the project. Leaving the students and residents to their own devices early on was a deliberate move to allow self-determination. However, the unstructured nature of the project has occasionally resulted in lack of direction, certainty and confidence. At these times, communication was key. Reassurance that what has emerged and is being done is ‘right’ is often all that is needed; after all there is no singular right or wrong way of gardening. The communication has been in the format of thematic workshops for residents and students to actively participate and record the knowledge gained for future reference, facilitated by the Garden of Knowledge team. As a result, a loose seasonal structure for gardeners to follow and the production of templates to fill in and record the successes of various crops has been developed. The compilation of a garden library will assist in the seasons to come.

In terms of community participation, this project demonstrates that the best intended plans cannot be forced upon people. In saying that, a framework (or parameters) needs to be made clear in order to reach an objective. A second community day was held to celebrate the coming of spring and the successes of the project; activities were planned, morning tea was provided and thank-you gifts were purchased. Despite the thoroughness of the run-sheet for the day, turnout was low; this proved that the balance between providing and engaging is difficult to achieve and that the best results occur when the ideas are generated together. Providing direction and structure that allows for flexibility and spontaneity is a matter of scale. Too specific becomes instructive, too broad becomes inertia. Defining a range somewhere in between these end points allows multitudes of possibilities to emerge. The emergence of possibilities is something taken for granted when we are independent and full of health, but preciously appreciated in what can be the routine-ness of life in an aged care facility.


Heather Wilkins, Landscape Architect, Boffa Miskell

Courtney Kitchen, Architect, Ignite Architects/ NZ Institute of Architects

Emma Dent, Auckland University, Development Manager, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

Greg Nelson, Environment Support Manager, The Warehouse

Daniel Williams, Engineer, Northern Regional Manager, Hawkins 

Rakel Liew, Major Events Manager Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED)


(1) Neilsen Research (2014) Quality of Life in New Zealand Cities Survey 2014. Local Government New Zealand, Wellington. Retrieved on 20/11/2014 from http://www.qualityofl

(2) Waldegrave, C., King, P. & Rowe, E. (2012) Aucklanders 50 and over: A health, social, economic and demographic summary analysis of the life experiences of older Aucklanders. Auckland Council, Research, Investigations and Monitoring Unit. Retrieved on 08/11/2014 from

(3) Statistics New Zealand, (2009) Mapping Trends in the Auckland Region: Chapter 8. 65+Population. Statistics New Zealand, Wellington. Retrieved on 08/11/2014 from

(4) Hunter, M. (14 October 2014) Opinion: The link between design and care. Design Council, United Kingdom. Retrieved 11/11/2014 from

(5) Phillips, J., Ajrouch, K., & Hillcoat-Nallétamby, S. (2010). The SAGE Key Concepts: Key concepts in social gerontology. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi:

(6) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (September 2011)Elder-Accessible Gardening: A Community Building Option for Brownfields Redevelopment U.S. EPA Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization. Retrieved on 08/11/2014 from

A Ngā Tamatoa perspective on emergence In the built environment

Rameka Alexander-Tu’Inukuafe



As design practitioners who work within the realm of Papatuanuku and Ranginui; the issues of climate change and growing populations confront us. What are emerging and future issues which will begin to challenge architecture, landscape architecture and design practitioners here in Aotearoa New Zealand? 175 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, how do we as design practitioners engage with Māori (iwi, hapū, marae, whanau)?  Have the NZIA (New Zealand Institute of Architects) and NZILA (New Zealand Institue of Landscape Architecture) made much progress over the past 20 years in engaging with the Treaty and Māori design practitioners? Further more would this have happened without Māori design practitioners driving this ‘bicultural’ partnership?

I recently discovered an article, ‘Relish the difference’, in Architecture New Zealand, dated March/April 1994, in which Rau Hoskins discusses biculturalism with Mike Barns, Tony Ward and Peter Maher. I would compare this group to an architectural version of the Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa, who stood up for Māori rights in the 1970s. I very much admire the perspective of the 1994 article and how it cuts to the chase: “In terms of the Treaty, we shouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today about the need to promote architecture in your magazine or talk about it, you should be able to look out the window and its there” states Barns; and “whoever controls the resources controls the culture,” states Ward. “The notion of biculturalism is meaningless unless you have equality of access and control over resources – without this, partnership cannot exist.”

