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Table of contents :
FOREWORD. KONGJIAN YU’S CHALLENGE......Page 7
INTRODUCTION. ECOLOGY, WITH PLEASURE......Page 8
POPULAR AESTHETICS, PUBLIC HISTORY......Page 10
VALUE THE ORDINARY: ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK, ZHONGSHAN......Page 20
FIASCOES OF CHINESE URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND TURENSCAPE’S ALTERNATIVES......Page 34
THE BIG FOOT REVOLUTION......Page 42
GO PRODUCTIVE: THE RICE CAMPUS OF SHENYANG JIANZHU UNIVERSITY, SHENYANG......Page 50
THE ART FIELD: NORTH GRANT PARK, CHICAGO......Page 56
THE BOY WHO READ BOOKS RIDING A WATER BUFFALO......Page 60
MAKE FRIENDS WITH FLOODS: THE FLOATING GARDENS OF YONGNING RIVER PARK, TAIZHOU......Page 66
RESHAPE AN URBAN WATERFRONT: YINZHOU CENTRAL RIVER TRANSFORMATION, NINGBO......Page 78
TREAD LIGHTLY: RED RIBBON PARK, QINHUANGDAO......Page 84
REGENERATE SURGICALLY: BEACH RESTORATION, QINHUANGDAO......Page 94
TRANSFORMING A WORKING LANDSCAPE: QINHUANGDAO FOREST PARK, QINHUANGDAO......Page 100
THE ACTIVIST EDUCATOR......Page 106
LET NATURE DO HER WORK: THE ADAPTATION PALETTES OF QIAOYUAN WETLAND PARK, TIANJIN......Page 116
GATHER PEOPLE: BRIDGED GARDENS, TIANJIN......Page 124
GATHER PEOPLE: LONG SLEEVE SKYWALK, XUZHOU......Page 132
GATHER PEOPLE: DUJIANGYAN SQUARE, CHENGDU......Page 136
GATHER PEOPLE: CHINATOWN PARK, BOSTON......Page 140
MYTHS AND STRATEGIES OF ECOLOGICAL PLANNING......Page 144
A GREEN SPONGE FOR A WATER-RESILIENT CITY: QUNLI STORM WATER PARK, HARBIN......Page 152
LANDSCAPE AS A LIVING SYSTEM: HOUTAN PARK, SHANGHAI......Page 164
CHINA’S WATER RESOURCES AND HOUTAN PARK......Page 184
REINVENT THE GOOD EARTH: NATIONAL ECOLOGICAL SECURITY PATTERN PLAN, CHINA......Page 192
(R)EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURES......Page 200
LET LANDSCAPE LEAD URBANISM: GROWTH PLANNING FOR BEIJING, BEIJING......Page 212
BEGIN WITH ECOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: WULIJIE ECO-CITY, WULIJIE......Page 222
RECOVER THE MOTHER RIVER: SANLIHE GREENWAY, QIAN’AN......Page 226
ACTIVATE A RESILIENT RIVER: MINNEAPOLIS WATERFRONT DESIGN CONCEPT, MINNEAPOLIS......Page 234
MAKE ARCHITECTURE INTO LANDSCAPE: LOW-CARBON APARTMENT, BEIJING......Page 242
MAKE LANDSCAPE INTO ARCHITECTURE: HALLELUJAH CONCERT HALL, ZHANGJIAJIE......Page 246
AFTERWORD. THE PERSISTENT PROMISE OF ECOLOGICAL PLANNING......Page 250
PROJECT CREDITS......Page 254
ILLUSTRATION CREDITS......Page 256
Designed Ecologies The Landscape Architecture of Kongjian Yu
For Candace—high-spirited, funny, lovely, generous….
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Qingyun Ma, and Kongjian Yu.
Designed Ecologies The Landscape Architecture of Kongjian Yu William S. Saunders (ed.)
Foreword Kongjian Yu’s Challenge
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
Reshape an Urban Waterfront: Yinzhou Central River Transformation, Ningbo
Introduction Ecology, With Pleasure
Value the Ordinary: Zhongshan Shipyard Park, Zhongshan
William S. Saunders
Fiascoes of Chinese Urban Development and Turenscape’s Alternatives Antje Stokman 42
The Big Foot Revolution Kongjian Yu 50
Go Productive: The Rice Campus of Shenyang Jianzhu University, Shenyang 56
Tread Lightly: Red Ribbon Park, Qinhuangdao 94
Regenerate Surgically: Beach Restoration, Qinhuangdao 100
TRANSFORMING A WORKING LANDSCAPE: QINHUaNGDAO FOREST PARK, QINHUANGDAO 106
The Activist Educator Frederick R. Steiner 116
Let Nature Do Her Work: The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan Wetland Park, Tianjin
The Boy Who Read Books Riding a Water Buffalo
The Art Field: North Grant Park, Chicago
William S. Saunders
Gather People: Bridged Gardens, Tianjin
Make Friends with Floods: The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park, Taizhou
Gather People: Long Sleeve Skywalk, Xuzhou
Gather People: Dujiangyan Square, Chengdu
Let Landscape Lead Urbanism: Growth Planning for Beijing, BEIJING
Afterword The Persistent Promise of Ecological Planning Charles Waldheim
Gather People: Chinatown PARK, Boston
Begin with Ecological Infrastructure: Wulijie Eco-City, Wulijie
Myths and Strategies of Ecological Planning Kristina Hill 152
A Green Sponge for A WATER-RESILIENT CITY: Qunli STORM WATER PARK, Harbin 164
Landscape as a Living System: Houtan Park, Shanghai 184
China’s Water Resources and Houtan Park Peter G. Rowe 192
Reinvent the Good Earth: National Ecological Security Pattern Plan, CHINA 200
(R)evolutionary Ecological Infrastructures Kelly Shannon
Recover the Mother River: Sanlihe Greenway, Qian’an 234
Activate a Resilient River: Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept, Minneapolis 242
Make Architecture into Landscape: Low-Carbon Apartment, BeijinG 246
Make Landscape into Architecture: Hallelujah Concert Hall, ZHANGJIAJIE
Project Credits 256
Kongjian Yu’s Challenge Peter Walker
have rarely achieved. It is as if the schism that divided the Olmstedian vision has been washed away, freeing the spread of landscape architecture into the widest range of scales.
Among the many remarkable qualities of Kongjian Yu’s professional practice, three may be of particular interest to landscape architects around the world. First is the tremendous range of projects that his firm, Turenscape, has undertaken since Yu earned his Doctorate of Design degree from Harvard in 1995. Second is the range of intellectual influence the practice exercises within the context of the hypergrowth experienced in China over the past two decades. Third, and most important, this pragmatic practice has been able to test many ideas that are still largely theories in the Western world.
Yu’s physical design style incorporates agriculture as both a major scaling device and a metaphor. He also frequently integrates sculptural references in ways reminiscent of André Le Nôtre’s huge Baroque seventeenth-century gardens, which were also based on agricultural images. The juxtaposition of sculpture within cropinspired fields allows the design control of spaces from small to gigantic, a neat trick that brings the current nostalgia for “nature” into a controllable visible composition. One can hardly wait for these bold and brilliant steps to be realized spatially in the major city and regional plans that Yu has proposed.
In the United States in the late 1920s, the profession’s impatience produced a separation of planning from landscape architecture. This split divided the original Olmstedian concept in two, robbing landscape designers of political power and scope and eventually allowing planning to become largely non-spatial. A further separation of civil engineering from landscape design occurred just after World War II. There have been indications of similar tendencies in China; for example, design and physical planning degrees are distinct in the major Chinese universities. Still, they remain closely allied and located within the same school, where students and faculty are in daily contact. We can only hope that China will resist these potential schisms. Certainly, by word and by example, Yu is defining a wider and more comprehensive profession.
Yu’s work has shown that the most broad and general concepts can be brought down to real physical levels and that these excellent built examples can then spatially inform future planning directions. These demonstrations are having a distinct effect on the profession worldwide, but particularly in China, where they can be seen, experienced, and taught. China today may be the only economic and social climate where this is possible. Furthermore, Yu has demonstrated how mutually supportive the ends of the spectrum—the site and the region—can be.
