Former Chair of Landscape Architecture Department at The Harvard University (2003-2009)
Professor of Landscape Architecture and Technology at The Harvard University
Director of Environment and Technology at Harvard University
Faculty member of the Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment
Faculty member of the Harvard University Center for the Environment
Member of the faculty steering committee of The Harvard Global Health Institute
Associate Member of the Institute of Landscape Architects, United Kingdom (ILA)
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
Why wouldn’t you first briefly introduce yourself to our GARLIC audience?
My name is Niall Kirkwood. I’m a Professor of Landscape Architecture and Technology at Harvard Design School where I have been a faculty member for 25 years.
Architect Trevor Dannatt and landscape architect Laurie Olin are those influences Naill Kirkwood most.
As a landscape architect, who influenced you the most, and which design project transformed your design thinking in your life?
To answer the first question: who is the individual, I would say it was probably two people. One was a professor at architecture school that I attended prior to landscape architecture. And the second was a landscape architect. The first one was Trevor Dannatt, who is a little-known architect in United Kingdom where I was trained as an architect. He was most influential in terms of design at a project in detail scale, and at a humanistic level. He was an architect influenced much by the Scandinavian architects, particularly Jacobsen and Aalto.
特雷弗·达纳特（Trevor Dannatt） | © www.royalacademy.org
The second landscape architect was Olin, Laurie Olin, at UPenn, who you know quite well. I had the opportunity to work with him for eight, nine years in very close quarters. From him I learnt really that deep connection that filled with landscape architecture, not just as an academic subject, not just as a study in degree, but actually how one engages with it in the field, not just through design projects but actually how one lives it in terms of everyday experience. And the project probably that was mostly influential was Bryant park, which he was working on and I didn’t work on it, but also, his love particularly of Italianate gardens like the Villa Lante.
谁是对我职业生涯影响最大的人呢？我想说有两位前辈对我影响很大。一位是我在接触景观设计之前所在的建筑学院的教授，另一位是一位景观设计师。第一位是特雷弗·达纳特。我的建筑学学位是在英国取得的，而达纳特正是当地一位鲜为人知的建筑师。他在方案的细节尺度和人文关怀上对我影响很大。他还是一位受北欧建筑师，尤其是雅各布森（Arne Jacobsen）和阿尔托（Alvar Aalto），影响很多的建筑师。
“my current research project is called Global Brown, the idea of this topic is probably one of the most wide-spread across the world in terms of a type of site that either has industrial form and agricultural use that is contaminated both in soils, ground water, air, buildings, and infrastructure, and requires remediation in order to be both healthy, safe and to be able to be reused.”
Your career has been focused on how landscape can be a medium in dealing with post-industrial site such as urban brownfield, landfills, military bases and so on. How those particular types of urban conditions draw your attention? Why those places are important?
That’s a very good question, A little bit of history. When I finished architecture school in England, my first job, ironically, was with a landscape architecture practice in Scotland, Derek Lovejoy Partners. And in 1978,79, the first project I was involved with after graduation, as a younger person, was dealing with a landfill, a post-industrial landfill, in Scotland, United Kingdom, which was a long time ago when there was no work for brownfields. It didn’t exist then. We were dealing with land that was polluted, the land that was subsiding, the land that was actually in an extremely bad shape. Using mostly engineering techniques at that time which was available, we repaired this site and actually turned it into a public park. That was in 1979, quite a long time ago, almost forty years ago. From then I actually began to develop an interest in that type of work, even though later on I wasn’t directly engaged with it. For example, with OLIN’s office, there wasn’t direct engagement with the topic of brownfields, apart from the King’s Cross project in London.
King’s Cross in London by OLIN Partnership 欧林事务所参与设计的伦敦国王十字车站的新广场 | © www.kingscross.co.uk
Why is it important? I think even if I just name my current research project is called Global Brown, the idea of this topic is probably one of the most wide-spread across the world in terms of a type of site that either has industrial form and agricultural use that is contaminated both in soils, ground water, air, buildings, and infrastructure, and requires remediation in order to be both healthy, safe and to be able to be reused. And it is not synonymous just with developed countries, it is also developing countries and other countries from enormous third world. In other words, the problem is large. For example, the oceans are changing the PH right now. the air pollution moves between countries, doesn’t abide by national boundaries. So, I started off talking about the idea of “China Brown”. And I made the proposition four weeks ago in Beijing, that actually China was one big brownfield. I did this for two reasons, one to provoke the audience, which is mostly made up by government officials and academic practitioners, and I expected there would be quite a lot of pushbacks.