Mike Barns explains that Māori people are acquiring a large proportion of the natural resources in this country and suggests: “Within twenty years, Māori are going to own a large proportion of the public assets, probably around 30%. Why are we churning graduates out the architectural schools who know nothing about Māori as clients?” Ward, however, is also hopeful about the future of Māori architecture stating, “We’re talking about a different way of approaching design, where what results emerges from the people themselves, and the architect is merely the vessel whereby that happens; the servant of the people, the mouthpieces of the people...not separate from them. Part of them, bound into them, intimately connected with their culture, loving it, valuing it for its difference.”

Therefore the question is, has there been progress since this 1994 ‘bicultural architecture’ discussion? In terms of Māori architecture being more visible, we have people like Rau Hoskins and Rewi Thompson at the forefront of that, the airing of the Whare Maori television documentary series, ‘Te Hononga’ Māori architectural studio at UNITEC. The recent Venice Biennale kaupapa led by David Mitchell, Rau Hoskins and others, Deidre Brown’s Maori Architecture book, the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles, Ivan Mercep and Tūhoe descendant Brendan Himona’s landmark Te Kura Whare - Tūhoe’s living building. Along with the steadily increasing number of Maori architectural graduates.

In terms of landscape architecture, specifically Dr Diane Menzies article ‘Whose Place?’ in the 2013/2014 X-Section Journal No. 3 suggests there is still plenty of work to be done within the landscape profession here in Aotearoa. With Menzie stating “if the profession fails to extend beyond tokenism by recognising other cultural values in practice, then those from non-western cultures are likely to turn their back on the profession. This is already occurring in New Zealand where some Māori perceive landscape architects as unresponsive and disinterested in Māori cultural values”. I know the recent 2013 IFLA World Congress seems to have been a catalyst for more meaningful engagements between the NZILA and Māori landscape practitioners here in Aotearoa, with people such as Phil Wihongi, Damian Powley and Josephine Clarke being able to voice their perspectives on a global stage. Brendan Himona and I also attended a critique for a landscape studio earlier this year at Unitec, led by Phil and others, focussed on a papakainga development for Ngāti Rauwaka ki te Tonga down in the South Waikato.  

However if you take people like Rau and Phil Wihongi from the equation and other Māori practitioners, would there have been as much progression? I would suggest that not as much would have been achieved without Māori driving this. The recent Memorandum of Understanding between Nga Aho (Māori design practitioners) and NZIA is a perfect case in point; if it was not for Māori practitioners pushing for this, then it would not have happened. I do not think we will see a big shift until we see the changing of the guard across the board, be it in education, the NZIA and NZILA and the design profession; including gaining more Māori architects and landscape architects, skilled in both Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākehā, in positions of influence within architectural practices.  

To really achieve buy in we need more Māori architects and landscape architects changing things from the inside of established practices, such as in Jasmax; practitioners who can influence the wider industry. This can also be achieved in the architecture schools, within Auckland Council, Nga Aho and, hopefully, the NZIA and NZILA coming on board. This will assist in ensuring the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles are a recognized engagement and design framework throughout the architecture and design industry. Both Māori and non-Māori designers will better engage with iwi, mana whenua and Māori clients. This should see a change in the built environment, with outcomes becoming more refined over time. 

The other big influence will be iwi themselves. Māori tribal organisations, who are leading projects (not just there to make up the numbers or be problematic stakeholders as some would believe) are demanding that our built environment reflects Māori values. There is no reason why there should not be more purpose-built tribal, cultural centres and iwi-led commercial projects. Ultimately, I’d love to see more built environment projects where there are Māori clients, stakeholders and Māori designers with a kaupapa Māori (purpose). Rau spoke of this in a recent Unitec research publication; he defined Māori architecture as “anything that involves a Māori client with a Māori focus”. (1)


What is exciting is that I do not think this is too far away. I can think of at least 10 Māori graduates – with a range of tribal affiliations and of various levels of experience, who in the next five to 10 years will reach a point where they can lead the design of a range of projects. Why should there not be an architectural and design practice of the scale of Jasmax with Māori aspirations at its focal point and with Māori architects and designers leading the way? 

Alongside this, and with the best resources and technical expertise, I think iwi would be keen to work with a practice like this. There would be no longer a need for a constant dialogue and translation of Māori concepts between mainstream designers and Māori cultural consultants (not if Māori concepts were embedded within architectural education). More time would be spent in the articulation of Māori architecture and design, rather than the current status quo of constantly educating and up skilling others.

