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Landscape Science: Geography [ARCH11135] HE Ye Master of Landscape Architecture Edinburgh College of Art December 2011

INTRODUCTION To geologists, concerns on slopes conceivably lie on physical processes and stability. While for landscape architects serving various communities, successful designs of slopes usually means more. This is especially the case with small scale slopes in urban context, where more diverse factors such as economic and social forces (Hackett B., 1971) would operate together. Therefore it is crucial for us to ponder over how to translate geographical values into landscape design in appropriate and innovative ways. In this paper we will firstly classify the situations where slopes involved in urban landscape design projects. In section 2 we will analysis the physical geography processes on selected types of slopes and design methods related. Section 3 will discuss the multifarious values required for slopes in public spaces, followed by some inspiring precedents. After that we will talk over how to select appropriate design methods for specific slopes. Specifically on slope treatments, bioengineering dominates in recent decades. However I suppose other methods still own the potential to make brilliant design and worth discussion, as long as the designer assimilated relative physical geography knowledge and think out of box.

This paper mainly devoted to deliberate landed slopes in common city spaces. We can classify them as the form below:
Classification Method Formation Natural slopes Man-made slopes Lithological character Earth slopes Talus/ gravel slopes performance period permanent slopes temporary slopes Relationship with Overwater slopes The slopes are used in within short time Landed slopes or the above-water part of banks Rock slopes Formed by natural geological erosion Usually excavated for the construction of highways and bridges, or for other design intentions Composed by rock. They can be further classified by the hardness, formation and weathering states of the rocks Composed by earth Usually formed by loose gravel or stone more than 25 cm in size Or named as long-term slope Classification Description

water Height

Underwater slopes High slopes Moderate slopes Low slopes

Slopes underwater call for special attention on erosion More than 30 meters tall With height of 1030 meters Less than 10 meters tall Where angles are more than 60 degrees to vertical Where angles are 3060 degrees Where angles are less than 30 degrees The slopes will not have noticeable deformation The slopes at present are in stable state basically, but different scale failures such as slide and creep are still possible in future

Slope Angle

Steep slopes Moderate slopes Gentle slopes


Stable slopes Less stable slopes

Unstable slopes Failing slopes Treatment Non-treatment Hard treatment

The slopes have been in adverse conditions that certain measures must be taken to avoid failure. The slopes have shown signs of deformation. Falls and slides have occurred on these slopes Where slopes can be stable by themselves Hard covers on slope surface such as concrete and cement Retaining walls

Soft treatment Comprised treatment

Applying vegetation on slopes or adjusting the soil of slopes Combination of planting and hard constructions


As before, slopes in small scale follow the physical law of bearing. Specifically, driving forces on slopes in cities tend to result from continuous pedestrian and vehicle transportation, rather than accumulations of talus in wild nature. While decreasing of resisting forces may be caused by no more weathering of the top strata of slope, but underground cuts made for building reservoirs and drainage systems. In the chart below I made a summary of factors influencing slope stabilities in urban area and corresponding force on slopes. The picture below demonstrates a simplified conceptual module of the forces on slopes.

(Smithson et al. 2008) Driving forces on urban slopes Force types Considerations when designing Gravity of the slope material itself This driving force is the component of gravity along the slide direction. It calls for attention especially when the angle of the slope is larger than 45 degrees.

Gravity of man-made construction on the slope

Try to avoid building unnecessary structures on slopes. Where there is existing structures on slopes, keep close eyes on them and collect geology data. This is often seen in mountainous cities where people have to construct buildings on natural slopes.

Transitory stresses by traffic

Consider the function of certain area: will there be pedestrian/ vehicle traffic on slopes? How much are the proposed densities? We can distribute the traffic by designing paths reasonably. In some cases steps may be more appropriate than continuous slopes.

Internal pressure by pore-water

Enhance drainage system Improve the hydro-capacity of the slope material Consider plants whose root system helps to conserve water.

Forces by rainfall/ snow

Refer to local climate data carefully before design. Consider materials tolerate to erosion when designing.

Extra weight by leaking septic systems

Check whether there are pipeline systems underground in the project site. Ensure construction process of design will not harm the pipelines.

Other trigger initiating slope failure such as earthquake Resisting forces on Force types Internal resisting forces by the slope itself

Refer to local geologist data carefully before design and apply special treatment if necessary.

urban slopes Considerations when designing Normal force resisting pressure on the slope. Calculation is based on the material and angle of the slope. Designers should check the geology/ soil data of project site. Try to avoid cutting slope in design/ construction process.

Friction and cohesion forces by the slope itself

Calculation based on the material and angle of the slope. Designers can refer to the angle of repose (Goudie, A., 2001) of the material, trying to control the designed angle smaller than certain angle. Consider adjusting the soil to improve cohesion Where angles have to be larger, consider extra treatments.

Stress forces by varies slope treatments, helping holding the slope fixed on its bed

Valid when slope angle is less than certain number. Plants roots, metal wires and comprised bioengineering treatments are all included. Reserve existing vegetation as much as possible.

Surface resistance to erosion forces

Where slopes itself cannot survive erosion, measurements ought to be taken, particularly in area where storms are likely to happen. Concrete/cement surface protection or vegetation shelter.

Supporting forces by retaining walls

Applied chiefly where the slope angle is larger than a certain number.

