A highly polluted zone in the Lazio region of central Italy, located six kilometers from the town of Latina, in the Pontine Marshes. The Marshes are a vast, low-lying environmental system southeast of Rome that have bedevilled planners and builders before the ancient Romans even started to write their own history.
Mussolini finally drained the Marshes with an ambitious system of canals. But now those canals are contaminating agricultural land and dumping farm, factory and domestic waste into the Mediterranean.
MIT professor Alan Berger faces down a canal in Latina. Credit: Claudio Palmisano for the NYT
Enter Alan Berger, FAAR’08. Berger is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He also directs MIT’s Project for Reclamation Excellence (P-REX), which provides transdisciplinary research and consultation on the planning and design of the natural and built environment.
As Elisabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times describes him in a 22 September 2008 profile, “Professor Berger specializes in creating new ecosystems in severely damaged environments: redirecting water flow, moving hills, building islands and planting new species to absorb pollution, to create natural, though ‘artificial’, landscapes that can ultimately sustain themselves.”
Berger had caught the attention of The New York Times already a couple of years ago, for his redesign of an area around an abandoned mine in Breckenridge, Colorado, as part of a Superfund cleanup underwritten by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Thanks to a 2007-08 Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, Berger was able to work closely with the Provincia di Latina Planning Agency and Consorzio dell’Agro Pontino in developing a set of innovative solutions for an environmentally challenged and challenging area.
In addition to extensive archival research—more on that in a moment—Berger conducted aerial photography of the Latina region and created the largest contemporary image archive of the landscape systems (all that water!) and ecological conditions of the area.
Berger’s studio at the American Academy in Rome, June 2008. Courtesy Alan Berger.
“He studied the zone from a different point of view than ours,” said Carlo Perotto, the planning director for the province, to The New York Times. “We had different people concerned with water, industry and agriculture. He opened a new way of thinking.”
The site strategy? To artificially re-introduce a gigantic new “wetland machine” (2.3 square km) for water filtering and biological exchange. Specifically, Berger’s design retro-fits and widens existing Pontine canals to serve as flow distributors. Plus he “terraforms” shallow ridges and valleys to hold and treat water. These soil cut and fill operations make raised areas for new public space and programs.
Berger’s future “Wetland Machine”, systemic site and aerial perspectives. ©2008 Alan Berger, P-REX
The upshot? Berger’s “natural cleansing station” will drastically improve the regional water supply, spur biodiversity, and provide open space for recreation—in an area that now completely lacks large open landscapes with diverse vegetation. For more details, read here.
“MIT has funded the collaboration,” Berger tells the SOF Weblog, “for me and two students to work for two years, and Latina has acquired a site and budget for moving this to reality. The research is now reality!”
There’s even more after the jump… (more…)