Māori architecture and landscape architecture would also move towards the development of Māori design language specific to a rohe or a tribal area, much in the way the language or even carving styles can be traced to a certain area, iwi and carver. In the not too distant future Tūhoe will have a team of architects, landscape architects and engineers, etc; clearly engaged in their unique Tūhoe world view, with the right skills and knowledge to lead the design of a range of commercial and residential developments. There also should be a place for tohunga whakairo, master carvers to form an integral part of the design process. We can return to more traditional Māori practices whereby architect, landscape architect, engineer, builder and carver were one in the same or, at least, arrive at a position where these experts work collectively, rather than in isolation.

So what could be an ongoing vision for Māori architecture and landscape architecture over the course of the next 20 years? Both Māori and non-Māori as architectural and landscape practitioners will reach a cross roads of sorts. An opportunity exists to let go of past mamae, hurt, prejudices, distrust, insecurities, and in some cases racist and narrow minded views and embrace the new opportunities that exist within the exiting new world of the Te Aranga Māori Design Principles era and the growing post treaty settlement iwi driven economy.  

From a Māori perspective we need iwi, tertiary institutions and industry bodies such as the NZIA and NZILA to recognize the value of investing in architectural students and graduates. We also need our Māori graduates to carry on in the footsteps of both Māori and Pākehā architectural practitioners such as Rewi Thompson, Rau Hoskins, Phil Wihongi, Josephine Clarke, Brendan Himona and Ivan Mercep; as well as becoming the next generation of Ngā Tamatoa , Māori architectural and landscape activists creating new pathways for Māori within both industries.  For our treaty partners, I would suggest you get on the waka while you can or you might get left behind. And if you are smart, you will start hiring and supporting Māori architects and landscape architects, graduates and students with the knowledge that Aotearoa New Zealand is quickly changing, and that a large number of property developers, clients, key stakeholders, and potential business partners will be sophisticated, educated and culturally connected Māori. 

No reira ka mutu enei whakaaro whakatoi mai i tēnei tamaiti nō Te Tai Tokerau, i roto i ngā kupu rongonui o te rangatira nei a Tamati Kruger. To conclude and to symbolise the opportunity that exists for us all, I leave you with a proverb that was recently used by Tūhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger:

“Let these words guide our way to a greenstone door - tatau pounamu - which looks back on the past and closes it, which looks forward to the future and opens it.”


(1) Advance - Research with Impact, Spring 2014, ‘A Maori Approach’

Therapeutic, sensory and healing gardens

Julia Moore



Many of us know the expression, ‘green is good’, but how many of us recognise that a landscape can also be good for our health? Growing evidence demonstrates that landscapes are a proven aid to health and wellbeing. It achieves this, not just by providing outdoor places designed to keep us physically fit and healthy; landscape can also help us address the more hidden areas of good health management. For example, for children well managed landscapes can aid learning and help them develop social, cognitive and emotional behaviour. Within the adult population they can help alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stress and even depression. (1) Having good quality landscape around people and the places they work is certainly ‘good for us’ and is an invaluable investment. 

I recently visited the USA where I had the opportunity to see many new and innovative landscape designs. Speaking with landscape and healthcare professionals it was quite evident that many are championing investment into the concept of ‘landscape of health’. As part of this movement, therapy gardens are being built with increasing frequency in healthcare settings. (2) Therapy gardens are green spaces that have been specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological and social needs of the people using the garden, as well as their caregivers, family members, friends and employees. These healing environments are not just limited to hospitals, they can be found in a variety of settings including nursing homes, retirement communities and hospices.  

As early as 1993 the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) were developing best practice and evidence based design principles around the design of these therapeutic gardens. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) now has an independent group of people dedicated to increasing the awareness and importance of therapeutic gardens. (3)

During my trip I visited Portland, Oregon where I was fortunate to meet with Teresia Hazen, M.Ed., HTR, QMPH. Teresia is a leading professional in Therapeutic Garden Design and management and is the coordinator of the Therapeutic Gardens and Horticultural Therapy for Legacy Health System. She oversees several therapeutic gardens throughout Oregon and Washington states and was kind enough to give me a guided tour of several of the gardens at Emmanuel Medical Centre, including ‘The Children’s Garden & Childrens Terrace’ and the ‘Randall Burns Garden.’  