The relationship between landscape design and regional planning is undergoing major reconsideration in both Europe and the United States, where land planning is for the most part professionally separated from landscape design and taught from a perceived separate basis. The exceptions are the ecologically based planning of Ian McHarg at the University of Pennsylvania and the methodologically based teaching of Carl Steinitz at Harvard. In the last generation followers of these approaches have attempted to reconcile them with design. Real progress is being made.
As a tireless and brave advocate for this interconnected approach, Yu has succeeded partly by directing his efforts at mayors, who make up the pool of China’s future national leaders. Whether or not the fragmented professional can be reassembled as a whole, the interrelationship of planning and design can be made clear to students, future public and private clients, and allied professionals. The fact that Turenscape is associated with Peking University allows Yu to speak directly to both the public and academia. His efforts will almost certainly affect planning and design for years to come.
China has produced a number of combined landscape and planning offices, often university-based, that work at scales ranging from the regional to the individual site. As one would expect, many of the products at both scales tend to be derivative and of only average quality. But Yu’s work, even while extending across this same wide range of activities, has attained an extremely high and elegant level in both conception and execution. In China, he has been able to lead the profession away from planning primarily determined by economic and engineering considerations to ecologically based plans that proceed through scales of development to built landscapes of the highest conceptual and built beauty—a dream we in the West
Of course, not all practitioners will be able to offer the range of services that Yu provides, although the proponents of landscape urbanism suggest they should. Still, sympathetic collaborations between professionals and consultants can certainly cover this ground, and the work of Turenscape demonstrates the great value in keeping interrelated activities together. One would hope that these superb demonstrations at this range of scales will strengthen and encourage our more theoretical, comprehensive efforts in the West. Yu has, through his brilliant work, presented both an example and a challenge to us all.
Ecology, With Pleasure William S. Saunders
I have no doubt that Kongjian Yu is a major (if not the major) progressive force in contemporary landscape architecture. He addresses the greatest need of our time: transforming human interaction with the Earth from something suicidally indifferent to natural forces into something that responds to those forces with respect and cooperation. Deliberately or through simple disregard, we have tried to impose human needs and wishes on nature, and she is having her revenge in storms, floods, drought, and sterility. At the very moment when we have achieved dominance over all species save the microbial, when we have conquered the planet’s distances and obstacles with our communication and transportation technologies, when more than half of us live in cities that minimize our experience of land, animals, weather, and geography—at this very moment we have learned that we must turn back, forgo, yield, and cooperate. We have the opportunity to shift civilization away from two centuries of ignorant self-destruction in the hope that our children’s children will see some restoration of dynamic equilibrium. Both concretely and metaphorically, we must sustain civilization by stewarding what we receive—living things, water, the energies of the sun and the wind—not just by imposing what we create. No reader of this book has likely experienced those realities as vividly and directly as Kongjian Yu. He was a farming boy among peasant farmers in rural China, practicing millennia-old ways of tuning nature to agriculture and agriculture to nature—adapting to excesses and shortages of water, to severities of climate, and to the survival needs of flora and fauna. Then, during his college years, when his life as a thinker was blossoming, a blitzkrieg of modernization hit his village. The land was stripped of trees and native plants; the rivers and streams were channelized; the fish died off; and water became something to import and export through pipes, not something to finesse in whatever local conditions one faced. For us and for Yu, restoring successful ancient practices cannot be the end of the story. One
complication is that a sense of successful cooperation between people and nature is inseparable from a sense of the beauty, pleasure, and inspiration inherent in that harmony. It was never simply a matter of a well-functioning machine. Neither is any restoration a retreat to innocence: Yu was trained as a scientist, a botanist, a geneticist. His understanding of what grasses will thrive in what conditions is founded as much in the newest research as in his boyhood memories. Nor is he a radical environmentalist trying to treat humans as no more valuable than other living things. For him the memory of sitting in the evening under the great canopy of an ancient tree is inseparable from the human fellowship that tree supported, as his village gathered there to hear stories about ancestors and mythological beasts. And despite the fact that his parents (having had landlord ancestors and themselves owning land until the Communist takeover in 1949) were ostracized for being “above” the peasants during the Cultural Revolution, Yu, also later humiliated in Beijing for being a “country bumpkin,” feels a caring communistic loyalty to “the common people.” How does all this add up? Although Yu’s driving motivation is to reestablish a healthy relationship between nature and civilization, he has several others operating simultaneously and in parallel: to create beauty and art, to enrich the quality of everyday local lives, to design spaces that attract and promote social interactions, to preserve cultural history, to make the land “productive” (of crops, wildlife habitat, clean water, etc.), and to educate people about what makes landscapes supportive of life. This is a big agenda—some might say too big. Yu is a hugely ambitious man with seemingly endless energy. He works in many directions at the same time. One can and should celebrate him for having so many ambitions—for having an omnivorous appetite—and yet it is for this that his work needs to be critically scrutinized. Is it possible to achieve so many goals without creating a sense of fragmentation or confusion or
incompatibility? Are his parks a set of discrete elements that do not add up to more than the sum of their parts? How can a corn field feel and be connected to a contiguous avant-garde sculptural metal arbor? What place does the painted steel structure of an abandoned industrial building have in a landscape of native grasses and man-made wetlands? Is there an awkward incongruity between the beauty of a field of delicately colored rippling grasses and the dry pedagogy of a sign in its midst that explains how that grass absorbs toxins? We are not used to this diversity of focus and ambition: We know that Peter Walker will provide us with refined artistry and exquisite sensations, and that suffices. Richard Haag at Gasworks Park in Seattle and Latz + Partner at Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Germany represent abandoned industrial structures with undiluted focus. Laurie Olin’s Bryant Park in New York has more to do with gathering people than with calling attention to its beautiful groves of trees. Perhaps Michael Van Valkenburgh most shares Yu’s multiplicity of goals, at least the aesthetic, social, and ecological, and one might have the same concern about his Teardrop and Brooklyn Bridge parks in New York: Do things come together gracefully or is there too much fragmentation? Of course looming in the background is Olmsted, especially at Central Park, which achieves the same diverse aims invisibly and seamlessly. Perhaps our era’s need to reclaim post-industrial sites and address ecological messes would make suppressing those elements into some new continuous whole disingenuous; we cannot be that innocent. Let me be clear: The variously motivated elements of Yu’s parks often do come together very well. Red Ribbon Park in Qinhuangdao, China, is the best example: Its core is the red fiberglass bench that winds through woods along a kilometer of riverside. The bench is delightful to the eyes and the mind: bold, vibrant, playful, unexpected, and beautiful (its sinuous curves deriving more from Chinese
calligraphy than from Frank Gehry). It is especially engaging because it leads to areas that are hard to see. Thus it forms a path one feels urged to follow, an enchanting road a bit like that in The Wizard of Oz. And on this magic ribbon lots of people sit, forming little groups in the nooks of its curves. When I was there, some were lying asleep; many played card games; several played wind instruments; children ran on the path or the ribbon. As Yu says, the design gesture is minimal: The ribbon sits lightly on the land, and the rest of the park is fairly wild. So at once we have the social, the artistic, and the sustainable. The artistry may help draw people to the park. Its delightful curves do form a bench. Its attempt to protect natural processes is at one with the simplicity of its formal gesture. So, for me, this project is Yu’s most integrated and successful. Compare and contrast it with one of his largest and most ambitious parks, Houtan in Shanghai. Again paths along waters create an alluring journey. But here much larger ambitions complicate the experience. A sign explains how the park cleanses the polluted river water. Many diverse plant groups are organized into often beautiful colorful bands: grasses, sunflowers, corn, cattails, and much more. It is almost encyclopedic in its range. Its long bamboo boardwalks are elegant, well-made, and finely detailed; its large sculptural rhomboid rusting steel “arbors” feel boldly contemporary (in the manner of Zaha Hadid). Yet all these elements create a series of somewhat unrelated moments, each engaging and attractive but discrete. And the very largeness of the park makes one’s attention start to wane. It is not as intimate and friendly as Red Ribbon Park. The walk along the whole length of the park feels a bit too protracted under hot summer sun. There is nowhere to sit under the steel arbors. Yu recognizes that the core of the project is its demonstration of how polluted water can be cleansed by plants and by gravity-enabled filtration and aeration. But this project leaves unanswered the question of how well such remediating measures (which ideally would exist at much larger scales) can be well integrated with a goal of fostering social pleasure. The Rice Campus at Shenyang also raises questions about the difficulty of simultaneously addressing human and ecological needs. There the effort is to support the idea that agricultural land use can and should be integral with our urbanized lives. Why should we waste such large areas of land and water and chemicals to produce giant campus and park lawns? Rice paddies and wheat fields can be as or
