We embraced Chester’s historical relationship with its waterways by visiting locations such as the Roman Water Tower along the canals, the riverbanks along the Welsh Border Path, and the area of the future Chester Wetlands Center. We used a drone to capture a bird’s eye view of the locations to places where we couldn't physically access, so that we could comprehensively analyze the area.
After speaking to experts from the GROVENOR Museum and the LIFE River Dee organisation, we realised that the disrupted migration process of local salmon was one of the most pressing water-related issues in the area.
While these fish don’t stop in the Chester area, the River Dee acts as a part of the pathway for adult fish to migrate upstream from the ocean to spawn, and for baby fish, known as smolts, to migrate downstream to the sea.
Because of manmade alterations to the river like weirs and dams, the river flow has increased rapidly over time, which has disrupted the natural migration patterns of the fish and made it more difficult for them to reach their destinations.
For this reason, salmon populations have been in decline, reverberating through the entire food chain and affecting other wildlife both in Chester and along the entire river. Surprisingly, in our interviews and assessments, we were concerned with the huge lack of public knowledge around this important issue.
Our ambition is to explore how we might help these aid fish populations whilst addressing the ecological and cultural context of the city to educate the Chester population about the river and its salmon in an immersive way.
What we will do
We became most inspired by the Chester Racecourse, known locally as the Roodee, and the path along its perimeter next to the river bank. This site was once underwater during the Roman times. Due to human alterations, however, the river silted up over time, forming the land area that is now the Roodee and making navigation impossible for ships.
Along the shores of the riverbank is a long curve shaped willow woodland area that is currently unused. Although the shoreline has been heavily changed from its original form, this neglected site has great potential for ecological restoration and engagement with the Chester community.
Our plan is to convert this willow woodland area into a sculptural moss garden to provide both environmental and educational benefits to the city. Our vision is that the park will engage the public from the immediate to distant future, educate them about Chester’s environmental issues, and empower them to have a stake in restoring the area into a biologically thriving area.
The garden will be based around a tree and sculpture adoption program, connecting residents directly with the environment and its wildlife. People in Chester will be able to sponsor the planting of a new willow tree that will be linked to a commissioned local artist from Chester who will sculpt a unique timber structure of a salmon and other wildlife affected by the current state of the River Dee. Over the course of years, the new trees will grow and absorb the sculptures, meaning that the garden will be in a constant state of change and evolution.
To encourage engagement and interaction with the sculpture garden over time, we also propose the design of an app that enhances the experience of visiting the garden through augmented reality, also known as AR.
Users will be able to point their cameras at the animal sculptures to make them come to life in a playful, animated manner. These characters, drawn by local graphic designers, will move and narrate educational information about the garden and how it will help Chester’s ecosystems.
The app will also advise ways that the general public can help with Chester’s ongoing aims to be a greener city–for example, staying on the footpath to avoid disturbing wildlife and to keep oneself safe along the riverbank. Furthermore, the app will be connected with real time water quality monitoring data on the River Dee, provided by the Safer Seas & Rivers Service, to raise awareness of water cleanliness.
Reflecting on our project, we feel that the Grand Challenge allowed for each of us to explore the research and ideation methods that aligned with our individual strengths and interests, speaking to the interdisciplinary focus of the project. Ultimately, it was this range that allowed us to fuse our collective expertise and arrive at our final proposal.
Our goal for this project was to build something beneficial for the riverbanks and the flora and fauna living around it. Drawing inspiration from the city pride of Chester residents, we hope for our project to build a bridge between the community and the ecological restoration of the River Dee and its wildlife.
Our garden empowers the community by actively restoring and protecting the riverbed area, while shedding light on environmental issues and educating and involving the public. By connecting with the local artistic community, we aspire to boost the artistic economy within the area as well. In whole, we envision our garden to create a positive impact on the salmon migration process, which will have a domino effect for the river at large.
We are immensely proud and grateful for the recognition our project and design have received. Out of a pool of 96 teams, we are honored to have been shortlisted as one of the top twelve. It is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and creativity of our team.