American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Event Landscape: Halifax Harbour Festival
Van Thi Diep, Student Affiliate ASLA
University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Faculty Advisor: John Danahy, ASLA

"What a wonderful, unique concept. It's program driven and inventive. This project is beautifully presented."

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement
Halifax Harbour Festival, a land-based event, is turned inside-out in this proposition by creating a festival with the potential to symbolize both the harbour and the regional city. The harbour is the arena, while floating mobile platforms form the supplementary infrastructure base of the event. Using development levies from waterfront development, these platforms create floating public spaces at new waterfront quays. Annual voyage of the platforms heightens event pulsation within the festival cycle of this public space.

The Site
The site of Halifax Harbour is regional in scale, stretching 20 kilometers in length, uniting and separating the surrounding urban communities. Its adjacent waterfronts provide a suitable backdrop to this dynamic and temporal landscape. The Halifax Harbour Festival is a matrix of design scale events and activities distributed as much as 15km apart. The scale of this landscape event is challenging and very dynamic.

An active industrial harbour and a strong cultural heritage combine to create marine-based working systems and a land-based festival that seems to almost neglect the potentials of the harbour as a public asset. Due to potential land loss from waterfront development and foreseen sea-level rise, encompassing the harbour as a public event space works with the inevitable natural and economic forces while better enhancing the principles of event landscape planning and design researched at the outset of the work.

Event Landscape
Festivals, carnivals, and celebrations are fundamental elements of urban life. These events allow for moments of surprise and fantasy, eclipsing the ordinary and mundane. These events may be temporal, but the effect can be socially enduring, especially cyclical events that are paradoxically organized yet ephemeral.

The research of either festivity or public space has always been disassociated as two separate fields of study. A memorable event is often strongly associated with the particular place in which it is held; therefore a strong relationship exists between event and landscape. The temporality of an event is juxtaposed with the persistence of the physical landscape in which it occurs.

A successful “event landscape” can also contribute to the image of the city’s identity. The capacity for a landscape to adapt and interact with the patterns of paradoxical urbanity, and its relationship to the city’s image is explored and a taxonomy of terms from theory are tested. The resulting plan breaks the mold on waterfront promenades, parkettes, café’s, seating, and multi purpose spaces that can only afford a single fixed view or prospect out to the water.

The study seeks to choreograph the Halifax Harbour Festival programme, its public surfaces, and support infrastructure to time and site activities normally thought of as terrestrial in a way that augments conventional “grounded” waterfront space. This is accomplished in the plan by investing a portion of development benefits in buoyant “landscapes” that are more sustainable in the face of sea level rise and diminishing temporary festival spaces (such as parking lots) as development intensification takes place on prime waterfront properties.

Analysis and Site Findings
The site analysis examined the inventory and nature of the experience afforded by the public spaces that support the Halifax Waterfront Festival. The fundamental finding was the discovery of just how few festival spaces are at the edge of the water and how little the harbour and the experience of the water figures into the specific festival settings. Therefore, the proposition aims to put more spatial experience of harbour into the harbour festival. This is accomplished on two levels. The first is an experiential sense of harbour and water as the context or setting in all compositions of spatial experience. The second approach is to augment the land based surfaces that support the activity programme of the festival by positioning some keynote activities on buoyant platforms that can project activity into the surround of the harbour. The analysis examined the phenomenological characteristics of the experience of festival users and determined that the festival spaces seldom make it possible for attendees to experience the harbour itself and the prospect of the cities surrounding the harbour from the water. It was determined that this quality would meet the requirements for differentiating everyday experience of the water’s edge from that of engaging the water’s surface as part of the spatial experience.

The study used advanced GIS urban visualization and modeling to predict storm surge inundation from sea level rise on downtown Halifax and determined that all of the existing investments in fixed or terrestrial landscape are subject to damage in the coming years.

Timelines and mappings were used to demonstrate the planning and choreographing of events and platform infrastructure across the harbour landscape and waterscape to support the week of event making that is the festival plan. Next, a timeline and plan for strategizing and phasing in various possible futures was undertaken.

The Strategy
The plan’s strategy anticipates using the economics and process of development to incrementally fund a fleet of public space platforms. These platforms provide permanent public space situated in optimal water prospect locations in quays associated with each major new development. Once a year, these platforms would be reconfigured to create completely unique event spaces whose context is only associated with the Harbour Festival.

Instead of designing a static space to house a programme of event activities, this study looks at a set of strategies distributed over time that support the Festival in an ever changing harbour landscape. Once a year, the festival city system intermingles with the working harbour system to enhance the sense of event landscape from that of the everyday public spaces of the waterfront.

Due to the predicted sea level rise, expensive infrastructure investments in edge and festival supports need to be able to float and to be redeployed across and around the harbour (its not a fixed “grounded” asset).

Diminishing space due to intensification produces a condition of investment where development benefits can be directed to fund a form of surface that better engages the landscape and harbourscape. The buoyant platform landscapes serve as the junction between landscape and harbourscape. This is the essence of a harbour city and its festival is situated at the crux of this interface.

The accompanying maps and diagrams choreograph the movements in the space of the Harbour Festival and their timing serves as a temporal “design”.

This project begins to push the boundaries of landscape architecture to look at waterfront in a more holistic way where the experience of water and experience on water is seen as an important enhancement of the traditional terrestrial infrastructure of waterfront public space. The second and more nuanced aspect that this thesis explores is the problem of differentiating the everyday aspects of the design of a public space from the specific moment based experience of an event that is memorable and not confused with everyday experience. This exercise presents the notion that this conundrum can be broken by repositioning the floating elements and surfaces of the buoyant waterfront landscape as projections into the water and in some instances as moving experiences out in the Harbour that only occur when the festival is on. Yet the same landscape surfaces and public space facilities “plug” into the harbour quays as public spaces adjacent to new intensified waterfront developments that reinforce the everyday waterfront landscape.


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