Niall Kirkwood’s speaking in Tsinghua University about brownfieds in 2016 | © www.chla.com.cn
But I was pleasantly surprised because five years earlier, six years earlier, at a conference in Suzhou, I gave a similar talk. I had a Chinese landscape architect coming out to me and telling me that actually there are no brownfields in China. In five or six years, the whole field has changed. People are very open to it. They are accepting it as a central part of Chinese landscape. What I was proposing through “China Brown” that the idea instead of trying to develop in a very piecemeal way, you just consider the whole country a brownfield. and then I said, “but don’t think I’m picking on China, because frankly it’s part of a larger idea that I have, which is called Global Brown that the whole earth is a brownfield.”
这个问题很好，我想说些我过去的小故事。当我结束在英国的建筑学习后，意外的是我的第一份工作是在苏格兰的Derek Lovejoy Partners事务所作一名景观设计师。1978、79年，我毕业后的第一个项目就是土地填埋处理，场地是一个位于苏格兰的后工业垃圾填埋场。那是很久以前的项目了，当时还没有关于棕地整治方面的工作，也还没有这种叫法。
为什么我认为这个课题很重要呢？ 我将我目前的研究称作“全球棕地”，“棕地” 现在可能是全球传播最广泛的概念之一了，它特指一类场地，有农业或工业用途，场地内的土壤、地下水、空气、建筑或基础设施已被污染，需要补救措施使它变得健康、安全，能够被重新使用。
事实上，五六年前，我在苏州作了一场类似的讲座，一位中国景观设计师从会场出来对我说：中国没有一片棕土。五、六年后，我很惊喜地发现，学界的观点发生了变化。人们对此态度很开明。他们把这个概念视作有中国景观的很重要部分。这也是我在提出这个概念时想要的态度不仅仅是把整个国家视作一片被污染的场地而已。最后我说不要认为我在挑剔中国，因为 “中国棕地”只是我 “全球棕地”大概念的其中一部分，事实上我认为全球都是一块巨大的棕地。
“And what is happening now in engineering is they are starting to look particularly at some of developing technologies say phytoremediation, which is thought of very much as a speculative, somewhat illusive type of remediation. Now that it’s actually started to be seen as a fairly formidable force and one of the tools to be used in the cleanup sites.”
It is radical that your brownfield research has made a huge impact all over the world. During this long period of time, how do you see the trajectory of the design methods on remediation? And how do you forecast the future of our career in reacting to the increasingly complex challenges in landscape architecture and urban planning.
When I looked at the beginning of this work and that work actually had been started pretty much in the 30s or 40s in Europe
in a very very simple way, mostly through engineering of old mining sites and chalk sites. It was simply seen as a form of engineering. Remediation was applied to a site in different ways, either very actively or passively. And then the site was presented as where a tabula rasa. It was cleaned and something would be done with it. What I was interested in doing was melding, was tying together design, particularly landscape architecture design with their remediation process, where for example, the design itself could be seen as a type of remediation. So, for example, there could be interim or temporary uses to sites during the remediation or as part of the remediation which then might lead to the future uses that might be quite different. So that I think was where design thinking was starting to engage in the brownfields and the remediation world. And what is happening now in engineering is they are starting to look particularly at some of developing technologies say phytoremediation, which is thought of very much as a speculative, somewhat illusive type of remediation. Now that it’s actually started to be seen as a fairly formidable force and one of the tools to be used in the cleanup sites. In Tangshan this summer, I was able to do a phytoremediation installation as part of their international exposition that’s held in this year. About five million people would probably see that project.
Are there any typical remediation techniques that public can easily understand? For example, capping, removing, and phytoremediation on site are three typical remediation methods in engineering. What are their strengths and weakness in its cycle, cost, and benefit?
Again, these are from both of you, very very good questions, I mean, that itself could be a 14-week course, but I would say, in summary, that each site is unique. In other words, there is no general formula that you can bring to say that we must use this type of timing, this type of cost. You have to look at the conditions of a site and the context, particularly cultural, social, environmental and political. So, for example, there are sometimes on large sites, all of these conditions that you just mentioned are present.