more beautiful while being productive and lowmaintenance. Birds can nest among the crops; students can learn how the sustenance they take for granted comes to be. All true. And the agricultural fields are beautiful, especially swaying in the wind. Yet here the result is a bit socially inert—the long, straight gridded walkways among the fields are uniform and uninviting for human gathering, despite Yu’s creation of little sitting squares here and there. There is a reason people don’t congregate in corn fields. So here again, as with Yu’s pursuing many ambitious goals at once, is a limitation born of a virtue. For Yu, and for traditional Chinese culture, it is a sin to waste land. Every arable space should help feed people and more broadly ensure survival, as it was in Yu’s boyhood village. What shocked Yu’s father about Beijing was not its tall buildings but its fruitless land. Now thinkers preoccupied with sustainability are vigorously promoting the ideas of local food and urban agriculture. As a real farmer, Yu knows that the productivity of this agriculture, however, is secondary to its aesthetic and recreational services. Early in my study of Yu’s work, I thought that it suffered, along with much contemporary landscape architecture, from delusions about how much it could achieve ecologically. For example, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates places a cattail marsh where the land collects water before releasing it into a lake on the Wellesley College campus in Massachusetts. Thus, runoff water that has gathered salt, fertilizers, and gasoline-motor byproducts from a portion of the campus enters the lake with fewer of those impurities. Does Van Valkenburgh therefore become the lake’s savior and the transformer of Wellesley into a sustainable landscape? Far from it. There is way too much else to be done to achieve that goal. And of course this applies to the cleansing of a tiny fraction of the river water at Houtan Park. Now it may be that clients and landscape architects are willing to inflate their achievements in smaller-thanregional landscapes. But I was wrong about Yu: He knows that he is not doing more than producing instructive models for the massive change that must come in the future and that is far from obtainable now. “The message is more important than the results,” he told me. “The point is to establish the right direction.” Yu’s anti-ornamental, anti-aesthete rhetoric is extreme, and in some ways he does not really believe it. He rightly rails against the dominant practices of contemporary Chinese city beautifiers: Fill places like highway median strips with
flowering annuals and elaborately trimmed bushes, and you have done all that is needed; never mind the high costs and endless maintenance. He rightly condemns the use of decorative “beauty” as a means of establishing social worth (as in Chinese foot binding) in post-rural/ agricultural civilization. And seen with farmers’ eyes, the Versailles gardens are disgustingly decadent, a royal rooster’s preening. Yu has told me: “Beauty comes from the satisfaction of need. Culture is adaptation to nature. The sustainable solution becomes culture.” The trouble is that our needs are for more than survival. Culture can be a life-sustaining temporary release from nature. Yu may be disappointed in me for having found the Humble Administrator’s Garden at Suzhou the most precious place I saw in China. Yes, its “rockery” seems a gaudy extravagance. But its “useless” and totally artificial plantings, paths, ponds, and pavilions are overwhelmingly beautiful precisely because they put us in a state of harmony, rest, and peacefulness that the natural struggle for survival offers rarely and in morsels. Yes, there is nobility in the farmer’s struggle for survival. But to label other kinds of culture merely ornamental is to lapse into puritanical moralism. In truth, Yu doesn’t really buy that kind of thinking. Why would he bother to have sculptural structures and brightly painted industrial artifacts in his parks? Why else would the “messiness” of his grasses come across as not only virtuously low-maintenance but also exuberantly profuse, carefully ensured to be abundant? Learning about Gilles Clément’s ideas of “le jardin en mouvement” (garden in movement), planned to run wild and about recent German landscape architects who believe that the only human intervention needed to create a park is to cut a path, I asked Yu why he did not make his work simply the preservation of wilderness, the ultimate natural ecology, leaving no carbon footprint, and by definition maintenance-free. He gave two answers: That would leave the work of landscape architecture even more invisible than it is now (bad for getting work); and wilderness fails to address human needs. So, in fact, Yu is no ecological purist, no simple nature worshiper. Sustainable farming, which is in essence working out a feasible balance of using and yielding to nature’s supra-human ways, is the core of his path as a landscape architect. He should just admit that he is as captivated by “useless” beauty as the rest of us.
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
win some converts among public administrators to his positions, which he advances through lectures, books, articles, television programs, and teaching. He lectures regularly to the Mayors’ Forum of the national Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development; he estimates he has spoken to this executive training group two or three times a year since 1997, with about fifty mayors in attendance each time. He developed his ideas into a book, A Path to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors in 2003. 2 The book has been widely distributed in China, in part by Yu himself; it is now in its thirteenth printing, with over 16,000 copies in circulation. Yu has presented his ideas on television—he estimates he has been on the air thirty times in the past decade, ten of those on Chinese Central Television. He has written numerous other books, articles, and conference papers; he is also the chief editor of the periodical Landscape Architecture China. He and his firm, Turenscape, count an increasing number of cities among their clients, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Zhongshan, and Chengdu; Yu has also served on urban planning committees for Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Zhongshan, and on provincial planning committees for Qinghai and Shandong. 3
When Kongjian Yu pitches a project to party officials or municipal administrators, his presentation is selfconsciously freighted with revolutionary rhetoric.1 Dismissing both traditional Chinese gardens and ornamental urban horticulture as expressions of “little foot” aesthetics, akin to the ancient practice of binding and making smaller the feet of upper-class girls to secure them high-ranking husbands, he trumpets instead the virtues of “big foot” aesthetics, rooted in the productive landscapes and cultural practices of ordinary people. Pictures of the young Mao and healthy peasant women appear in his PowerPoint presentations, against a backdrop of Chinese flags and cheering workers. With humor and even a bit of irony—to an American observer at least—he claims rather broadly that “little foot” aesthetics are responsible not only for banal urban planning schemes but also for widespread environmental degradation: They have privileged the ornamental over the functional, the urban over the rural, with the consequences that people no longer know how to live in an environmentally secure and sustainable way. Drought, flood, habitat loss, and pollution are the outcomes. His argument is loaded, and much more complicated than he allows; environmental devastation in China has been caused as much by decades of reckless industrialization and metastatic urbanization as by effete aesthetics. Nevertheless, and although criticism of current urban design and environmental management policies is explicit in his presentations, he has begun to
On a visual level, there is a great deal of evidence in contemporary Chinese cities to support Yu’s claims, especially about the failures of urban design. The typical urban landscape in contemporary China, as he points out, is expensive, ornamental, and high-maintenance.
– 10 –
Almost everywhere you look, regimented rows of trees alternate with tightly pruned shrubs almost invariably interspersed with clipped hedges and beds of brightly hued flowers and ornamental plants. Highway margins, urban streets, public squares look relentlessly uniform. In contrast, Yu offers a vision of beauty rooted in notions of productivity, both agricultural and ecological: crop fields and rice paddies, wetlands and farm ponds, rivers and forests. These are landscapes that produce food, clean water, and habitats that can provide both cultural and ecological services. Against the tidy and the ornamental, he celebrates the messy and the rustic: “the beauty of weeds,” as he puts it, both in conversation and in the title of one of his books.4 Vernacular, productive landscapes are crucial to his notions of ecological and cultural survival, which he attempts to address at all scales in his work. I leave it to others to assess his strategies at national and regional levels; my focus is the expression of vernacular, or “messy,” aesthetics in the urban context, where in some respects they are most incongruous—and even, in the Chinese context, revolutionary.
