Posts by Chuan Ding

Image 1_Bird in the City

Birds are everywhere. Sometimes the first sound of my morning is the song of a green parrot in front of the window. Later in the day in Pershing Square or FIDM Park during my lunch break, I’ll watch pigeons or sparrows wandering around in the hopes of some leftover food from the lunch crowd. It is fascinating to observe how birds have adapted to urban environments, altering their diets and navigating natural predators or manmade threats (especially pigeons and sparrows).

Graphic sourced from presentation by Travis Longcore

Graphic sourced from presentation by Travis Longcore

On the other hand, anywhere between 365 to 988 million birds die from crashing into windows in the United States every year. A staggering figure when considering these deaths equal somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of the total bird population in the United States. Birds are prone to death by crashing into windows because of their inability to discern open skies from reflections created by reflective building windows; from their perspective, buildings and the skyline are one continuous line of sight to navigate. Birds also tend to focus on distant objective, ignoring the extraneous surroundings along their route, an explanation for why birds are easily trapped within 3 or 4-sided courtyards.

In order to save bird from collision, we need to build cities more cognisant of bird behavior:

Design visual noise to send signals that bird will recognize.
Birds can fly through visible openings larger than 2 inches tall or 4 inches wide. Therefore, we should keep the reflective sight of vision or open space that bird can see smaller than 2”-4”. Balconies, window screens, varying panel materials, perforated panels, awnings that shade reflective glass, or anything else that breaks down a continuous plane of sight could help birds avoid crashing into buildings. The challenge also presents an opportunity for designers to experiment with architectural detailing across building façades, adding an element of fun and energy to their design.

The building on the left is an example of bird-friendly architecture, vs. the traditional highly reflective skyscraper responsible for many bird deaths.

The building on the left is an example of bird-friendly architecture, vs. the traditional highly reflective skyscraper responsible for many bird deaths.

Design buildings with dimmable indoor lights and outdoor architectural uplights, focusing light downward at night:  
Birds are attracted to light at night much like moths are to a flame. When birds reach a light source, they can become disoriented or blinded by the glare. Attracted by bright red lights on top of towers, birds will mistakenly circle the light source, risking injury by surrounding cables attached to tower tops. The results can be disastrous, resulting in 6.8 million deaths by communication tower alone.

Ornilux is a new type of glass that birds can see more easily.

Ornilux is a new type of glass that birds can see more easily.

The total figure of preventable bird deaths per year is staggering. Designers can really make a difference, but it’s important to note most avian casualties are not attributed to collisions with skyscrapers, but instead small buildings, including single and multi-family residents. Therefore, it is our responsibility as designers to educate people about the importance of selecting the right building materials and lighting to help make Los Angeles – and every city across the globe – a safer place to live, whether feathered or not.

Additional information about a bird-friendly city:

LA River Impression by Chuan Ding

“LA River Impression” by Chuan Ding

Filmmaker and artist Wim Wenders once noted, “Landscapes tell stories, and the Los Angeles River tells a story of violence and danger.” After six decades of taming the Los Angeles River through the medium of concrete and construction, the city’s major waterway can still be dangerous and occasionally violent, but mostly more of a placid flood abatement feature than the wild force it once was.

Today the Los Angeles River is a corridor of public land that serves as a conduit for the movement of water, trains, cars, electricity, trucks, and freight for much of its fifty miles. From its beginnings in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley, the river journeys out to Long Beach, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river’s flow travels through a variety of communities and urban landscapes, sometimes a calm trickle, occasionally a turbulent force reminding us of its former seasonal ferocity.

The river is a witness and materialized carrier of all the changes and development that has happened across Southern California over the decades. Conversely, those years of urban development have also made the river what it is today,  a dividing line across the Angeleno urban grid. That’s why I believe it is so important to take a journey along Los Angeles River to fully comprehend its impact as a shaping force of Los Angeles, and the history of the city itself.

“Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.”- Joan Didion

From small scale green streets and pocket parks, all the way to larger regional scale projects across the city, the Los Angeles River plays a vivid and complex role as an artery of the city. The river’s waterfront is a paradigmatic symbol of the inherent complexity of a natural mutable system continually lapping up against an immovable constructed edge, the river’s length continually busy with human activity determined to make use of its water for work, leisure, and as a reliable resource. It is at the very heart of one of the largest urban transformation projects, one that will undoubtedly reshape Los Angeles.

Angelenos can bike, hike, bird watch, and even kayak along the Los Angeles River. It’s a place where visitors can relax and spend family time in some of the pocket parks found along the river. Those seeking more environmentally-oriented activities can partake in the annual LA River Cleanup events. The Los Angeles River is also a famously popular site for film, television, and commercials. You’ve probably seen plenty of footage of it as a backdrop; anyone who’s seen one of the numerous Hollywood movie car chases over the last 30 years will recognize the 51-mile structure that runs from San Fernando Valley through to Long Beach.

