Posted: October 3, 2016

With our new SFS Center for Mekong Studies, we now have more trees and open spaces– somewhat of a blank canvas to start incorporating conservation theories into practice on a daily basis. Students have been brainstorming urban conservation design, with an emphasis on water, food, energy, nature and culture.

Working on the principle of strength through diversity, we encourage the philosophy of ‘many minds make great designs’. All of the students have been providing innovative ideas to promote sustainability and enhance conservation values. From that first rough sketch ideas have started to flourish and some of their ideas are shared below.

Nature Conservation: With a focus on conservation, students looked at landscaping the site with strategic flower and fruit plantings to encourage birds, butterflies and bees by bringing colour, fragrance and interest to the site. There may even be the chance to collect honey from native bees! The design ideas also encourage using a tree corridor along the fence-line to provide arboreal links and enhance the local ecology. A healthy system will also encourage natural pest predators to stop hungry insects from eating our vegetables!

Water Conservation: Like many places, Siem Reap struggles to balance water supply and demand through the year. The wet season has too much water and the dry season too little water. Multiple approaches are being used to collect and store rainwater on the site. Some of the water storage can also shade and cool adjoining buildings. The design can incorporate low areas to collect and infiltrate water into the ground, and plantings will link to water needs.


Water collection and storage integrated with vertical garden. Sacra, M., Eckart, P., & Jo, I. SFS Urban Conservation Design (2016)

Energy Conservation: With a tropical climate, the major power use is on cooling. An initial assessment identified poor alignment, with large walls catching and storing the heat, making it harder to keep the building cool. Approaches to enhance natural cooling through shade from vertical gardens and strategic planting to channel the wind will reduce energy needs. With almost endless sunshine, the use of solar panels could provide renewable energy and also provide some additional shading.

Food security: Learning is hungry work, and the SFS Mekong site is large enough to grow some plants and raise some animals. Raised beds and vertical gardens for vegetables, and food forests for fruits and nuts, are some of the approaches to take advantage of the tropical system. A mobile “Chicken tractor” will help supply eggs and prepare garden beds. Banana compost circles can help convert any food scraps that the chickens or other animals don’t eat, into rich soil.


Photo courtesy of Hannah Cho

Cultural significance: An important part of our ongoing research is about better identifying and understanding the rich diversity of medicinal plants in the area. Many of these medicinal plants are related to the ginger family and can tolerate a bit of shade, so they aren’t competing with vegetables. The new site has a small spirit house in the shade that is tended by the local team; what better place to incorporate a traditional medicine garden.


The Achar (master of ceremonies) leads the blessing ceremony for the new SFS Center for Mekong Studies

The great thing is that these conservation ideas can be adapted to most urban settings. We are open to more ideas and look forward to hearing what you are doing in your backyards!

→ Conservation, Ethics, and Environmental Change in Cambodia