Poster of Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. Yu, with just a hint of irony, suggests a Maoist return to the ways of “the people” in managing landscapes.
Typical Beijing median strip with ornamental plants requiring extensive maintenance: Yu considers this wasteful and superficial beautification.
Ironically, Yu may owe some of his affection for the vernacular landscape to his experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Born in Zhejiang Province in 1963 into a family who lost their lands and seed-oil mills in the wake of the Communist takeover in 1949, some of his first memories are of their house being ransacked for jewelry and furniture, and of the family being herded through the streets to public confessions. He recalls his parents being obliged to provide free labor to the village as street cleaners; he was even kept out of middle school for a year as part of his family’s punishment for being property owners. But summers, he recounts, were spent working on the community’s collective farm, planting and harvesting rice, tending vegetables, and caring for water buffaloes, work that also occupied him during his year out of school. He insists this is in large measure where his attachment to vernacular and productive landscapes was formed—an attachment based not as much on the appearances of these landscapes as on their functions or, more accurately, on the close analogy between appearances and functions.
As an adult, Yu has pursued a decades-long challenge to transmit this vernacular language to design. As the only one of six hundred in his county’s secondary school to pass university entrance exams, he was admitted to Beijing Forestry University in 1980. Because his examination score was higher than that required for forestry, he was invited to enroll in the landscape gardening program, which he recalls as the only university program in the field at the time in China. There, he learned the precepts of traditional Chinese garden design and horticulture, “but no ecology.” He went on to earn a Master’s degree in landscape architecture in 1987, learning qualitative and quantitative landscape analysis and large-scale planning methods, especially through an introduction to the ideas of landscape architect and geographer Ervin H. Zube (1931–2002) and regional planner and Harvard professor Carl Steinitz. 5 Yu deepened his exposure to these ideas while studying for his 1995 Doctor of Design degree at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.
– 11 –
Yu’s distinctive design language was fully developed after his return to China. The emergence of his approach is clearly evident in his first major project, Zhongshan Shipyard Park (2001). In 1997, the mayor of Zhongshan heard Yu speak at a Mayors’ Forum and invited him to work on a master plan for the city. Soon after, a shipyard in the city was shut down, and Turenscape was asked to submit designs for a competition to reclaim the 10 hectare (25 acre) site as a park. The abandoned shipyard had derelict concrete and steel buildings, cracked pavements, industrial debris, and a few mature Ficus trees along the river. These trees were threatened because hydraulic engineers wanted to widen the river to improve flow during flood conditions. Yu was able to persuade officials to retain as many of the “best” features of the site as possible: The mature trees were preserved by relocating a new water channel behind them; steel skeletons of buildings were retained as landmarks and used to house some of the park facilities, including rest rooms and concessions. The old water towers became beacons: One was stripped to its steel bones and painted red, the other was encased in glass and is lit at night. New urban plazas were created at the northern and southern park entrances, which provide pedestrian links to the city. From either end, visitors pass over water and through dense vegetation, which forms a welcome buffer to crowded and noisy urban surroundings; they are then released into the more open space of the park’s interior. Within the park, circulation is organized along a serpentine path around the circumference and along straight lines that intersect through the middle, one of which features a section of recycled railroad track introduced to the site. Stepped terraces along the boat basin at the heart of the park bring people close to the water, which fluctuates 1 meter (3 feet) with the tide. None of these design moves is particularly vernacular or “messy.” Indeed, the internal arrangement of intersecting lines and grids within the park recalls the work of Peter Walker, which was shaped by exposure to the seriality of American minimalist sculpture of the 1970s. Indeed, the experience of the park is of a series of distinct visual and perceptual incidents carefully orchestrated and composed.
Steel structure of a former industrial building at Zhongshan Shipyard Park, 2001, incorporated into the Turenscape design. Yu works to preserve ordinary older cultural artifacts by recycling them.
Zhongshan Shipyard Park entrance zone of thick vegetation creates a welcome buffer to crowded and noisy urban surroundings.
Yet the park’s aesthetics are strikingly different from its context. Yu says that Zhongshan, in the Pearl River Delta in southern China, was one of the country’s first cities to deploy ornamental landscaping on a large scale. It lies in a region that boasted China’s first tourist landscapes: its first golf courses, spas, and five-star resorts. Shipyard Park represents a break with these nouveau traditions in several respects. It features extensive stretches of familiar grasses and water plants, including reeds, papyrus, water lilies, sweetflag (Acorus calamus Linn), angel wings (Caladium hortulanum), and bamboo, many of which are common to the edges of rice paddies and fish ponds in the region and are apt to be viewed in China and the West with some scorn as invasive. Vernacular culture and the “people’s” aesthetics are expressed in more than the beauty of weeds, however; they are also signified in the reuse of the shipyard’s structures.
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
one of the principal paths through the site. Although this cube might again suggest analogies in Western eyes to minimalist sculpture—the primary geometric structures of artists like Donald Judd, for instance— Yu insists it has a local inflection. It is the precise size and shape of dormitory structures that once dotted the site and that served as worker housing; made of recycled steel, it is painted a distinctive Mao-era red. Nearby, intersecting lines of hedges produce rooms of the same size also designed to evoke these dormitories (but intended for current occupation by lovers who have few other places to go, Yu says).
Yu was familiar with previous examples of industrial heritage preservation in park design in the United States and Europe, including Richard Haag’s Gasworks Park in Seattle and Latz + Partner’s Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Germany, but there were no precedents for this approach in China. (Indeed, Yu would go on to draft a convention on the preservation of industrial structures for the national Ministry of Culture’s department of cultural heritage.6) Broad public appeal is reinforced through the fact that this landscape (like all of Yu’s parks) can be entered free. At least until recently, admission to many public landscapes in China required payment of a nominal entrance fee, which is still the case for most historic sites. Yu proposed that the Shipyard Park be free, a proposal to which the city assented, so the park was one of the first in China to be designed without fences.
Combined with the preserved industrial structures and the recycled rail lines, these allusions to the dormitories that once dotted the site evoke the era of the Great Leap Forward. Yu is at pains to point out that memory is not the same as appreciation; he has his own reasons to be ambivalent about the Mao era, and he acknowledges the widespread famine precipitated by forced conscription of peasants into the industrial economy. At the red cube, one encounters an explanatory text composed by Yu, which includes a quotation that he was told was a phrase of Lenin that he remembers memorizing as a child: “to forget is to forsake.” Yu says the phrase might be more accurately translated as “to forget is to betray.” What he seems determined not to betray in this project are the hardships of his parents’ generation, the agricultural roots of their culture, and the struggles they endured during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. There are some complex cultural negotiations going on here: Yu is struggling to create something in an internationally identifiable contemporary design idiom that also has local relevance. Without being accusatory, he is trying quietly to recall a troubled and not-so-distant past that seems to be rapidly disappearing from awareness. Official memorials to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are not permitted in China; Yu is transforming political history into popular history and thus restoring to public memory a suggestion of events that still hold great sway over a large segment of the population.
Rectilinear paths and hedges are reminiscent of the landscape architecture of Peter Walker.
The red cube at Zhongshan Shipyard Park has multiple layers and perspectives. It recalls the precise size and shape of the structures that once served as worker housing on this site.
The evocation of industrial history is also evident in some of the most distinctive features of the park: the sculptural elements added at significant spots in the plan. Foremost among these is a red cube that straddles
For all its contemporaneity, and for all Yu’s loyalty to “big foot” aesthetics, his work reveals some very traditional strategies from “little foot” Chinese gardens.