The Emanuel children’s garden was designed in 1996 through a phased construction approach, the final stages opening in 1999.  Over 19 disciplines were involved in the development stages of this garden. These ranged from Speech Therapists to School Teachers, Spiritual Care staff and Landscape Architects, all of whom had very specific goals and needs for the garden setting. The goal for the design team was to create a therapeutic and restorative garden with the main focus on paediatric patients, their families and the healthcare professionals that are involved with the treatment of these patients. 

Conditions within the gardens were supportive to ensure it was a safe, secure and comfortable environment. The gardens offered a universal design to accommodate the needs of outpatients, ambulatory children and their families to siblings that need to ‘run off steam’. At times the garden was also required to provide for adult patient rehabilitation therapy and programmed activities. In a few instances the gardens are set aside as the location for patients to peacefully pass away in a natural and peaceful setting – away from the sterile hospital rooms.


Key design interventions ensured children and their families were provided with a place to play and explore in a home-like setting.  Year round rehabilitation is undertaken in the garden, therefore the built structure of the garden had to be modified to improve accessibility including stairs, ramps and inclines, providing opportunities for cognitive and physical activities. Wheelchair users also had to be incorporated as well as seating being provided to support those with decreased balance as well as places for other users to sit. There were areas for walking and break out zones for solitude and gathering. The plant media used in the garden ensured four seasons of sensory stimulation. 

The latest edition to legacy gardens is the Children’s Terrace, located on the second floor. This garden provides wonderful views of the children’s garden below. Following similar design process to the children’s garden below this garden provides diversions and solitude to patients, staff and other hospital visitors. 

This stage of the Legacy Emmanuel project was supported with a $560,000(USD) grant from the TKF Foundation (4), a philanthropy dedicated to the creation of spaces that provide opportunities to connect with nature. Discussions with Teresia and the benefactor highlighted the important commitment to clinical research these projects require. Often a large percentage of the funding received for these therapy gardens is allocated for research and data collection. In one particular instance three PhD students were involved in data collection at one such garden. Data collected regarding the use of the garden along with subsequent interviews with patients and family was aimed at gathering evidence to prove the health benefits of these spaces and to ultimately elevate the recognition of these gardens in the healthcare industry as exemplar models as well as being able to influence standards in ongoing practice. 

Teresia hoped this research would be able to influence those at the highest level in the American Health System where there is still an underlying need for many to understand that nature heals. The research aims to demonstrate the fact that these gardens are a cost effective (initial investment plus ongoing maintenance) mechanism when it comes to measuring the dollar value of health.    

So the question needs to be asked,where does this leave us in New Zealand?  The implementation and use of ‘Green’ space is largely ignored in New Zealand mainstream, public health and practice. Therapy gardens are few and far between in our hospitals and those that are available often lack the scientific design rigour executed in those gardens incorporated into American healing environments. 

Due to the rising costs of healthcare and the increasing challenges that physical and mental health services are facing alongside the global phenomenon of an ageing population there is undoubtedly an opportunity to review how we in New Zealand view the use of green space in the healing process. Landscape architects can play a role individually and collectively by utilising salutogenic design principles. Designing spaces that focuses on health and wellbeing as well as providing good quality, safe and functional spaces not only have a positive effect on human health, they also carry significant economic and ecological benefits.


(1) Chalfont, G.E., and S. Rodiek. 2005. Building Edge: An Ecological Approach to Research and Design of Environments for People with Dementia. Alzheimer’s Care Today 6, 4: 341.

(2) Hazen, T (2013). Therapeutic Garden Characteristics. A quarterly publication of the American Horticultural Therapy Association 21,2: 3.

(3) Nature Sacred (2015) Nature Sacred Retrieved from

(4) Annapolis, Md.


Sibyl Bloomfield





What role can Landscape Architecture play in increasing the adaptive capacity of coastal settlements and ensuring the ongoing viability of both social and ecological systems?

Historically human inhabitation has been focused around bodies of water; in New Zealand particularly, access to our coastlines is considered a birthright. (1) The threat of potential sea level rise is putting increasing pressure on coastal environments. Human intervention into coastal landscapes is having a significant effect on the stability and health of our coastal environments and their ability to respond to change. (2,3) The increasing demand for coastal property has seen economic incentives take precedence over the ecological and environmental values, and increasingly coastlines are being overtaken by large-scale developments. The need to develop a resilient and mutually beneficial relationship between these dynamic coastal zones and the human inhabitation is becoming increasingly apparent.