Some parts, think of it, the site, as a series of clocks. Some of their clocks they are second and just going fast, some of them are hourly, some of them are monthly, some of them are yearly, some of them are decades, some of them are hundred years. I’m looking at a site that is in Lowell right now which will have remediation for 500 years. 500 years is a long time. Maybe the City of Lowell won’t exist in 500 years. Or maybe it will be different.
So, what I would suggest is that: it’s related to both the context of the place, the political, socioeconomic, and cultural, the environmental conditions. And so, for example, some parts of the site can be remediated right away, at somewhat expensive costs but in limited areas. Some parts, that’s for example, phytoremediation or natural attenuation issues can be much over longer period of time, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, even 20 years.
Capping, I find is really a very common use, the idea of ceiling the site. But in many cases, it’s one of the kind of traditional techniques that’s used that really, I think would be problematic in a long run, because eventually the caps would break down. So, I think that some places will have phyto, capping, electrolysis, natural attenuation.
You may have what is called, there will be a cocktail of pollutants and it would be a chain, as I was using an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) term, a treatment chain of techniques on the same site. How I view the site, the site through design is a choreography. What you are doing is you are placing time, program, use and people on the site in a choreography that you are placing out on the site in terms of how the program might move and change in the way that the remediation moves and changes.
“It is not a garden. It’s basically a demonstration of how phytoremediation, that is the plants, using plants to clean up toxins both in the soil, the sediment, and the groundwater. How they could be used not only to do this as an engineering remediation task, but actually could form the basis of design. And actually, make space, public space for people that actually had both shape, texture, color and form. And so, it’s called the ‘Phyto Garden’, and visitors can go through it and actually learn about what the plants are doing.”
This question is about the built project, could you talk about a brownfield remediation project that you familiar with? What kind of economic, cultural, and social pressure that those kinds of project faced?
Well, one is a site that is in its nascent form. It’s in Lanxi, L-A-N-X-I, a small city near Hangzhou, where we were invited by the mayor to visit. It’s a small city that is attempting to rethink and reframe itself. It had manufacturing, mostly significant refining of metals, heavy industry, somewhat nasty. And they had a series of industrial sites with long, let’s say single story buildings, but 6 or 7 that lined up, with the machinery, still in place and some of the material on the ground. They are quite haunting, they are empty, quite beautiful in a way, but actually also dangerous and polluted.
So, the question the mayor who actually was quite young, maybe in her early 30s, very interesting, very aggressive, strong, positive politician, asked is, you know, what should be the future of these places. And the one thing we were talking to her about was the idea that yes, there are problems here. In fact, we could see it, we are actually standing in it. But also, you are having an amazing cultural resource, you have amenities here, in terms of these spaces. Now it doesn’t mean 6 of these buildings have to be maintained or preserved. But by, for example, discreet demolition of two of them, you could open up a space on the site or a whole set of new programs, and we were even thinking of educational campus could be developed.
Particularly, she was very interested in the idea of engaging both the Department of Civil Engineering, the Department of Remediation, Department of Design to actually develop remediation design as a topic and actually to use the campus. So that’s an example of something that has not happened yet but people are starting to get excited about it.
Tangshan Brownfields Restoration by Niall Kirkwood | © www.gsd.harvard.edu
Tangshan is a little different. Tangshan, which you know is 3 hours from northeast of Beijing, suffered terribly from the 76 earthquakes. It devastated the city and then it rebuilt through industry particularly heavy manufacturing industry. So, like the Duisburg-Nord, it was such a classic engine of production, developing the steel that was needed for China’s growth and development, that also had problems, because it generated, I think, one of the top 10 air pollution in China. And it also produced what, some considered, is one of the most polluted cities in China.
And so, what they have to do is to go through a whole series of steps to not only change the image of the city but actually to kind of clean the city up. And one of them was the 2060 EXPO, which actually renovated not just brownfields but landfills and quarries. And, what our project was doing, which was a small project on it as a demonstration. Well, I was invited by the organizers to do what they called a “garden”.