Somehow it seems appropriate our city’s most important river has been mapped and immortalized by a cinematic hand versus a cartographic one. In that sense, anyone can journey along the Los Angeles River with a thoughtfully LA-centric themed list of movies via their Netflix queue, following the path of a river that remained constant even as the city around it continually changed through the decades. That the river itself is now on the brink of being transformed in a
grand exercise in modern ecosystem manipulation” is reason enough to visit the Los Angeles River before it’s only a memory captured on film.

Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City by Turenscape

Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City by Turenscape

After the first El Niño fueled rainfall landed across California a few weeks ago, concerns about potential flooding across Los Angeles neighborhoods became a popular topic of discussion. Friends, coworkers, and neighbors shared tips for preparing for future storms or floods, recognizing this year’s El Niño had the potential to be one of the strongest on record (though the recent mild and warm weather are a deceptive respite). And when it comes to its peak this February and March, Californians have been trained to expect “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt.”

Despite the El Niño rain expected to hit Central and Southern California by the end of this month, the drought will remain in effect according to the U.S. Drought Outlook. With Los Angeles expected to grow in size and population in the coming years, the threat of the cycle between extreme weather like El Niño and the drought becoming the norm seems reason enough for the city to review and replace its outdated and single-use grey water infrastructure system with something greener and more water re-use efficient. We can look to China for possible solutions.

"China is working to develop several 16 “sponge cities” that utilize multiple ways to capture, filter, store, and distribute rainwater." (Image: CCTV America)

“China is working to develop several 16 “sponge cities” that utilize multiple ways to capture, filter, store, and distribute rainwater.” (Image: CCTV America)

What is a “Sponge City”?

Since 2008, the number of Chinese cities affected by flooding has more than doubled. Conversely, severe and extreme droughts have also become a serious nationwide issue since late the 1990s.

“The rate of flooding is a national scandal,” said Kongjian Yu, the dean of Peking University’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. “We have poured more than enough concrete. It’s time to invest in a new type of green infrastructure.” Sounds very familiar and similar to the challenges we’re facing here in Los Angeles.

China’s solution? Sponge City.

“A sponge city is one that can hold, clean, and drain water in a natural way using an ecological approach,” said Yu, who is helping to coordinate the national project. According to The Guardian, these projects will include developing rooftop gardens, ponds, filtration pools, and wetlands, with permeable roads and public spaces designed to soak rainwater back into the ground.”

A resilient landscape designed by Chinese government backed, Turenscape: Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City

A resilient landscape designed by Turenscape: Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City

“It’s a new way of thinking about stormwater, not as a problem but as an opportunity and a resource to augment our water supply.” – Richard Luthy, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

One project that perfectly represents the Sponge City concept is Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City. Completed by in 2015, the project is a water resilient development with plantings designed to adapt to seasonal monsoon flooding. A resilient bridge and paths system permits both the flow of water currents and pedestrians, both adaptable as the season changes. The project utilizes the existing riparian sand quarries with minimum intervention to protect the local micro-terrain and natural vegetation. Rather than building high concrete flood walls up and around, the project incorporated floodable pedestrian paths and pavilions, both integrated with planting terraces designed to be closed to the public during periods of flooding. In addition to the terraced river embankment, the inland areas of the park are all permeable thanks to the use of gravel and re-used material across the pedestrian sections, with permeable paving used in the parking lot.

Sponge City 's terraced riverbank / gravel pavement are part of the park's planned permeability.

Sponge City ‘s terraced riverbank / gravel pavement are part of the park’s planned permeability. Photo: Turenscape

Is this “Sponge City” concept applicable to Los Angeles?

“Sponge City” seems a novel and catchy idea, yet the strategies and principles are actually an adaption of existing technologies already in play here, solutions inspired and sourced from the Low Impact Development (LID).

Actions have already been taken to make Los Angeles more “spongy”. An example: the Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit, a transformation of a residential street incorporating storm water best management practices (BMPs) to capture and filter runoff from a 40-acre area. Before the installation, the neighborhood was subjected to frequent flooding, but with vegetated bio swale and rain barrels, trench drain, and permeable pavers on the private driveway, the performance and appearance of the street is highly improved.

Council of Watershed Health - Elmer Ave Retrofit

Council of Watershed Health – Elmer Ave Retrofit

Moreover, increasingly more single-family homeowners are installing rain barrels to collect rain runoff from roofs to reuse for irrigations or cleaning. And for high-rise residential apartments, green roofs have been installed to reduce the runoff from roof.

Additionally, AHBE's own South Park Streetscape project is the first green street in Downtown LA.

AHBE’s own South Park Streetscape project is the first green street in Downtown LA.

While researching the concept of a Sponge City, I thought about the long-term benefits of these water-wise solutions in both China and here in Los Angeles. Even though we’ve already begun “pre-sponging” the city of Los Angeles by adding several green streets and green roofs, I believe we need to begin thinking of the infrastructure network as a whole system rather than individual sections. Site studies and research of both the Los Angeles Watershed and the city itself is required. However, I am optimistic about the idea of making Los Angeles a “Sponge City”, excited about scaling these water-optimization systems across all of Los Angeles.