The current models of response to threats to coastal inhabitation are predominantly ‘retreat’ or ‘blockade’. (4) The Netherlands are the most widely recognized exponents of the ‘blockade response’ with complex systems of dykes and reclamations.(5)  More recently with the increasingly noticeable effects of climate change and sea level rise, managed ‘retreat responses’ are becoming more common.(6) Moving back to more stable ground and leaving the edge to its own devices neither addresses the history of human inhabitation of the coastal edge nor deals with the vulnerable nature of the coastal system appropriately. The discussion around the occupation of dynamic landscapes needs to move away from one of control and mitigation and toward greater symbiosis.

Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of coastal threats; therefore coastal communities need to be better equipped to respond to them. Design-led approaches that acknowledge both human inhabitation and the dynamic nature of the coastal environment are imperative if we are to continue to live the ‘kiwi dream’ of beach holidays in coastal landscapes. The worldwide trend to develop sensitive and ephemeral barrier formations on our coast highlights, in particular the development style and financial investment that is under threat from climate change and sea level rise.

Open space is critical in providing a buffer between coastal processes and coastal settlements. The recreational and natural amenity these spaces provides value to the community while also increasing the flexibility of the natural environment. Most importantly these open spaces, if planned and designed appropriately, can play a crucial role in absorbing coastal threats and increasing the value of the settlements. 

Both urban design and landscape architecture deals with a complex range of stakeholders, often with opposing views. This makes these disciplines appropriate lenses for addressing the tensions and challenges involved in responding to climate change and its impacts to coastal settlements. With design as the interface between the conflicting needs of ecological and socioeconomic systems, a more symbiotic relationship between them can be created. There needs to be a greater understanding of the role that humans can play as part of the holistic system and not as the primary component. In the socio-ecological system adaptability can be defined by “the collective capacity of the human actors in the system to manage resilience”. (7) Our way of life is completely integrated into, and reliant on the continuing health and resilience of all inter-related systems both natural and man-made.

Building adaptive capacity within coastal settlements will increase their resilience and create space within the community for the absorption of gradual changes, while also providing a platform for faster recovery in the event of any larger scale disturbances. Nicholls and Klein propose five approaches to proactive adaptation to climate change:

  • Increasing robustness of infrastructural designs and long-term investments
  • Increasing flexibility of vulnerable managed systems
  • Enhancing adaptability of vulnerable natural systems
  • Reversing maladaptive trends 
  • Improving societal awareness and preparedness (8)

These approaches are tangible; they represent actions and ideals that are accessible and have sufficient definition to form a framework against which a design process and outcomes can be assessed. They deal with both social and environmental issues and cover concepts explored by both the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the Resilience Alliance. Proactive adaptation needs to embrace the concept of redundancy in resilience thinking by providing for change, in both social and physical realms without being specific about the form that it may take to build adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is about latency and flexibility creating space for responsive adaptation within the socio-ecological system. The link between resilience, or adaptive capacity building and design, needs to be further explored, so that resilience can be given an accessible face that engages community interest, for reasons other than simple necessity. 

The relationship between socio-economic and ecological systems on the coast is fraught with misunderstandings and one-sided arguments. Design, and in particular landscape architecture ,plays a critical role as the interface between ecological needs and socio-economic needs and wants; with design as the interface the relationship can be symbiotic. The strategies developed in response to the issues identified in the design studies provide a platform for finer-grained design moves that will interface the natural environment values with those of the settlement community.

Robustness of social capital, economic value and long term investments can be developed through the creation of high value social spaces that encourage community interaction and social capital building. Building and maintaining a strong sense of place and community identity relies on strong public spaces and high value natural character that the community is closely engaged with. Community engagement in and responsibility for the interlinked ecological systems that characterize the sand spit community is important; particularly in settlements where the majority of the population is temporary. Social capital drives economic and social investment and leads the way for robust infrastructural designs that support and enhance the natural environment.

Flexibility in the man-made environment, as well as in the natural systems is critical for increasing adaptive capacity. Space must allow for changes, both ecologically and socially driven, to ensure the continued viability of coastal sand spit settlements. This must also be achieved in ownership and management responsibilities, to allow for greater diversity in both the social and ecological systems. Encouraging shared responsibility and ownership creates space for change in both the ecological and built fabrics, providing greater flexibility in all elements of the physical environment and socio-economic and ecological systems. This space allows the design to absorb changes in the environment. 