Now we all understand that “garden” as a term in landscape architecture is somewhat could possibly and nicely it was a public scale, domestic, smaller scale, intimate, very heavily focused on plants, flowers, extra. So, I took the opportunity to develop a different type of “garden”. I developed something called “Phyto Garden”. It is not a garden. It’s basically a demonstration of how phytoremediation, that is the plants, using plants to clean up toxins both in the soil, the sediment, and the groundwater. How they could be used not only to do this as an engineering remediation task, but actually could form the basis of design. And actually, make space, public space for people that actually had both shape, texture, color and form.
And so, it’s called the “Phyto Garden”, and visitors can go through it and actually learn about what the plants are doing. And then maybe take away those ideas and use them at other parts of Tangshan. So, there are two very different types. One is nascent, and still to be developed; and the other has happened, and possibly we might be able to see that idea developed in other places.
Phyto-remediation Garden Designed by Niall Kirkwood | © www.gsd.harvard.edu
这也存在着问题，因为这同时衍生出了中国十大空气污染源之一，这也使唐山成为一些人眼中的中国污染最严重的城市之一。所以他们需要的是步步为营，通过一系列手段，不仅仅是改变城市形象，更将真正净化整座城市。其中一步是2016年的世博会， 它重修的范围不止于棕地，还包括垃圾填埋场和矿坑。而我们的项目作为其中一个小的演示项目在大会上展出我受组织者邀请来建造一个他们所谓的“花园” 。
我们都知道 “花园” 作为景观建筑领域中的术语，一般指具有地域特性的小尺度私密空间，比较重视植物和花卉。所以我想借由这个机会来建一个不一样的花园。我叫它植物修复花园。它不仅仅是个花园，而是一个展示植物修复技术的场地。利用植物来清理土壤，沉积物和地下水中的毒素。不仅将此作为一个工程去污任务，更将这样的过程作为设计的基础，并真正形成有着实际的形状，质地，颜色和形式的公共空间供人使用。所以它被称为 “植物修复花园” 。
You have many affiliations in different countries. You are visiting professor at Tsinghua University and Peking University, former chairmen at Harvard GSD, you are also the faculty member at Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, you have been the journal editor of “Environmental Design and Planning”. you are actively engaging in teaching, research, publishing and landscape consulting practice over the world. How does those different kinds of roles that help you understand the profession differently?
That’s an interesting question. Yes, there is, I have held and I hold still a number of positions both in China, Hongkong, Korea, Ireland and in the United States. They appear to be separate occupations, you know in other words, in terms of the publishing part, the journals, the advising could all be seen as a series of pigeon and wholes, but to me they are seamless.
So, for example, my organization, you are watching him, you are talking to him now. I don’t have a large organization to support the organization. So, when I travel, my organization travels with me. So, I see the research and the writing influencing the practice and I see the practice influencing the writing. And all of them influence my teaching.
So, for example, when I publish a book on a topic that has been previously I have actually taught classes on that topic, usually here. And I don’t develop the material in the class, but I test the material in the class. So, for example, the Phyto book, I have been flirting with phyto for a number of years, pretty much on my own and decided to formalize it.
So, I mounted with Kate Kennan, the co-author, three seminars in three successive years, and then we tested out the material, we looked at readings, we looked at the scientific material. We didn’t develop material for the book, that we did separately. And then we were able to publish the book. That took three years.
But at the same time, I was also doing lectures and teaching about the topic and also trying to do projects. So, you can see that they all start to work together, particularly also with the brownfield work, where again I ran, but still the only brownfield course at Harvard. I started at 1997, so almost 20 years ago. And, but that has then fed into the publishing and then also into the lecturing and consulting. So, to me, they are just fairly seamless and they work like that. Ok?
所以，我和凯特·凯南（ Kate Kennen）合作，也就是这本书的联名作者，连续三年举办了三次研讨会。然后我们检验资料， 查阅书籍和科学材料。我们并没有专门为这本书寻找新材料，这个是我们之前分头去做的。然后我们就可以出版这本书了，整个过程花了我们3年。
PHYTO by Niall Kirkwood and Kate Kennan | © www.gsd.harvard.edu
What is your research focus and the practice now? And what is your plan in the future? Is there any collaboration you are seeking in the future with government, community, or institutions?
