SPCS Talks vol.6 Ecological Urban Design
With Brian McGrath and Danai Thaitakoo

Finished Finished

2023-12-20 (Wed)
FabCafe Kyoto MAP
Free (We request that all participants order one drink)



Urban design that incorporates, not isolates, nature

Amid worsening climate change and environmental crises, increasing attention is turning to the relationships between humans and the other organisms on our planet. Even in fields such as design and architecture, which have traditionally prioritized huma-centered values such as economic viability, functionality, and comfort, there is a growing interest in understanding how human creations interact with other organisms and natural processes of the Earth to become part of the ecosystem.
In the midst of this, a movement has emerged where cities are studied as ecosystems from an ecological perspective and that knowledge is applied to architecture and urban design. Brian McGrath and Danai Thaitakoo, practitioners of landscape architecture who have been at the forefront of this movement in Thailand and the United States, will be in Kyoto to share their experiences in the field and discuss the future of urban design.

The two, in particular, have proposed a new perspective on viewing cities as watersheds, focusing on the flow of water that connects ecosystems. In recent years, their former students have been integrating their views on hydrology, ecology, architecture, and urban design into the design of public spaces and parks in Bangkok. In addition to discussing their work, this event also aims to introduce emerging design trends in Thailand.

As abnormal weather patterns become more frequent in Japan there is a growing need not only to address natural disasters as they come but also to incorporate ecosystem-based urban planning and establish ways for people to reconnect with nature. Let’s explore these ideas together with McGrath and Thaitakoo.

Practitioners of Ecological Urban Design from New York and Bangkok

Brian McGrath, Associate Director of the Tishman Center and Professor of Urban Design at Parsons

As an architect, McGrath has dedicated himself to the relationship between urban design, the environment, and social justice. He served as the principal investigator for the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, one of the first research programs to study cities from an ecological perspective. His work has contributed significantly to reimagining cities as subjects of ecology and promoting architecture and urban design based on ecological principles.

Danai Thaitakoo, Lecturer, Landscape Architecture Program, School of Architecture and Design, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

In the field of landscape design, Thaitakoo has conducted extensive research on the traditional waterfront urban landscape in Thailand and its transformation due to modernization. Based on anthropological and geographical studies of traditional Thai irrigation systems and water management, he has reinterpreted traditional Thai architecture and urban planning in relation to the environment. Together with McGrath, he proposes viewing contemporary Bangkok as a watershed system, through the lens of Waterscape Urbanism.

They will be introducing examples of their past projects, including Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park:

Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park

With today’s constantly fluctuating climates cause rising sea levels, storm surges, and unexpected heavy rainfall, low-lying cities worldwide have to prepare for urban floods. Thailand is no exception; as sea levels rise and concrete infrastructure increases, Bangkok is said to be sinking at a rate of 2 centimeters per year.

In 2017, to commemorate their 100th anniversary, Chulalongkorn University transformed 11 acres of land extending from the central campus in Bangkok into a new public park. The park’s distinctive feature is its sustainable water storage, aiming to reduce urban flood risks while simultaneously providing a space for urban residents to reconnect with nature. Designed with various ecological elements, the park encourages living with water instead of fearing it.

Within its gentle slopes, multiple ecological components, including rooftop greenery, wetlands, play areas, and ponds, are integrated. Rainwater and runoff are drawn into the park’s terrain, creating a water circulation system. In the event of heavy rainfall leading to the malfunction of public sewers, the park is capable of storing up to a million gallons of water.

Adjacent to the main lawn square are eight "Outdoor Landscape Classrooms" lining both sides of the park, each featuring different biomes and layouts. These outdoor classrooms are divided into various areas such as herb gardens, meditation spaces, reading rooms, bamboo gardens, playgrounds, and an Earth Amphitheater. Meticulous attention to detail, including the use of porous materials and locally sourced resources, is dedicated to enhancing the ecological features of these outdoor classrooms.

Benchakiti Forest Park

Benchakiti Forest Park is an urban park located in the former tobacco factory district in Bangkok, covering an area of 720,000 square meters. Established after the relocation of the tobacco factories, it serves as an ecological park to enhance the understanding and knowledge of the urban community regarding ecology, forests, hydrology, and the environment while also aiming to protect the urban ecological environment.

In Thailand’s monsoon season, floods and droughts pose significant challenges. This park plays a crucial role as a large sponge, collecting rainwater during the rainy season and releasing it during the dry season. It also purifies contaminated water from urban drainage and sewage flowing in from canals using wetland plants, producing clean water at a rate of 1,600 cubic meters per day during the rainy season (the majority of this region was originally a wetland area). The islands within the wetlands also function as protected areas for many species to seek refuge.

The park is connected by a 1.67 km-long skywalk designed with the principles of universal design, featuring facilities catering to a wide age range, including bike paths, walking trails, gardens, lawn squares, and a circular theater, as well as pavilions.

Recommended for

  • Individuals exploring the interaction with plants in urban planning and landscape design, designers, architects, and developers with an interest in biophilic design.
  • Administrative officials involved in area design planning and initiatives.
  • Professionals from companies actively engaged in circular design and nature-positive approaches.



  • Atsuro Morita (Graduate School of Human Sciences, Professor / Ethnography Lab, Osaka Representative)
  • Sarah Ho (SPCS, Moderator)
Presentation I

  • Brian McGrath (Associate Director of the Tishman Center and Professor of Urban Design at Parsons)
Presentation II

  • Danai Thaitakoo (Lecturer, Landscape Architecture Program, School of Architecture and Design, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi)
Crosstalk, Q&A

  • Brian McGrath
  • Danai Thaitakoo
  • Atsuro Morita (Graduate School of Human Sciences, Professor / Ethnography Lab, Osaka Representative)
  • Sarah Ho (SPCS, Moderator)


Date and Time
20th December 2023 (Wednesday) 18:00-20:00
Admission Fee
Free (We request that all participants order one drink)
FabCafe Kyoto
Graduate School of Human Sciences, Morita Lab、SPCS (loftwork Inc.)
Please note
  • This program will be conducted in English. (There are plans to provide either real-time interpretation or display automatic translation text, but please note that not all talks may be covered.)
  • In the case of a high number of applications, there is a possibility of selection by raffle.
  • Photos of participants and program content may be posted on the loftwork.com/FabCafe Kyoto website at a later date.
  • The program is subject to change without prior notice.


FabCafe Kyoto

SPCS (pronunced species) explores designs and forms of expression that collaborate with nature by actively confronting its uncontrollable factors through prototyping. Each season, we will invite a variety of lecturers to co-develop programs that mix natural sciences, design, art, engineering, culture, and other disciplines.

For more information about us and our past activities >>
SPCS|A community exploring biological design



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