Living Cities Kathmandu

The recent collaboration with Eco Cities International to submit a Living Cities design was inspiring, even as it brought the many challenges of infrastructure in developing countries to the fore. Any opportunity to work with EcoCities, Architect Geoff Holton, and Landscape Architect Walter Hood is in itself a reward. The early sessions brought up numerous philosophical conversations about scale, seasonal change, local customs, modernization as westernization, the role of natural systems in municipal infrastructure, and the role of religious and cultural movements to change behavior.

With a critically polluted river flowing through the center of town, water issues quickly became a driving factor. Raw sewage flows into the city untreated, often directly from the street or via direct piping. There is generally little or no buffer zone between urban streets and the river channel itself, and unreliable power systems have been the achilles heel of a treatment system that is showing signs of decay even as it is only partially finished. Today, there is little or no biological life in the river and yet people bath, wash, and even drink from the polluted waterway. Upstream diversions and industrial discharges contribute to the malais.

Even so, issues such as energy, food, transportation, housing, and economy cannot be ignored in a mountain expected to double or even triple in size in the coming decades. We worked closely with the team to establish metrics for ecological benefits; living roofs and walls for food production and flood control, rainwater harvesting for bathing, washing and irrigation, embedded biofiltration planters to remove toxins in runoff, possible benefits of aquaponics to produce fish within housing density. These metrics were tuned using a GIS platform, to produce measurable benefits and assist in applying a matrix of uses to generate passive ecological benefits. As predicted, this is a multi-year project, not to be solved in a short 3 month competition. However, we were building on work from Josiah’s senior studio at UCDavis and the goal was to validate the approach rather than expect a complete solution.

Modern development interests were directed to areas of the city enduring the worst polluted runoff, with zoning requiring such structure to be regenerative to the river. The foundations contain large passive water filtration systems designed to intercept polluted flows, remove toxins, and spread the water parallel to the river for infiltration, allowed to reach the river itself only via subsurface percolation. Modern building as biofilter, providing a utility for condos to exist along the river, where they seek to enjoy the views and open space.

Temples and interior semi-private walkways were envisioned as pervious surfaces with vegetation, providing shade, water filtration, air filtration, and a connection that could be made to the river culturally.

It was a wonderful collaboration with many new and exciting ideas. Winners will be selected at the upcoming Living Futures (un)Conference in Vancouver. I wish I could be there, but I hope we learn we will have the opportunity to continue our work with the people of Kathmandu to make these ideas come to life!

Josiah

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