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These include variations on traditional gates and thresholds; the creation of layered views; and the use of such devices as bridges reflected in lakes and pavilions that seem to hover over water (although he draws the line at the weirdly eroded stones [“rockery”] common to Chinese gardens, which arouse his disdain). At Shipyard Park, a preserved gantry serves as a gate at one entrance to the park; elsewhere, a pavilion floats over the middle of the boat basin. The red cube alone combines several of these devices: It is a gate; it includes bridges; it is a pavilion in the water; and it creates layered views—to it, through it, and from it. While these strategies are generally used in Chinese gardens to make a small space seem larger, here, their function is reversed: They tie together a large space. Their deployment is yet another part of Kongjian Yu’s delicate cultural negotiations: He is attempting to render commonplaces—whether of plant material or industrial history—in a refined language so they have both credibility as design as well as wide public appeal. If Shipyard Park can broadly be described as addressing cultural heritage preservation, many of Turenscape’s recent projects are efforts at ecological restoration. A number repair riparian systems: In Qian’an, for instance, a city about three hours east of Beijing, a badly degraded tributary of the Luan River became the Sanlihe Greenway (2010). Because of ground water depletion, the river had dried up and become a garbage dump and sewage drain for factories and households. A channel was cut from the river to the tributary to restore flow, and wetlands and ponds were created—for visual effects, for fishing and other recreation, and to improve water quality. The corridor runs about 13 kilometers (8 miles) through the city, punctuated at regular intervals by watchtowers, fishing piers, bridges, and plazas, bounded on either side by foot and bike trails. Its most remarkable effect might be the masses of flowers that blossom through the warmer months, from coreopsis in the spring to native chrysanthemums in the autumn; the latter turn the edges of the stream a brilliant yellow and fill the air with their scent. A more celebrated project occupies about 20 hectares (49 acres) along the Tanghe River in the nearby coastal
city of Qinhuangdao. Called Red Ribbon Park, the project transformed an inaccessible site that had become an unauthorized garbage dump into a recreational amenity along 2 kilometers (1.3 miles) of river. It was, Yu says, an effort to achieve maximal return with minimal intervention. Existing vegetation was retained, including mature willows and poplar seedlings, fortified with Turenscape’s usual palette of marsh grasses, forbs, and additional wetland trees. The site is traversed by three simple linear paths: a boardwalk along the river, a paved path at the upland edge, and a third path in between, 500 meters (550 yards) of which are activated by a single red fiberglass bench that snakes through the trees and grasses. Sixty centimeters (24 inches) high and ranging in width from 30 to 150 centimeters (11 to 59 inches), it accommodates multiple uses, from sitting to lounging, games to music, adult socializing to children’s play. The red ribbon is punctuated by holes for vegetation, mostly grasses, and has lights embedded in its top and sides. Although it evokes the curved forms of much contemporary architecture, it more strongly resembles the curvilinearity of Chinese calligraphy. Its color is again deployed to evoke “red culture,” which Yu says is strong in the area: Mao took vacations here and composed a poem that refers to the city in the summer of 1954.7 Whatever the inspiration, the bench certainly achieves maximal impact with minimal means: Both inexpensive to produce and simple in form, it effectively draws people into the landscape and stitches the site together. In good weather, dozens of people gather along its length. Children run beside it; elderly people play cards and music; couples recline. Although this kind of sociability is endemic to Chinese parks, inasmuch as there are few other recreational opportunities, the Red Ribbon—vivid, playful, and elegant— particularly attracts activity. It has proved to be almost too popular—the site visibly suffers from overuse. Now Turenscape has been commissioned to develop similar plans for the restoration of the opposite riverbank. The firm has also completed a beachfront restoration project in Qinhuangdao (2008). Behind an old breakwater, the project created nesting islands for shore birds; past a now-closed estuary nearby, a boardwalk was built, and this continues along a stretch of accessible
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
area between the lakes and the highway. Debris from the site was used to create small hills to protect the wetlands from the highway; they are forested with upland species tolerant of poor soils and saline conditions, including black pine and Kaido crab apple (Malus micromalus Makino). The wetlands themselves are inspired by local plant communities adapted to the moisture, salinity, and soil pH values characteristic of varying maritime conditions. They are organized around ponds of different types: some deep, some shallow, some seasonal, and some “inverted”—that is, located on top of small hills. In plan, they have a lucid cellular pattern; on site, the pattern is barely discernible since the ponds are dispersed within fields of marsh grasses punctuated by trees. Rainwater is collected on site to fill them; because the water table is so close to the surface and the ground water is salty, the deeper ones are brackish. Walkways crisscross the site among the ponds; at their intersections are groves of locust trees. From these paths, boardwalks reach through reeds to docks in the deeper ponds.
Sanlihe Greenway in Qian’an, 2010. Its most remarkable aspect might be the masses of flowers that blossom through the warmer months.
beach. Within the estuary, the design replaced marsh grasses and near-shore plants and provides signage to inform people about habitat protection. It also includes a bird museum that looks out on a meadow with small seasonal ponds for birds and amphibians. In all, it seems a modest accomplishment relative to some of Turenscape’s other efforts, perhaps because it lacks the signature artistic elements of the Red Ribbon Park or the Zhongshan Shipyard Park. But this may be as it should be. The beachfront is several kilometers from the city center; it was intended to provide habitat for shore birds as much as public access to the ocean. As with so many projects around the globe that aim to restore ecological functions and services, design becomes less visible— and arguably less important.
The park exhibits a striking range of visual and experiential qualities: It is strongly architectonic along its urban edge, with stacked planting modules and red metal bridges and stairs; these give way to less constrained conditions in the wetlands, where wolf grass and willow trees bend in the coastal winds. Its rambling pathways provide opportunities for exploration; its docks provide hidden places for family picnics. This is not an entirely native landscape, but it is a familiar one, with commonplace local plants in characteristically “messy” arrangements—that is, dispersed according to slope, soil moisture, and salinity.
In Tianjin, a port city 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Beijing, Turenscape achieved ecological functioning with an arresting design in the Qiaoyuan Wetland Park project: “The Adaptation Palettes” (2008). This project features created wetlands and occupies a 22 hectare (54 acre) site that was a training ground and shooting range for the Chinese military and, more recently, an unauthorized landfill. The park is the centerpiece of a developing residential area on the edge of the city; it is framed to the south and east by housing and by a curving elevated highway on the west and north. Qiaoyuan Park is divided into three zones. Elevated walkways suspended between rubble walls overlook a series of small urban gardens along the two edges of the park closest to the housing. Existing lakes form a middle zone; the created wetlands occupy the remaining
The most compelling of Turenscape’s restoration proj ects, however, might be the designed water treatment wetlands at Shanghai Houtan Park, adjacent to the 2010 World Exposition site. The project was the indirect outcome of an invitational competition for the park for the Expo grounds themselves: Turenscape was one of two finalists, but they did not receive the commission and were subsequently asked to design
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a contiguous piece. It occupies a 14 hectare (35 acre) linear site that runs 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) along the Huangpu River, upstream from the Expo. A former shipyard and steel works, the site is adjacent to temporary parking lots slated for eventual mixed-use development but too distant from the main attractions to be seen and used by most Expo-goers. Once the redevelopment is complete, the park might seem more like a vital piece of its riverfront context; today it appears marooned in an urban wasteland. Indeed, it might almost seem a fragment of wilderness, but the original premise of the park was the inverse. It was to create a showcase for ecological services and productive landscapes more generally: Turenscape devised water treatment wetlands that also function as social space, produce several cycles of food crops each year, and provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds. It was to be educational and beautiful. Big in area and ambitions, the project was rapid in execution: It went from design to completed construction between 2007 and 2010. The park’s narrative begins at the upriver end of the site, where a large tank contains silted and polluted water pumped from the river at high tide. The water is fed by gravity into an elongated channel and trickles down the surface of a roughly-textured rock wall; it then seeps into the soil under dense rows of trees and aquatic plants and emerges into the first of a sequence of ponds that drops 2 meters (7 feet) over the length of the park. This overture to the park sets the tone for all of it: lushly planted, botanically diverse, and beautifully detailed (the stone work here is especially fine). Over the length of the park, each pond is lined with vegetation to remove pollutants from the water; each is separated from the next by gravel dams that provide filtration. In several places, water is aerated in gravel beds. The system treats 2,400 cubic meters (530,000 gallons) of water per day; it takes the water a week to arrive in an open-air cistern at the downstream end of the site—from which it is then pumped into the fountains and pools of the Expo grounds. 8 Yu takes great pride in the fact that his park produces clean water, while the Expo Park consumes it—and that his park was less costly per hectare.