Adaptation is a response to change; and adaptive capacity is the space that is made to allow for changes. Space is not just a physical phenomenon, it can be created through social awareness to accommodate changes without being adversely disruptive. Creating space or tolerance is part of building robustness and increasing flexibility. A strong foundation, built from robust social and ecological capital, and supported by robust infrastructural designs, provides a framework within which change can happen without disrupting the sense of place or social character. 

Adaptive capacity is about absorbing and responding to change. Adapting allows gradual change and growth of the entire socio-ecological system concurrently. Enhancing the natural systems through regeneration, conservation programs and public awareness of the value of natural processes and eco-system services, is an integral part of increasing their adaptive capacity.

Identifying and reversing maladaptive trends in development, land management, infrastructural designs and societal attitudes is recognised worldwide. However the process of changing habits and short-term-goal driven attitudes is complicated. The importance of creating an attractive package is obvious. Society is more likely to buy into wholesale changes if the changes are wrapped attractively in ‘added value’ and ‘increased surety’. 

Awareness builds preparedness; the strength of infrastructural and social systems is critical in response to potential threats that will be exacerbated by climate change. The natural environment has been responding and changing for millennia. The impact of coastal threats affects the social and built fabric most severely. If coastal settlements are to increase their adaptive capacity then awareness of, and preparedness for, potential threats is critical.

Adaptive capacity is achieved through creating open space. Open space allows flexibility, which in turn ensures a robust coastal system. Design is a medium for generating space, which can both mediate and encourage symbiosis between, the wants and needs of the community and the ecological imperatives of the natural environment. Successfully designed open spaces within our coastal environment can perform environmental services and social ones, creating and supporting the interaction of natural and man-made systems to ensure the ongoing resilience of the coastal settlement.


(1) Peart, Raewyn. Castles in the Sand. Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2009.

(2) Hilton, M, U Macauley & R. Henderson. “Inventory of New Zealands’s Active Dunelands.” 2000. Science for Conservation 157. 2009. <>.

(3) McFadgen, B. “Archaeology of the Wellington Conservancy: Kapiti-Horowhenua.” 1997. Department of Conservation. 2009. < technical/kapitiarch.pdf>.

(4) Beca Carter Hollings & Ferner. “Omaha Coastal Compartment Management Plan.” 2003. Rodney District Council. 2009 <>.

(5) Visser, J. & Misdorp, R. “Coastal Dynamic Lowlands – The Role of Water in the Development of The Netherlands: Past, Present, Future.” 1998. documents/00000496_C4.105-108.pdf. 2009.

(6) Beca Carter Hollings & Ferner.(2003)

(7) Walker, Brian; Holling, C. S; Stephen R. Carpenter & Ann Kinzig. “Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-ecological Systems”. 2004. The Resilience Alliance. <>.

(8) Nicholls, Robert J. & Richard J. T. Klein. “Climate Change and Coastal Management on Europe’s Coast.” (Eds), J. E. Vermaat et al. Managing European Coasts: Past, Present and Future. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag Berlin, 2005. 199-225.


Re-imagining a city: 21st Century Landscape Architecture

Mike Thomas



Cities are, and will continue to be, a defining feature of our civilisation.1 There are not many cities that have the opportunity to re-establish themselves; to wipe a slate clean and start-over. Christchurch has had this opportunity forced upon it and whilst it is implausible that a nation would ever willingly choose to do so, it is now a reality that ignites an enthusiasm for the visionary re-making of a city. 

The story of the Christchurch re-build to date is well-publicised, well-researched and well-debated; where there has been so much loss, so much sorrow and suffering, establishing how to start again will inevitably (rightly so) invoke a passionate discussion as to what is ‘the best foot forward’. It is the outcome from 100,000 voices that has prompted just that. The CCC’s (Christchurch City Council) award winning ‘Share an Idea’ initiative identified that Cantabrians wanted “a greener, more accessible city with a compact core and a stronger built identity”, where the cyclist, pedestrian and public utility is prioritised over the motorist and city-sprawling development.

In formulation of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, CERA, CCC, Ngāi Tahu and industry specialists established Anchor Projects and precincts within the city’s core that are essential to creating a social, economic and cultural capital; with their aim to attract people permanently back to the city centre. Recognising that the recovery of a modern city centre is reliant upon 21st century landscape architecture and a high level of collaboration between these specialist skills and stakeholders, one of the first above ground infrastructure projects commissioned was Phase 1 of An Accessible City; a project to reinstate a transportation network with streetscapes that change the way people move through and occupy their central city.