That’s very good questions. A number of projects working on right now. In China, I’m heading up at Tsinghua University, a new research center on brownfields and that’s going to be… it doesn’t have a name yet. They want to call it Global Brown… but that’s the name of my own research project. But the idea that professor Xiaodi Zheng of Tsinghua University and myself will head up a center, based at Tsinghua University, Department of Landscape Architecture that will focus on research, teaching and outreach on brownfields and brownfields reuse. That’s one discrete piece of work.
A piece of work I’m doing at Beijing University is related to the rural and urbanization center. And there, we are looking at for example, the large amount of, let’s say urbanization, 326 new cities that we will build in the kind of urban-rural context. So that’s another piece of work. And then finally, I’m…, not finally, a couple more pieces of work I’m doing right now. I’m writing a book on the Korean landscape, which is a continuation of something I have been working for 15 years.
But the magnum opus, the big piece of work, the work that in a sense might be my last, I hope not, is the “Global Brown”. I’m gonna do book on global brown. We start to look at the brownfields across the whole world, not just North America, not just China, but the entire world. And it would be a kind of summary of case studies, of kind of … it started to break down both of the national barriers and political barriers but also looking at the topic across the entire earth.
The global brown is very interesting topic, can you talk a little bit about that?
“if you consider the oceans as one type of brownfield, which unites all the continents, the air, the land moving, the water moving as well as soil. You start to break down the political barriers and you start to break down, let’s say, the governmental barrier. You start to look at this as a more global problem. Maybe at the level of United Nations or European Union, rather than country by country, law by law, site by site.”
Yeah. So, I mean, to me, the problem of brownfields right now is very much tied to both national countries in terms of legalization, laws, methods and approach. That’s why there is little kind of comprehension between countries, a little bit between let’s say north America and Europe. Europeans, of course, much longer in terms of the development of their work, it could be Germany and Holland and the United Kingdom. How China is starting to develop, for example right now, you know which models are is it using particularly with centralized land ownership. Obviously, the north American model is not so useful. Maybe there are examples particularly in Holland or Germany to some extent. But I’m starting now to look at other countries,
other countries that have not really appeared in the map. For example, the Middle East, I’m looking at Israel, for example, looking at Albania, looking at Africa, looking at countries in Latin America. And the idea, for example, if you consider the oceans as one type of brownfield, which unites all the continents, the air, the land moving, the water moving as well as soil. You start to break down the political barriers and you start to break down, let’s say, the governmental barrier. You start to look at this as a more global problem. Maybe at the level of United Nations or EU (European Union), rather than country by country, law by law, site by site.
” The idea that China Brown is a way of saying that it has to be addressed at the national level. “
The political boundaries in China. Like every provinces, cities and districts have their own leader, do you have some suggestions to overcome these boundaries.
The whole idea of political boundaries is of course a very interesting one, and in fact, the entire political science and modern governance is based on this, thinking of, particularly drawing a boundary and breaking a boundary. But for example, if you take, let’s say, mining, mining areas in China go across all kinds of boundaries. They go from region to region, they cut a across. In many cases, brownfields and pollution, whether is soil, water or air, does not necessarily take account of political boundaries, which in many cases, are the lines drawing on the map.
And I think it’s to allow China or the central government and the primary, to think in the way that he has come out and talked about Green China. You know, this sort of a single, a clear vision for the country. The idea that China Brown is a way of saying that it has to be addressed at the national level. Yes, it can obviously go down to the various regions and sub-regions but it has to be looked at, particularly to do with how you gonna to add at the national level.
In a way that you know Kongjian Yu was trying to think of as a master plan, a landscape master plan for China. I think you have to think at a large scale. I think is also appropriate for China which has this vastness of territory. OK? Rather than looking at each particular province with its own rules, with its own regulations, is then very piecemeal. I think it’s also what landscape architecture and landscape architects will be. And it’s the place that they will insert themselves into work.
政治边界的整个想法，当然是相当有意思的。 而实际上，整个政治科学， 和现代政府都基于此。尤其是如何划分与打破一个边界。但是，比如说，我们可以就采矿业的例子来说，中国的采矿业是横跨各种边界的。采矿的工程它们穿越各个地区，甚至直接横穿边界。在很多情况下，棕地和污染，无论是土壤，水分，还是空气，都不会考虑到政治边界而停止流动，不会考虑地图上画的那根线。