The park’s functions also include flood control. Turenscape removed a concrete sea wall from the river edge and replaced it with two levees, one along the riverbank that provides protection from twenty-year floods, and a second, higher one on the inland edge of the site meant to protect against one-thousand-year floods. The wide swale in between is the spine of the park. As at Zhongshan, remnant features of the site were conserved: An existing patch of riparian forest was preserved and extended; a skeletal steel mill was painted red and reused for small pavilions occupied by Expo functions (serving as restaurants and tea houses after the Expo). An old dock was redesigned as a fishing pier and shade structure, while salvaged and recycled brick and stone were used for paths in the park. Circulation is organized along three linear paths. Stepping stones create a walk along the riverbank, passing through groves of large trees; a paved path lies on top of the higher inland levee, forming a more visible promenade; and a boardwalk runs down the center of the park, through reeds and along the edges of the ponds. This is by far the most inviting, even enchanting way through the park, cantilevered over the water in some spots, disappearing into the reeds or grasses at others, providing the opportunity for close observation of the park’s various aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. There are several forks along this central spine, some of which lead to Turenscape’s now signature red fiberglass benches; along the boardwalk, handsome Corten steel shade structures fold up from similar sheets in the path. These compose an angular, rusty ribbon that answers nicely to the linear red benches nearby; they constitute another reminder of the site’s industrial history—they are evocative of the sheet steel once manufactured nearby and of the rusty remnants found abandoned there. Plant material is orchestrated into zones, from submerged and emergent aquatic plants like eelgrass, cattails, lotus, lilies, and rice to grasses, forbs, woody shrubs, and trees such as cypress, London plane, willow, camphor tree, and Chinese tallow tree. These plantings look “natural,” but they are carefully managed: In the water, for instance, submerged concrete walls separate beds of different species to keep them from invading each
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
at regular intervals in Shanghai, for instance, while particular combinations of elements—towers, plazas, lakes, meadows—are reiterated at Qian’an.
other. On the adjacent slopes, grasses are interspersed with agricultural plants intended to produce three crops per year: rape seeds in the spring; rice, corn, sunflowers, and sweet potatoes in the summer; and buckwheat in the winter. Fruit orchards are planted along the riverbank paths. The presence of agriculture in this project is arguably as much aesthetic and educational as it is productive. Extensive stands of rice and sunflowers are plainly beautiful, but they provide food as well: The sunflower seeds are eaten both by birds and the park’s human visitors. Much of the remaining produce—fruit, corn, buckwheat—is distributed among local farmers hired to maintain the park. All this is to say that the park provides multiple social and ecological services. It generates not just clean water, but also biomass, food, and habitat for wildlife, especially birds (already grebes, gallinules, various herons, rails, kingfishers, and shrikes have been observed in the park). And it makes all these services highly visible, to both artistic and didactic ends.
At whatever scale, Turenscape’s projects are an expression of the fact that Yu is quintessentially an optimistic soul with an unwavering conviction that design can contribute to cultural and ecological survival. He titled a book about his work The Art of Survival.10 He makes his art from the effort to preserve cultural resources, notably vernacular ones, to honor productive traditions like agriculture, to restore degraded environments, and to provide habitable landscapes for humans and wildlife. Both cultural and ecological survival are at issue in his work. For all Yu’s ambition and accomplishments, the fate of his projects is not at all certain. They may or may not survive as he initially intended them. Many are plagued by maintenance problems caused by a misunderstanding of his aims. At the Zhongshan Shipyard Park, for instance, bougainvillea that should grow freely is brutally trimmed into hedges; shrubs are pruned into globes. In several instances, municipal authorities have made unilateral design changes: A pavilion that was meant to be open at Zhongshan was enclosed to create a museum; at the Red Ribbon Park, local officials have decided the grasslands need more trees, so they have dug planting pits at regular intervals while adding freestanding stones (of the sort Yu prefers to avoid) and speakers that broadcast music. Some are compromised by continued urban growth. In Qinhuangdao, the Red Ribbon Park has been severed by new bridge construction; the park suffers from overuse, with vegetation trampled, soil compacted, and desire lines creating shortcuts through the grasses. Still others are being transformed by natural processes. At the Tianjin wetlands park, locust trees are invading the grasslands, migrating away from the pathway intersections where they were planted, leaving the designers with the choice of letting them migrate around the site at will or forcibly maintaining the pattern. Yu’s “messy” aesthetics certainly militate for the former.
None of these projects, as exemplary as they might be, begins to measure up to the scale of China’s environmental problems. In a country where 70 percent of surface water and more than half of urban ground water is thought to be polluted, where 10 million hectares of arable land are contaminated by heavy metals and pesticide residues, where over 20 percent of fresh water wetlands and over 50 percent of coastal wetlands have been lost in the past fifty years, and where hundreds of species of plants and animals are threatened, cleaning 2,400 cubic meters (530,000 gallons) of water a day, creating one wetland, or restoring one estuary has a negligible impact.9 But Turenscape’s spaces are pleasures in themselves, antidotes to China’s relentlessly overbuilt urban environments. They are driven by a notion that the idioms and materials of remnant agricultural and wild landscapes are beautiful in themselves, and that evocations of popular history can have wide resonance. More over, they offer instruction in ecological restoration: They are emblematic of the strategies addressed by the firm at a national and regional planning scale. Indeed, many of Turenscape’s projects have a modular character, suggesting they can be replicated at a larger size: Individual elements like shade structures are repeated
Yu’s approach might be challenging in any context. But in the West, there is a precedent for his messy
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Red Ribbon Park, 2006, scene of rich social life among nearby residents.
Qiaoyuan Wetland Park and Bridged Gardens, 2008. Elevated walkways suspended between rubble walls overlook a series of small urban gardens along the two edges of the park closest to the housing.
aesthetics in the traditions of the wild garden, which date back at least to William Robinson. Moreover, there are contemporary designers with whom he shares some notions of nurtured wildness—Gilles Clément, for instance, who allowed plants to migrate through his “jardin en mouvement” (garden in movement) at the Parc André Citroën in Paris and who elevated an island of wild nature at the Parc Henri Matisse in Lille. In recent years, it has become far more common in the West for designers to evoke wild landscapes, to use unmown grasses, and to seek low-maintenance regimes. Hargreaves Associates recreated a salt marsh at Chrissy Field, their waterfront park on the site of an old airfield in San Francisco, and EDAW (now subsumed into AECOM) reintroduced woody riparian plants and wetland grasses along with short- and tallgrass prairie species into their restoration of Westerly Creek, formerly buried under runways at the old Stapleton Airport in Denver. These strategies are prone to misunderstanding: In 2006, neighbors of Westerly Creek, wanting a more familiar park-like landscape, spread bluegrass seed among the native grasses nearest to their homes, with disastrous consequences. The native grasses were choked out by the bluegrass, which itself failed to thrive in the absence of irrigation, and the whole area had to be dug up and replanted.11 But in China, Yu is swimming against a stronger current still—he is shifting practice in a way that is not yet fully appreciated even by those who commission and maintain his landscapes.
One of several educational and recreational docks at wetland ponds, Qiaoyuan Wetland Park, providing hidden places for family picnics.
Branching paths, central riparian stream, arbor/sculpture, and preserved industrial building skeleton, Houtan Park, 2010. Stepping stones create a walk along the riverbank, passing through groves of large trees; a paved path lies on top of the higher inland levee, forming a more visible promenade; and a boardwalk runs down the center of the park, through reeds and along the edges of the ponds.