Projections in growth indicate that unless travel is shared across modes, the city centre will become gridlocked. Christchurch is historically a car city, with most people living outside the centre in low density sprawl that continues to spread to new, more seismically stable sites. The car is more than taken for granted; it is central to existence in Christchurch. The effects of traffic in the city centre prior to the quakes was a barrier to the delivery of active transport infrastructure, as well as the prosperity of streets blighted by the one-way system, resulting in the rise of Christchurch’s doughnut ring of malls, and subsequently the decline of the city centre. Thankfully, Christchurch is also a cycle city, with high commuter and recreational cyclist volumes; if more cycle infrastructure was offered, it would be taken up. While the bus continues to be perceived by many as the ‘low quality travel option’, patronages are high. It is not difficult to imagine demand increasing as the central city is rebuilt and repopulated with businesses and residents. 

An Accessible City Phase 1 developed by the City*Sense team (AECOM, Aurecon, Jasmax and specialist consultants), consists of three streetscape packages for the development of Hospital Corner, Cambridge Terrace/Durham Street and Manchester Street. This is both a public realm project and a transportation project that will enable a three-fold increase in public transport and cycle movements by 2041, as well as making Christchurch’s city centre more walkable and easier to cycle within a new 30km/hr zone. It will also provide developer and investor confidence that will fuel the rebuild, especially on Manchester Street; of which 90% has been demolished. 

Elements of a ‘complete street’ approach have been adopted for these packages, which portion the road corridor between all transportation modes, favouring walking and cycling as well as efficient bus movements, over other vehicles. Their intended purpose is to create a safer, more convenient and accessible travel corridor for all. In utilising this approach, the planning has enabled Manchester Street to be widened, allowing the addition of three lines of trees, and putting distance and objects (such as parked cars, rain gardens, tree and bus stops) between transit lanes and pedestrian pathways. The packages include a mix of separated cycle lanes and shared cycle-pedestrian surfaces, and improved bus infrastructure has seen the addition of architecturally iconic ‘super stops’ at Manchester and Tuam Streets, dedicated bus lanes and signalisation that ‘gate’ the buses ahead of other traffic.

‘Complete streets’ have been successfully adopted across the US, with the integration of environmental design, in particular, addressing negative environmental impacts associated with both stormwater quality and quantity, seen typically in traditional streets. With Te Papa Otakaro, the Avon River nearby and precious ground water never far from the surface, all three packages have incorporated passive storm water treatment as a key feature. This strategy was implemented through providing ecosystem services as well as opportunities to green the city, 225 street trees and 4000sqm of rain gardens will be indiscernible from garden bed plantings, to subsequently achieve a high level of nutrient cycling detention and visual amenity. 

The adoption and intuitive use of these complete streets will be the measure of their success. With their intended purpose to create a safer and more attractive transportation environment for pedestrians and cyclists and encourage the use of public transport, they respond to the demands of the Recovery Plan. The test in the long term however, will be in determining how effectively they will respond to greater challenges faced by established cities around the world; congestion, crime and vandalism, lifestyle amenity, ease of use for young, ageing and disabled users, and addressing the rich-poor divide. 

Where An Accessible City Phase 1 was the first landscape-driven project for above ground infrastructure, Te Papa Otakaro, the Avon River Park was the first Anchor Project; also landscape-driven. Incorporating the Margaret Mahy Family Playground, Victoria Square and the East Frame public realm, these projects have the ability to reinforce landscape as a highly valued part of the rebuild. Underway in conjunction with the South Frame, the General Hospital, Burwood Hospital, the Criminal Justice and Emergency Precinct, Metro Sports Centre, the new Conference Centre, Performing Arts Precinct, the Earthquake Memorial and Cathedral Square. Along with the Retail Precinct and many other commercial developments such as The Terrave and Stranges Lane; these projects will stand apart as a dense collection of some of New Zealand’s most innovative urban landscape projects. They will have been designed and built within a short 5 year window. These projects will inform a completely new public realm that will be the image of the city’s heritage, and its cultural and physical landscape, and like Napier, willmark an important period in the evolution of the city. Whereas Napier is all about a discernable architectural style, Christchurch will be about its urban landscape.

The continuation of this momentum, and aspiration to achieve ‘a brighter, better’ city however, will be the measure of how influential 21st century landscape architecture practice has been for the success of Christchurch’s reimagining.