Preliminary summary To be convinced of the stability of our design, we should firstly collect site data carefully, which include geology, soil, water and topography. All innovative methods, no matter how avant-garde they are, should be based on them. In addition, we can consult geologists for help. There are also soft wares helping calculating the feasibility. But physical geography knowledge and the respect towards the original site are keys to think in a long term

Regarded as a part of public space, slope design could be assessed with the following values: Mechanics effects, hydrological effects, ecological effects and social effects. In urban context where population density is higher, the priority of these factors and how they influence each others may be distinguished from those of other areas.
Mechanics effects

Mechanics effects may be the most fundamental factor defining whether a design of slope is successful, for that it nearly equals stability or safety. We are not going to repeat the former section here. While in an awarded landscape project Safe Zone in Grand-Melts Canada by Stoss Landscape Urbanism, the designers show the possibility to play with mechanics.

Figure 3.1 Children are enjoying the interesting experience on the slopes (Page 95, StossLU, 2008)

The elastic material on the surface of slopes absorbs and distributes the stress made by people running on them. In different areas the thickness of cover material varies, based on precise calculation. Visitors experienced the dramatic shifting of concave and convex slopes resulted from their gravity effects. The design intended to make the forces on the slopes sensible and playable.

Figure 3.2 One of the construction drawing for the elastic slope (Page 97, StossLU, 2008)

Another distinguishing feature of this design is using recycled materials, achieving ecological value in another way.
Hydrological effects

Well-designed slopes may play an important role in hydrologic cycle. One module is leading rain water flow down though the slope and then gathering it at a right place. To attain such object, a minimum gradient of 1:100 for water drainage is required. Another approach is to allow water infiltrates into the ground through the slopes permeable material. In some projects, designers combined storm water management to slope design as a low-tech solution of irrigation.
Ecological effects

Like any other components of landscape, slopes can possess ecological value as well.

Figure 3.3 Construction processes of the eco-slopes (Page 67, StossLU, 2008)

Figure 3.4 Geometry formations of the eco-slopes (Page 63, StossLU, 2008)

In this case called eco-lab, the designer not only thinks through the stabilization effects of plants upon landforms, but also slopes' effects toward plants and wider environment process of the site. Constructed on an underutilized urban hill side at the back of a campus, slopes were designed according to local prevailing wind direction, in order to receive the seeds of wind-spreading plants more effectively. The landform also offers moist condition and slightly protection for the plants in their growing period. Two layers of slopes serve as generator and interceptor respectively. In this way, a man-made landform takes part of environmental processes.

Figure 3.5 Wind-spreading species succession and seasonal performance (Page 64, StossLU, 2008)

We can conclude that in landscape design projects, beside stability we may think through whether the plants applied on slopes can benefit from our design and perform their best as well.
Social effects

Social effects in urban context can be further divided as following points: 1. Visual and sensuous aspects Slopes can define enclosed or semi-enclosed space, forming impressive topographic spaces creating privacy for people within them. (Dee, C., 2001) That is why landscape designers often design slopes in sites where there was no significant terrain. In some cases, slopes are designed out of a strong sense of geometry. In the photo below is a project by Peter Walker, where hyperbolic man-made slopes provide a recognizable minimalism style.

Figure 3.6 Center for the advanced science and technology; Nishi Harima, Japan Peter Walker and Partners

Additionally, we are duty-bound to think of the aesthetic possibilities of slope treatments. Retaining walls could be visually pleasing and create certain intended atmosphere. Shown in pictures below are con-ten steel retaining walls in Memorial Park of Qinghai Atomic City. The curved walls and adjacent landscape elements such as sculptures are unified within subtle design language.

Figure 3.6

Soft and comprised treatments Example below illustrates the before and after performance of a re-design slope in Hong Kong. As a mountainous city Hong Kong has large amount of slope stability projects. The extremely high density of population and the resulted overuse of land make it a difficult issue. In previous years citizens complain a lot about the dull and untidy scene made by stability works. Now the government has made profound progress promoting visual quality and other factors of slopes. For large scale slopes, a combination of soft and hard treatments is an efficient way to achieve stability and harmony at the same


Figure 3.7 (Geotechnical Engineering Office of Hong Kong, 2002)

2. Function aspect The initial consider around the function of slopes are their gradients. For instance, only gentle slopes with gradient smaller than 1/7 could be used as pathways for pedestrian and wheelchair. And vehicles can climb the gradient 1/5 without changing down. (Dines, N. T. & Brown, K. D., 2001) Think about combine the hard treatments with more function such as seating. (see in figure 3.6) Material plays a key role as well. Moreover, function of slopes ought to respond the function of adjacent space. In other words, slopes in a kindergarten should be designed different from those in a tourism zone. 3. Economic aspect In other words, we have to consider the budget. Slopes which can be stable by themselves are with no doubt most economical ones. This can be achieved by design with the repose angle as mentioned in former sections. About treatments we should consider construction cost and maintenance cost at the same time. 4. Other social values (education etc.) When we consider slopes as a very type of space, we may find they are suitable for displaying and interacting. The former case of eco-lad also shares this point. CONCLUSION Urban space is such a fusion of diverse processes that slopes are under densely human intervention. We could say that there is no one treatment or type of slope permanently superior to others. The judgments should be predominantly focused on how well a certain design fits the nature of its site. Landscape architects have the duty to make thoughtful decisions, evolved from thorough understanding of physical geography processes of the project site. Meanwhile we ought to open up our mind to new approaches and acquire balance of varied values.


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