I believe an important first step is simply spreading public awareness about the concepts behind a Sponge City. Currently, most Angelenos are not aware of these systems and solutions which could in sum alleviate the stresses placed upon Los Angeles by extreme weather fluctuations. Professor Anas Ghadouani, the regional executive director of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities in Perth, Australia noted, “There is more awareness of the [drought] issue. When you compare it to somewhere like San Diego, I’d say Perth is well ahead; California seems to be shocked when there is a drought, whereas in Perth people are more aware of where water comes from. There’s a focus on diversity of sources that doesn’t surprise people now.”

It’s a notable point worthy of letting “soak in” as we plan for a more water-efficient future.

More resources about Sponge City:


Let’s talk about the Los Angeles River. With 13 members of Congress signing a letter urging President Obama to include funding for the L.A. River in the Administration’s FY17 budget last week, alongside the LA 24 plan for the potential Olympic Games in 2024, it feels like it’s an opportune time to reimagine the city by transforming our old concrete river into an green open space center with multiple uses.

“Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.” – Joan Didion

Under this LA 2024 plan there would be three main clusters. At its heart is a primary cluster based in Downtown Los Angeles, containing 12 venues, hosting 19 sporting events, and potentially the Olympic Village with the International Broadcast Centre. Amongst all the proposals, what caught my eye was a line about “the revitalized LA River forms the spine of the plan”, connecting the newly built Olympic Villages on the east side of the river with the Downtown hub.

Piggyback Yard site plan

Piggyback Yard site plan

This new Olympic Village was proposed for the Piggyback Yard, an empty section of riverfront land of approximately 125 acres used as a railroad yard. Currently the redeployment of land use of the Piggyback Yard has been loosely slated for 2033. However, with the potential for the 2024 Olympic Games being hosted in Los Angeles, maybe it is time for the city to reconsider and accommodate the industrial land to foster a new multi-purpose landscape compatible for urban residential use.

London Games 2012

London Games 2012

For an example we should be looking at a past project called the Thames Gateway, a development created for the 2012 London Olympic Games. The Thames Gateway was a strategy for development of a former industrial site located along of the Thames River. New buildings and different types of housings replaced the abandoned industrial sites and ports. According to the planning and spatial development strategy of great London, the Thames Gateway was one of the most important developing axes for London, creating mixed-use land types along the shore of the river. The 2012 London Olympic proposed the first phase of the Thames Gateway, focusing on the Stratford City and Lower Lea, the new Olympic stadium areas, and a new city center in the future. Some dissent was voiced after the games, noting, “the gateway was not thought out properly and has now been quietly dropped”, but the transformation of the city and the river was still appreciated, and the legacy planning for the London 2012 is still in the works.


It is probably too early to judge the Thames Gateway, since it is an ongoing planning project, but it will never be too early to imagine what the Olympic Games would and could bring to our own Los Angeles River, as well for the city described as place of “dreams and dreamers.”

Photo: Starbucks

Photo: Starbucks

It was only early November when I began noticing people walking around with red Starbucks cups. I knew with the appearance of the vibrant poppy red design that the holiday season had already arrived. The design’s simplicity encourages the customer to project their own experience and memories of the holiday season, illustrating the powers of the colors red and green in evoking seasonal emotions.

Chirstmas-TreeWhile shopping at a Christmas decoration shop recently, my friend said something interesting: “This is really a great season, because it’s the time when you can see how perfectly complementary the colors green and red really are together”.

She was looking at red nutcrackers and glass balls hanging from a Christmas tree when she said this. And it is true…these two colors are normally defined as opposites (e.g. stop and go indicators on traffic signals). But during Christmas red and green exist harmoniously, together representing the holiday spirit. In fact, the color combination has a long and storied history:

“Throughout the years, green, the color that represents life, nature, peace, eternity and the hope of the future, has been important, especially to families trying to survive the harsh conditions that winter brings. While red is an important symbol of Christ’s birth and death, it also reminds the world to celebrate His selfless love and sacrifice. Holly berries, the red robes of church bishops, and red apples on the pine trees of medieval miracle plays were the forerunners of Rudolph’s red nose, and Santa’s familiar crimson suit.”


Moreover, as landscape architects it is common for us to play with the colors green and red in our design: maybe including red flowers or a red art installations, often against the backdrop of a green landscape. The power of red in landscape and architecture has long held importance in China. Associated with happiness, power, and wealth, the color red is visible in a majority of important buildings within the walls of the Forbidden City. Red can be also be seen in the Parc de la Villette. Designed by Bernard Tschumi, the third-largest park in Paris was designed in a space that exists in vacuum: “the red enameled steel folies that support different cultural and leisure activities are superimposed on a system of lines that emphasizes movement through the park.”

Parc de la Villette

Another example is the Qinhuangdao Red Ribbon Park. Spanning one thousand and five hundred feet, the brightly painted structure “combines seating, lighting, environmental interpretation, and orientation against the background of a natural landscape” and winds through the park landscape like a red holiday ribbon.

Photo: .

Photo: Turenscape.

Even subtracting the historical, cultural, and symbolic context behind the color combination of red and green, one can (and should) simply enjoy these two colors together in a celebration of harmony and good memories of the holidays.