Popular Aesthetics, Public History
1 I attended such a presentation in Shunde, near Guangzhou, on October 13, 2010, and received a copy of the PowerPoint presentation. 2 Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, A Path to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 . 3 Biographical material along with copies of many of Yu’s books, articles, and conference papers in English and Chinese, through 2008, are available in the contemporary landscape design collection at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. I had access to this material in preparing this essay, supplemented by numerous conversations and site visits with Yu in October 2010. Although Yu can be tireless in advancing his own work, most of his claims are borne out by the documentation he provides.
Path among high grasses, Houtan Park. The plantings look “natural,” but they are carefully managed.
It remains to be seen how deep and how wide the enthusiasm in China for Yu’s unkempt aesthetics is—and will be. The evidence on the ground thus far suggests they are a popular success at least. Many of his projects are heavily used, even in unfavorable weather: People do their morning exercises in the mist at Zhongshan, watch birds in the rain at Shanghai Houtan, and play musical instruments and picnic as the wind whips through the grasses at Tianjin wetlands.
4 Kongjian Yu and Wei Pang, The Culture Being Ignored and the Beauty of Weeds—The Regenerative Design of an Industrial Site: The Zhongshan Shipyard Park (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 足下文化与 野草之美 : 中山岐江公园 . 5 For an essay on Zube’s role in landscape architecture, see http://nrs. fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/2002/nc_2002_ Gobster_001.pdf; on Steinitz, see http:// ncgia.ucsb.edu/projects/scdg/docs/cv/ Steinitz-cv.pdf.
The larger question prompted by Yu’s work is whether he is fighting a rear-guard action in a war already lost, or if his optimism is valid. A lot is at stake, in China as elsewhere in the world: the survival of cultural landscapes, which in China are typically agricultural, encompassing crop lands, rice paddies, and fish ponds; the improvement of water quality and availability; the repair of despoiled landscapes; and the protection of biodiversity, which is as imperiled in China as anywhere in the world, given the nation’s extreme pace of urbanization and habitat fragmentation. Although hugely ambitious, Yu’s “art of survival” is, on the ground, a modest riposte to immoderate problems. But he can take satisfaction from the fact that he has not forgotten—he has not betrayed—either the multiple cultural traditions or the extreme environmental challenges to which he and his nation are heir.
6 Yu was the instigator and the chief author of the “Wuxi Proposal,” announced by the China Administration of Cultural Heritage and adopted on April 18, 2006. It was the first official document in China to declare that industrial structures should be given the same consideration in preservation planning as other forms of cultural heritage. The initial proposal was published in Landscape Design 4 (2006), pp. 70–71. 7 Mao’s poem, which would be widely known to anyone of Yu’s generation or older, is titled “Beidaihe: to the tune of Lang Tao Sha.” It was translated for me as follows by Duncan Campbell of the Chinese Studies program at the Australian National University:
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A rainstorm sweeps down on this northern land, White breakers rise towards the heavens. No fishing boats off Qinhuangdao Are seen on the boundless ocean. Where are they now gone? Two thousand-odd years ago Cracking his whip, Emperor Wu of Wei Rode eastward to Mount Stepping Stone; his poem survives. Today the autumn wind still sighs, But this human world has been transformed! 8 Statistics on the amount of water treated at Shanghai Houtan Park were given to me by Kongjian Yu; they are also reported in the publication 2010 Shanghai Expo —The Houtan Park, where they are given as 1.9 million liters (500,000 gallons) and 2.18 million tonnes (2,400 US tons). 2010 Shanghai Expo— The Houtan Park (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2010), pp. 11–12. 9 Data on surface and ground water contamination in China is found at www.worldwatch.org/node/4622 ; on soil contamination at www.gov.cn/ english/2006-07/18/content_339294. htm and on wetland loss and concomitant biodiversity loss in Shuqing An, Harbin Li, Baohua Guan, Changfang Zhou, Zhongsheng Wang, Zifa Deng, Yingbiao Zhi, Yuhong Liu, Chi Xu, Shubo Fang, Jinhui Jiang and Hongli Li, “China’s Natural Wetlands: Past Problems, Current Status, and Future Challenges,” Ambio 36:4 (June 2007), p. 337, available at http://etmd.nal. usda.gov/bitstream/10113/2653/1/ IND43943743.pdf. 10 Kongjian Yu and Mary Padua, eds., The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture (Mulgrave, Victoria: Images Publishing, and Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2006). 11 The story of “ecocide” at Westerly Creek was related to me by a former student, Jessica Canfield; it was told to her by Jayne Kopperl, a Denver landscape architect who worked on the project.
Value the Ordinary: Zhongshan Shipyard Park Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China, 2001
At the beginning of the new millennium, China changed dramatically. Urbanization accelerated, state-owned factories went bankrupt, and millions of workers lost their jobs. Together with other old buildings and the vernacular landscape, old factories that occupied central urban space were demolished for new development, less because their land had high value than because they were considered outmoded and ugly. At the same time, city governments had become rich, largely thanks to the preceding years’ open economic policy. China’s “City Beautiful Movement” heated up, mixing European Baroque and traditional Chinese imperial aesthetics. 1 Vernacular landscapes were replaced with landscapes of ornamental horticulture and rockery copied from Chinese classical gardens, along with deliberately odd-shaped buildings and structures. The Cultural Revolution was a sensitive, undiscussed topic. Parks were still gated gardens with entrance fees, maintained as places for holidays and special events. When Kong jian Yu returned from the United States to China in 1997, he criticized the country’s “City Beautiful” urban design and ornamental gardening as wasteful and called for the preservation of vernacular heritage landscapes, including the industrial. 2 Shipyard Park offered the first chance for him to express these values and aesthetics.3 Zhongshan Shipyard Park demonstrates the integration of ecological, social, economic, and cultural considerations and chiefly had four objectives: First, value the ordinary and even the outmoded and consider the socialist industrial heritage of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to be as precious as that of ancient traditional culture; second, make the park integral to the urban landscape and open to the public, free of
customary fees for local citizens and tourists; third, establish a new aesthetic favoring untrimmed and “weedy” native, low-maintenance plants; and, fourth, design the park to aid flood control, adapting it to water level fluctuations. Shipyard Park was built on the site of an abandoned, polluted, and dilapidated shipyard (erected in the 1950s and bankrupt by 1999) dotted with old docks, cranes, rails, water towers, and machinery. The project shows how landscape architects can turn a derelict site into an attractive and meaningful place with new functional relevance and thus contributes to urban renewal. Since the park’s lake connects through the Qijiang River to the sea, water levels fluctuate up to 1.1 meters (3½ feet) daily. A network of bridges was constructed at various elevations and integrated with terraced planting beds so that native “weeds” from the alluvial wetland could be grown and visitors could feel a hint of the ocean. Regulations from the Water Management Bureau required that the river corridor at the east side of the site be expanded from 60 meters to 80 meters (197 to 262 feet) to better manage water flow. This meant that more than ten old banyan trees would have to be cut down. In order to save the mature trees, a 20-meter-wide (66 feet) parallel ditch was dug on the other side of the trees, leaving them intact. Since remnant rusty docks and machinery were largely a nuisance for local residents, three approaches were taken to artistically and ecologically dramatize the spirit of the site using preservation, modification, and creation of new forms. Native habitats, water, and cultural elements were preserved as found; existing structures, materials, and forms were reused for new functions.
Vegetation along the old lake shore was preserved and modified, as were the rails, water towers, and dilapidated machines. New forms included a network of straight paths and green boxes (using fig trees as living walls), and a large red box that dramatizes the character of the site. Functionalism is evident in the network of paths linking key locations and exits, in the reuse of dock structures to provide tea and park services, in the light tower made from a former water tower, and in the paved areas under trees where tai chi can be practiced. This park is environmentally friendly, educational, and full of cultural and historical meanings. It calls people to pay attention to previously neglected culture and history. It is for and about the common people, and asserts an environmental ethic that weeds are beautiful.
