Alumnus Tomoki Mita’s Global Landscape Architectural PursuitsThu, Feb 6, 2020
Tomoki Mita, alumnus of the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS), travels around the world to pursue his career in landscape architecture. He was part of the team at ICN Design International involved in designing the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore and several urban landscape projects. He currently works on a number of projects at PFS Studio in Vancouver, Canada. In our interview, he discusses his career successes, rewards and challenges. His experience demonstrates how education program at SILS could open doors to diverse careers both locally and globally.
Mita’s career in landscape architecture began with his pursuit of his interests in global environmental issues since high school. At Waseda University, he dived into environmental policy and international relations. During his senior year, he conducted research into case studies on eco-villages and environmentally sustainable communities as a part of his graduate thesis. In doing so, he recognized the impact of the urban development on the environment as led by the construction industry and felt the need to address this issue not only through environmental policy but also urban planning and environmental design. “It was soon after that I found about landscape architecture as a design profession that deals with the planning and design of cities, parks, streetscapes, and ecological habitats for flora and fauna. He decided to use landscape architecture as a catalyst for industrial and environmental change.
When designing the Jewel, Mita and his team had to manage aesthetic, logistical and environmental expectations. Given the size and importance of the plants in the airport’s design, he and his contractor spent months just to plan delivery logistics and strategies to install the plants on site, especially moving them amid the constant flow of “taxi and vehicles around the site as a busy international hub in Southeast Asia.” He recalled that some of the trees and palms were over ten meters tall and had to be shipped in cargo ships over a few days, “which required meticulous care of the plants and their root system.” The biggest challenge Mita faced in the Jewel Changi Airport project was to procure, deliver and install the plants on site, he said. A key feature of the project (see photo) is the airport’s indoor garden, which, according to Mita, symbolizes the gateway to Singapore. Installed and planted indoors are over 900 trees and palms as well as about 60,000 shrubs in the the Jewel dome. Overall there were more than 200 plant species, which displayed biodiversity of the garden. Logistically, it was hard to source the plants from around the world: Australia and China, Southeast Asia and Europe, and North and South America. “The most crucial part was establishing and maintain plants from different parts of the world in the fully enclosed indoor environment,” he said.
Another challenge was selecting plant species that could adapt to the airport’s air-conditioned environment of 24 degrees Celsius and 65% humidity. He and his team constructed a poly-tunnel at a local nursery to test many plant species in the simulated environment over two years. They also pre-grew large trees and palms under the outdoor shade nets for two years to acclimatize the plants before planting them on site, said Mita. Providing an auto-irrigation system and maintenance access throughout the building was a “pain in the neck…We had to be careful not to compromise [the] waterproofing of interior walls and ceilings, and took many rounds of discussions to coordinate combined services of the building with the landscape,” he said.
Landscape architectural design involves a number of factors, according to Mita. He considered environmental— and sustainability— factors when designing landscape. “Maintaining plants indoor takes extra care and effort, but the horticulture team did a very good job.” Mita said he believes plants and indoor landscapes can make a difference in how users experience the building ambience. One of the sustainability factors being considered was the design and function of the diagrid glass of the architecture. Architects and environmental consultants designed the glass glazing of the glass façade to incorporate necessary sunlight for all planting areas. Simultaneously, they reduced radiant heat to the interior space. Each piece of the glass panel has different shape to construct the oval shape of the dome and was custom made to enable this function. Mita emphasizes the importance of understanding the local climatic environment when devising designs. A feature of Jewel is that it uses rain water for the design’s water and the auto-irrigation system for the plants, according to Mita. For example, the airport boasts the world’s tallest 40 meter indoor water fall (Rain Vortex) in the dome’s center and planting both in and outside the dome. Because Singapore has heavy annual precipitation, especially during the monsoon seasons, such features can make the most of it. The rain water harvesting tank was located on the basement of the building and designed to recycle and supply rain water to water feature and auto-irrigation systems through pipe lines and pump systems.
Mita’s work paid off. The Singapore Changi Airport has topped the list of best airports by a number of sources, including seven consecutive years by Skytrax. Many travelers consider the Singapore airport to be the best airport in the world, but the build-up to this reputation has not been easy. Mita admires the airport, which has ample amenities. The airport has been awarded “Best Airport” for five consecutive years. “I have to say Changi Airport goes beyond the notion of airport as aviation facility. You can spot many restaurants, supermarkets and food court, shower and relaxation facilities, free movie theatre and playground for kids. Maybe this is the future of airports,” he said.
Mita has taken on another project. Since early 2019, Mita has been working for PFS Studio in Vancouver, Canada. The company is a leading firm in urban design and landscape architecture that works with both public and private sectors. The firm has led or been centrally involved in many large-scale planning and design projects mainly in Canada, the United States, and China, as well as other locations.
PFS Studio’s work focuses mainly on public realm projects, which includes public realm strategies, public parks, plazas, streetscapes and campus masterplanning, civic precincts, and high-density redevelopment schemes. “Our typical tasks span research, site analysis and concept development in the early design phase, to preparing technical drawings and graphic renderings for submission to clients, local authorities, and contractors for construction.” Since April, Mita has been involved in high-profile projects in Metro Vancouver and Victoria, which ranges from parks, campus renewals to office towers and mixed-use developments. He strives to bring his experience in design development, technical drawing and construction project management skills earned in Singapore to the firm’s current and future projects. His “long-term goal is to become a licensed landscape architect here in North America.” He hopes to contribute to designing sustainable landscapes and cities and find solutions to urban development and environmental issues experienced in both the developed and developing countries.
Mita is an example of how the liberal arts education at SILS can benefit students who want to pursue a degree that could provide them with a wide range of career options. In the field of built environment, professionals from a range of fields collaborate on a daily basis: architects, developers, engineers, sociologists, scientists, he said. “This [working with people across various fields] allowed me to realize the importance of cross-disciplinary thinking that goes beyond the boundaries of academic disciplines, and I strongly feel that liberal arts education at SILS will become more and more crucial,” he said. “Becoming a person and a professional that you aspire to be takes a long time and requires commitment,” he added. But he hopes SILS graduates “will become people who can think outside of the box and make a contribution to international society.”
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Marina Yoshimura (4th Year Student)
School of International Liberal Studies