Wild Wild Vista
by Soha Gandhi
The city of Gandhinagar, widely known as the green city has a significant amount of green cover distributed over a wide range of geographic conditions offering a myriad of local habitats. These various local habitats house a rich variety of flora and fauna, making the region rich in biodiversity. With a calculated population of 4.3 lakh people for the year 2031 (0.8 times more than the current population and perhaps even more 50/60 years down the line), the city is likely to follow an upward trajectory of development with new inflow of people in the upcoming years. Under the premise of this assumption, it is crucial to recognize and value the existing natural habitats and the rich biodiversity that it houses before it gets engulfed by urbanization in the city.
The project ‘Wild Wild Vista’ envisages the city’s potential as a biodiversity rich capital and directs it towards a planned and strategic way of conservation, enhancement of existing local habitats and creation of new ones to create a resilient biodiversity rich city. With this objective the project attempts to design the city’s large prime public space – Central Vista in Gandhinagar which is currently a fenced and sterile lawn landscape into a thriving biodiversity corridor. The design provides a continuous network of trails designed with diverse forest landscapes that facilitate inhabitation for a wide variety of insects, birds and small animal species with an abundance of foraging, perching and roosting options. It also integrates small and large social spaces for people housing a variety of programs nestled amidst the wild landscape. The project envisions the vista into a foremost ecological center of biodiversity- a composite and novel landscape integrated with social spaces that can serve as a model for cohabitation between humans and biodiversity.
Strategy at XL/ City scale
The conceptual strategy at city level for Gandhinagar is to weave a continuous and resilient biodiversity network using the already existing and thriving biodiverse patches in the city such as the riparian edge, forest reserves, selected areas of significant green cover in sectors and periphery of the city. This network is created through three main strategies:
I. Continuous roadside plantations to create a continuous upper story connection.
II. Identifying potential biodiverse pockets within sectors and connecting them through pollinator meadows using secondary and tertiary road connections.
III. Inserting architectural devices as artificial habitats to enhance the identified pockets.
The existing vs. proposed catalogue demonstrates the manifestation of these main strategies at block level.
The habitat catalogue showcases the exploration of micro-landscapes done while in the process of identifying biodiverse patches of the city for the XL strategy. This exploration unveiled the complexity of relations that these micro-landscapes hold with the biodiversity species that inhabit it. The categorisation is based on how most of the landscapes exist within the current fabric of the city. Each of these micro landscapes are extracted from the categorised types and its content is studied as samples to create a strong database of how certain species inhabit specific environments and how it contributes to the larger functioning of the biodiversity network and ecosystem.
Smaller observations and inferences from this study further informed the fundamental categorization of designed landscapes at L scale.
L Scale: Central Vista
The overall design strategy is to carefully recreate habitat areas on site through a series of varied landscapes while incorporating public spaces and programs amidst it. The vista is envisioned as a space that fosters the idea of prime public places being model landscapes for cohabitation between humans and biodiversity.
Primary ideas for design development include breaking the linearity of the site through a series of primary, secondary and tertiary trails that meander through the place, each time passing through a different micro landscape with different physical and experiential qualities. This aspect of the project essentially assists in creating a wide range of micro landscapes that offer as habitats on the large urban landscape.
The plan shows a primary trail that continues through the three horizontal fragments of the site. This trail becomes the key route to navigate through the vista and passes through small and large public plazas while also crossing different forest and wild garden areas on the adjacent sides. Smaller patches of the forest areas and wild gardens have clearings that function as pause points along the tertiary trails. Elements such as water bodies are placed on site after analysis of topography and the landscape around it is then designed accordingly. The design is further punctuated with light architectural elements supporting the forest programs that provide structure for species to inhabit and other interventions for social use in the public plazas.
Categorization of Forest areas and Wild gardens
Gandhinagar is often dubbed as green city but there is existence of a rigid monoculture when it comes to tree species diversity. While some species of biodiversity may adapt to the available nesting, perching and foraging options, many cannot and hence the project aims to create a conducive environment for such species by designing different forest categories which are developed after careful consideration of their preferred habitat.
The categorization is done in four parts:
Bird Inviting landscapes (Bird Paradise)– Areas surrounding the previously located water bodies on site. Each of these areas are further divided into three types based on the type of grain of the planting palette there.
- Flowering typology- Trees and subtrees that have particular bloom characteristics that attract nectivores and palynivores (nectar & pollen feeding birds)
- Wide tree canopy typology- Trees with large and wide canopies that provide as sturdy nesting sites for heronry birds
- Bush/ Thicket typology- Dense grove of thicket/bushes that serve as nesting and perching spots for small birds, insects and animals
Forest landscapes (Wilfully Wild)– Essentially areas of forest with varied land undulations and grain differences.
- Sparse typology- Trees with canopies that allow light to pass through
- Dense typology- Includes all forest layers- upper story, under story and ground cover. Also includes species of ecological importance for the sub region
- Wild food source- Trees whose fruits are widely consumed by birds and small mammals
- Ecological niche creators- Habitat providers through distinct bark typologies.
- Tall typology- Habitat provider for birds that prefer nesting sites at heights
Food Forests– Foraging areas for people + biodiversity.
- Tree orchard typology- Perennial and seasonal fruit trees
- Tree orchard + shrub typology- Perennial and seasonal fruit trees along with areas of fruit shrubs
Wild Gardens– Community gardens for the citizens of the city.
- Produce- Food, Medicinal plants and herbs
- Pollinator landscapes- Wild grasses and flowering garden
For biodiversity– Light and unobtrusive architectural elements- bird matrix, bat towers and pollinator archways have been embedded in the forest areas and wild gardens as structures to support inhabitation till the time the landscape grows and evolves.
For social use– Supportive architectural elements such as learning & reading centers, kiosks & exchange zones for wild gardens and interactive elements such as follies and elevated treetop boardwalk add to the public layer of the project.
Bird’s eye view showing one of the public plazas and the adjacent forest & wild gardens areas
‘Wild Wild Vista’ eventually aims to be a model that brings a paradigm shift in the way we traditionally look at public space design and attempts to be a catalyst for broader ecological change through bringing diversity and promoting cohabitation amongst cities and biodiversity.