Matrix of Change

Location: Latrobe, Australia
Status: Masterplan completed in July 2014

Exhibition: Sep 4th 2014 / Center for Architecture, New York

“Matrix of Change” envisions a vibrant and healthy future for the City of Latrobe with tourism and sustainable farming as its new primary industries. The concept of the matrix is two-fold: it refers to the physical matrix of integrated dairy farming, carbon farming, and tree farming, and also represents the cultural matrix of local history and human activity. It responds to current urban symptoms  and proposes a strategic plan to redefine the City of Latrobe through shifting its industry focus, reprogramming  its land use, and increasing its economic diversity. It creates a platform for residents to adopt new technologies and to cooperate internally to achieve sustainable energy consumption in different industries. The city’s cultural and industrial background is honored by re-purposing existing infrastructures, and its identity is maintained through the use of historical context as design elements to give the City of Latrobe a unique sense of place and make it a travel destination. By proposing a gradual shift from the current coal-based electricity generation industry to farming and tourism-oriented industries, the City of Latrobe has the potential to reduce 65 mt of CO2 production each year. In the long run, the impact to the city will be a series of symbiotic relationships among various systems that balance the use of resources and increase the quality of life to keep the City of Latrobe vital and healthy for long-term sustainability.

Latrobe City  -  38° 14’ 37” S, 146° 23’ 45” E
The City of Latrobe is a local government area in the Gippsland region in eastern Victoria, Australia. It covers an area of 1,426 square kilometers (551 square miles) and has a population of 72,396. Latrobe’s major industries include coal extraction, electricity generation, paper production, dairy farming, and food processing.

Industry Overview

The  City of Latrobe has an abundant forest, rich agricultural land, and large brown coal resources; it is recognized as the center of Victoria’s electricity industry, situating it within the fragile interface between industrial expansion and natural integrity. The City of Latrobe’s four major power stations produce approximately 90% of Victoria’s electricity.  With aggressive industrial and agricultural operations, residents may bypass healthy lifestyles.
Quickly growing industries come with environmental threats. The greenhouse gases and groundwater pollutants produced by dairy farming, open cut brown coal mining, and coal burning (to generate electricity) are far more than natural system  can process. Intense water extraction (for mining and irrigation) changes the local soil structure, and the hydrological system makes river banks more likely to fail and, thus, increases flooding.
Fortunately, as local government envisions a low carbon future for the City of Latrobe, three major open cut coal mines are due to close within the next 30 years . This gives an opportunity to solve current environmental issues and visualize a vibrant future for the region.

Livestock Farming & Cropping: Livestock farming covers over 20% of Latrobe’s land. While generating income and job opportunities for the region, it creates severe ecological damage. Intensive irrigated dairy farming has resulted in poor water quality in the region. Other significant off-site impacts including high nutrient loads. Nitrogen escaped from manure creates frequent algal blooms in local water bodies.
Agroforestry & Natural Reserve: Forest covers over 50% of Latrobe’s land, while over 40% of it is used as softwood plantations for paper manufacturing.  It has the opportunity to be integrated with livestock farming and cropping to reduce local carbon level.

Water System & Flood Plain: Dairy farming, open cut mining, and underground water extraction have changed soil structure dramatically on site. Riverbanks are no longer stable, and flooding happens frequently. Operating Mines & Coal Resources: Latrobe is recognized as the center of Victoria’s electricity industry, which is derived from the city’s rich brown coal reserve. There are three open cut coal mines in the city. While providing electricity and job opportunities for the region, it creates ecological damages, including ground water pollution, greenhouse gases, and soil run off.

Riparian Buffer as Habitat Engine

In response to existing landform and floodplains in the valley, a riparian buffer can be introduced as soft stormwater management infrastructure and habitat engine.