Yekaterina Yushmanova, UNM
Spring 2010

The project site is located in the city of Yakutsk, in the Russian northeast. Located only 450 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, with a population of 220,000 people, Yakutsk is the coldest city on the planet. It is situated in a sub-arctic semi-arid climate with temperatures reaching -55C in the winter and +35C in the summer, with yearly precipitation of about 7 inches. Winter conditions last for six months. On December 20, they receive only 4 hours of daylight, and about 50 days during winter have thick fog. Yakutsk is built on continuous permafrost, which starts 1.5 meters below the surface and is 250 meters deep. Permafrost is the major factor affecting hydrology, soils and vegetation: all buildings are constructed on piles to minimize heat transfer to the ground, all infrastructure is located above ground, and there is no underground storm sewer. Even though the city gets little precipitation, the permafrost, which acts as an impermeable layer, and flat topography, cause regular inundation in many areas. Pollutants from sewer and fuel leaks, exhaust and illegal dumping concentrate in the snowmelt causing severe pollution of soil and bodies of water.

Yakutsk currently faces an environmental crisis stemming from inadequate planning, pollution and poor building practices: in 2005 ecologists rated the ecological situation a "7" (critical) on a scale from 1 (favorable) to 9 (catastrophic). The design proposal applies concepts of sustainability to this extreme environment, combining basic practices and unique technological solutions to resolve ecological issues and create public space for cold climate.

The 2.8 kilometer-long, 40-80 meter wide drainage corridor selected for the design intervention is a former braided channel of the Lena River, which, due to anthropogenic factors, has lost its connection with the river and is ecologically degraded. With no outlet at its lowest point, the channel floods adjacent neighborhoods during snowmelt and becomes a stagnant polluted pool in the summer. The channel cuts through multiple neighborhoods, creating a barrier even when covered with ice due to the water and sewer pipes that run along its banks. Even though several existing vehicular and pedestrian bridges exist, distance between them is too great for comfortable foot travel during winter months.

Channel Modifications
Two new outflows are proposed at the southeast and northeast ends of the site to allow for proper drainage. The outflow elevations are set to ensure that the channel reaches maximum storage capacity before discharge, to minimize pollutants entering the river. Runoff will be collected from the neighborhoods and transported to the channel via a network of vegetated swales. The channel corridor will be modified to allow for greater flood absorption, increased floodwater storage capacity, habitat for wetland plants and improved pedestrian connectivity.

Filtration Towers
A short growing season and plant dormancy during snowmelt make application of constructed wetlands very limited for this project. While it is proposed that the channel and its sides will be re-vegetated using a mix of native species, the main solution for year-round pollutant removal will be 12 filtration towers. The concept for the filtration towers combines a greenhouse, a constructed wetland, and an indoor public space. The filtration towers will be climate and light controlled triple-glass enclosures positioned over the deepest parts of the channel. Filtration function will be performed by bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) planted in the growing capsule. Water will be continuously pumped from the channel into the capsule where it will be distributed over the growing surface via sprayers. Condensation will then be collected and released back into the canal. Daily evapo-transpiration rate of bamboo can be controlled by adjusting the temperature, in response to available water. Public space between the first and the second glass skins of the towers will provide a climatic refuge throughout the year.

The new elevated path will span the entire length of the site, creating multiple connections and "stitching" together the opposite banks of the canal. The bridge-like elements of the path will extend into the neighborhoods, creating easy access to amenities and transportation, and easing movement along and across the canal. The organic shape of the path will form sun lounges and benches, creating gathering and resting spaces, which, in winter, will act as sculptural snow collectors and play areas. The path will provide access to the filtration towers and interact with existing infrastructure without hiding it.

Light Cloud
The main element to address winter light conditions will be the light cloud, constructed of hundreds of metal rods of different heights with LED lights on the top. The light cloud will be a reappearing event along the path. Its soft glow will act as a magical beacon during foggy winter nights.

This project demonstrates how a landscape architecture professional can analyze a complex environmental situation, using data from a number of fields to create solutions that combine ecology, infrastructure and public space in one project. This is particularly important in Russia where landscape architecture services are performed by architects and engineers due to the absence of landscape architecture licensure.

Skills necessary to produce the project which are tested on the L.A.R.E. include:

- Section A: Consulting with specialists, conducting long-distance research and communication.

- Section B: Extensive analysis of climate, vegetation, topography, hydrology, permafrost research, and satellite imagery. Personal interviews, existing public surveys, newspaper articles and blogs were reviewed to determine the priorities and concerns of the public.

- Section C: Study of precedents of sustainable solutions for cold climates, application of technologies developed in other fields, consideration of existing systems and site context.

- Section D: Sustainable flood protection, pollutant removal use of sustainably produced materials and native plants for revegetation, design for user comfort in extreme temperature and light conditions, using a drainage corridor as public space and habitat.

- Section E: Retrofitting vegetated swales for sustainable stormwater management into existing city fabric, grading for water storage, filtration and sustainable flood control.