"What on Earth Georgia"

Sarah talks about open space and parks in Tbilisi with JAM News

Plants at Arsenal Oasis

The Arsenal site supports a diversity of plant species. The primary ecologies are Kartli Steppe and Emergent Wetland. These communities are the result of abundant sunshine on this south-facing slope and water from the leaking pipe. By channeling the excess water we initiated a third ecology, the Fruit and Flower Orchard, which will further increase the species diversity and provide fruit and flowers for a variety of animals and visiting people to enjoy.


Relict grey cinnamonic soils and skeletal anthrosoils cover most of the site, making substantial afforestation a challenge. The orchard is planted with drought-resistant species along a moisture gradient: those species requiring more water will be located closer to our wetland terrace and water source. The species include Amygdalus communis and Prunus cerasus.


The wetland area includes a mix of reeds including two species of cattail: Typha laxmanni and Typha latifolia, and the tall Arundo donax, considered invasive in the Western Hemisphere. Several colorful flowering herbaceous species include Mentha longifolia and Inula aspera.

From the existing trees, we trimmed and planted live stakes of Populus alba, Populus nigra, Salix alba, and Salix excelsa in the wetland terrace. At first, we tried to set them upright in the stones and soils, but we soon learned that they will sprout in an orientation. Live stake planting is a common and economical method for wetland ecology establishment and riparian restoration projects.

During the winter of 2021, there was a brush fire which and the wetland burned. This area regenerated quickly and the disturbance is barely noticeable today.


During a planting workshop last fall, we used the Miyawaki Tiny Forest Method to create a forest nucleation patch by the upper pipe. The dense patch of tree species was selected for their hardiness and drought-tolerance. The density of the planting will help retain soil moisture in the tiny forest; nurse plants - Celtis australis ssp. caucasica and Cotinus coggygria - will shade and protect other tree seedlings as they grow.

This fall, we will collect seeds and stakes from the territory to use in a new ruderal planting installation in the center of Tbilisi.

Change of Color

August 25 is the day of Transfiguration, written in Georgian as ფერისცვალება: literally ‘change of color”. Transfiguration informally marks the start of fall, when there’s a slight change in the angle of sunlight.

This fall we are excited to announce the launch of our website,ruderal.com. A big thank you to the team at Platform for their expertise in design and development.

Our studio and field posts this month include:

>> Visualising Mtatsminda Forest: How simple models of ecological diversity can drive culturally relevant reforestation efforts, by Ben Hackenberger and Christian Moore;

>> Mtatsminda Perennials: Much to see on the forest floor, by Christian Moore;

>> Bigger MPs: Amplifying landscape identity with digital and analog tools, by Sarah Cowles;

>> 96 Bridges and 53 Tunnels: Construction of Georgia's East-West Highway Reshapes the Rikoti Pass, by Ben Hackenberger.

This fall we welcome landscape designer and Fulbright Student Scholar Sarah Coleman. Her project: “Terrain Cures: New Approaches of Interpretive Trail Making in the Historic Health Landscape of the Sadgeri Plateau” is a continuation of her thesis work at Knowlton School. She will divide her time between Tbilisi and fieldwork in the Borjomi region.

Visualising Mtatsminda Forest

How simple models of ecological diversity can drive culturally relevant reforestation efforts

This iconic forest in Ambrolauri is an example of a forest aesthetic that has come to hold cultural significance to the Republic of Georgia.

The desire to plant and protect urban forests is driven as much by cultural value as it is by ecological value. In the Matsminda project, we developed a digital workflow to incorporate ecological and aesthetic principles into our proposed planting plans.

While clumps of certain species emerge, intermixing is better understood through plant behavior than through principles of picturesque composition.

The process began with data collection and interpretation by geologists and wildlife biologists. These specialists collected traditional spatial data and provided a qualitative analysis of habitat and recent trends in environmental change. We then compared this data against our own field observations of plant communities on territories with similar environmental qualities.

We distilled this qualitative analysis into typical forest conditions and used the geospatial data to identify “plantable areas” where the forest is most likely to succeed. We then matched typical forest conditions to these plantable areas, which became the centers of the new forest under principles of applied nucleation.

Adding an exclusion radius to certain species allowed us to create an abstract model of species competition over different time frames. While the density of forest cover is held constant, the composition of the forest will change over time.

A rules-based approach to planting and simulation allows us to rapidly generate and evaluate planting plans through ecological and aesthetic parameters. The rules of the planting plan reflect the behaviors and preferences of plants and plant communities as well as the preexisting geological conditions on the territory. Rather than “painting” the ridge with clumps of species to achieve a picturesque image, we generated and manipulated the actual composition of the proposed patches to achieve ecological and aesthetic diversity.

Cedrus deodara is highlighted here in red. Once the desired species composition is achieved in plan, a second script individually rotates, scales, and vertically positions a model of Cedrus deodara.

Schematic visualization allows for the introduction of textures and visual information that bridges the scales of cartographic and architectural rendering.

This combination of workflows allows us to evaluate the outcomes of the rules-driven planting plan from an aesthetic perspective. Once a desired “mosaic” is achieved across the ridge, we reverse-engineer the simulation to produce a planting plan that can be easily executed by planting teams in the field. Thus, the “code” of the forest is imbued with an ecological, aesthetic, and logistical intelligence that can be adapted and amplified through future interventions.

96 Bridges and 53 Tunnels

Construction of Georgia's East-West Highway Reshapes the Rikoti Pass

The existing two-lane Tbilisi-Zestaponi highway crosses the Dzriula River in the village Kvesrevi, several kilometers west of the Rikoti Pass

The canyons of central Georgia are located at an historical crossroads between Central Europe and Central Asia. Renewed interest in this route, driven by China’s New Silk Road Initiative and European interests in the Trans-Caucasus Transit Corridor are bringing global-scale infrastructure through these relatively remote villages.

While several existing pipelines and railways carry petroleum products from Central Asia to the Black Sea ports, the East-West Highway through the Rikoti Pass will enable the multimodal shipment of containers from East Asia to Central Europe.

Where the Soviet-era highway intertwines with the river and weaves its way through canyons, the new freeway punches through with a series of tunnels and bridges. In some cases, a tunnel and bridge along the existing alignment can be supplemented by a tunnel and bridge carrying new lanes. Here this is accomplished by cutting the ridge away entirely.

A backhoe drives through the riverbed to avoid disrupting the flow of traffic on the existing road, causing significant turbidity and disruption of the river’s flow.

When all of this straightening-out of the road is completed, the 5-6 hour drive from Tbilisi to Batumi will be reduced to 3 hours, making it much easier for motorists to travel from the capital to the Black Sea coast.

In most areas the realignment will move traffic away from village roads, creating the opportunity for more pleasant access to the river. In others, the loss of the roadside economy will prove challenging.

In total the East-West Highway improvements are expected to cost over 800 million USD, with financing from the European Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency among others.

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