1 Kongjian Yu and Mary G. Padua, “China’s Cosmetic Cities: Urban Fever and Superficiality,” Landscape Research 32:2 (2007), pp. 255–272. 2 Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, A Path to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 . 3 Kongjian Yu, “The Culture That Has Been Ignored and the Beauty of Weeds—The Shipyard Park, Zhongshan City,” New Architecture 5 (2001), pp. 17–20; see also Kongjian Yu and Pang Wei, The Culture Being Ignored and the Beauty of Weeds—The Regenerative Design of an Industrial Site: The Zhongshan Shipyard Park (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 足下文化与野草之美 : 中山岐江公园 .
100 m 1
1 The master plan: Based on the existing natural and
1 Red box
21 Terraced bank planted with
industrial landscape “canvas,” a road all around the
12 Light tower (reuse of water tower)
park and a network of paths was overlaid. The paths are
13 Skeleton tower
22 Gate structure at south entrance
straight connections between the entrance and interest-
14 Playground on the old boat
23 Water edge
ing spots, and this network makes the Shipyard Park a
15 Tea house
24 Ring road
complete contrast with traditional Chinese gardens, where
6 Yacht club
16 Swimming pool
25 Northwest entrance
meandering and twisting and view breaking are guiding
7 Parking lot
17 Pavilion (polymer tent)
principles. This “urban” path network crosses the
boundary between the city and the park, and makes land-
9 Terraced bridges
scape an integral part of the urban fabric.
Fog fountain square Column matrix
Boating service facilities
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2 The park in year 2010 seen from a newly built five-star
4 The “green box” made of Ficus hedge rows are repre-
hotel at the north side. Note the growth of vegetation as
sentations of and have the same spatial dimensions as the
well as the city surrounding the park, which became the
dormitories that once accommodated collective factory work-
catalyst of urban development in this area.
ers on the site. Green boxes are used to create a sense of exploration, when people walk or jog along the straight paths
3 Zhongshan Shipyard Park: On the site was a lake with
that cut through the boxes. They also create semi-private
a muddy waterfront full of debris.
space for couples and groups to enjoy.
ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK
5 The reuse of docks and the waterfront in 2010. New residential building and hotels surround the park, dwarfing the open space. The lake edge is a stepped frame that softens the waterfront in adapting to the
park—a daily activities space artfully enhanced. 6 South section of the dock on the west side.
540 660 800
fluctuating water table. Visitors make great use of the
7 East elevation of the dock on the west side. 1 1000 800
150 mm channel with riveted joints
2 Tensioned cordage and longitudinal wire rope
3 Polymer tent 4 Suspended cable structure
300 mm channel
40 × 40 mm angled steel skeleton wall
with curved steel plate outside and cement
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01. riveted joint of 150mm channel 02. tensioned cordage and longitudinal wire rope 03. polymer tent 04. suspended-cable structure 05. 300mm channel 06. 40X40mm angle steel skeleton wall with curved steel plate outside and cement mortar inside
ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK
8 The beauty of the rustic and the messy: Native vegetation at the waterfront is associated with a reused dock. 9 The reuse of docks and waterfront in 2004, showing lighting design. The dock was originally built in the 1980s, and the roof was removed. Protective paint prevents it from rusting. 10 A polymer tent serves as a pavillion. 11 A space in the park with the rustic industrial structure and messy nature becomes the setting for daily tai chi exercises.
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12 The rustic aesthetic setting for daily activities and special occasions like photographing weddings. 13 The rusty rails recycled in a new aesthetic setting, making up the central access to the park. The rails become a setting for daily use by common people. White stones were used to replace the existing dirty gray stones to create visual contrast. Steel paving comprising recycled material from the site was designed to dramatize and commemorate the industrial setting. Native grasses were grown to create contrasts between man-made artifacts and messy nature. 14 The reuse of rails enriched with native grasses.
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15, 16 The ecological and accessible lake shore designed as terraces to meet the challenge of fluctuating water levels (1.1 meters [3½ feet] in difference daily) and to allow rich native biodiversity to develop without preventing people’s access. 17 The new bridge across the existing lake creates an above-the-water experience for visitors on a short and easy path between entrances. 18 The dramatically transformed water towers at night. One is an amber structure on an island with banyan trees; its glass envelope absorbs solar energy in the day and illuminates at night, with the old water tower inside like an ancient insect fossilized in the amber. The other is a steel skeleton after the concrete was taken off. (This concept was kept, but the steel structure was actually remade because of renovation difficulties.)
ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK
18 – 29 –
9 s0.000 1500 6000
20 Section of the “amber tower.” 1 Red steel frame 2 Sailcloth 3 Red steel bar 4 Red steel bar, 200 × 200 mm 5 Tinted aluminum alloy structure 6 Red steel keel channel 7 Red steel 01. red steel framebar, 300 × 300 mm 02. sailcloth 8 Aluminum alloy and glass door 03. red steel bar
9 04. red Glass panels steel bar, 200X200mm
05. tint aluminum alloy structure 06. red steel keel (channel) 07. red steel bar, 300X300mm 1 door 08. aluminum alloy structure glass 09. preformed light through
19 The “amber tower” reused and enclosed,
emphasizing the passage of time.
21 Plan of the “amber tower.” 1 Vertical red steel keel 2 Red steel bar, 300 × 300 mm 3 Steel keel behind the aluminum plate 4 Preexisting water tower
ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK
(W = 4.80 m, H = 22.50 m)
1. v 2. r 3. s 4. e H=2
22 The red box reinterprets the story of the site as a part of the history of Chinese
communism. It acts as an entrance to the park, a simple container with water in the middle,
a path that splits in the box toward the two
transformed water towers. Native wild grasses
flourish beside the box.
4 23 Plan of the red box.
1 Door opening, 0.94 × 2 m 2 Door opening, 2.20 × 2 m 3 Overflow 4 Inlet 0
5 Outlet 6 Pond wall
10 18 00
8 18 00
Constant water level
250 × 250 mm reinforced concrete pillar
covered with 15 mm granite slab
Concrete cushion slab
10 Pond 26
12 Door opening, 3.10 × 2 m
13 Door opening, 2.70 × 2 m
01. positioning point on the master plan 02. door opening, 940X2000mm 03. door opening, 2200X2000mm 04. overflow 05. inlet 06. outlet 07. pond wall 08. constant water level 09. 250X250mm reinforced concrete pillar covered with 15mm granite slab 10. concrete cushion slab 11. pond
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24 The red box from above.
4 5 6
25 The red box in section.
1 5 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 11 10 16 17 18 19 25
Granite, 200 × 200 mm (15 mm thick)
3 Embedded parts 4
240 × 240 mm granite (15 mm thick)
1:1 cement mortar (mix with 3 % glue)
bonding course, 8 mm
1:3 cement mortar with rough surface, 14 mm
Constant water level
8 Pond wall with reinforced concrete 9
Concrete with cement mortar
10 Waterproof course 11 1:3 protective coating with cement mortar, 20 mm 12 Brick wall, 120 mm 13 Compacted backfill in layers 14 Gravel, 200 mm 15 Pond bottom with reinforced concrete 16 1:3 leveling coat with cement mortar, 20 mm 17 Plain concrete cushion, 100 mm 18 Gradation grit, 300 mm 19 Rammed earth 26 An island was created by digging out a separate water course to preserve the old banyan trees on the riverbank, trees that would have been cut for the widening
01. granite ,200X200mm (thick 15mm) 02. welding connection 03. embedded parts 04. 240X240mm granite(thick 15mm) 05. 1:1 cement mortar(mix with 3% glue) bonding course, 8mm 06. 1:3 cement mortar with rough surface, 14mm 07. constant water level 08. pond wall with reinforced concrete 09. concrete with cement mortar 10. water proof course 11. 1:3 protective coating with cement mortar, 20mm ZHONGSHAN SHIPYARD PARK 12. brick wall, 120mm 13. backfill compaction in layers 14. gravel, 200mm 15. pond bottom with reinforced concrete 16. 1:3 leveling coat with cement mortar, 20mm
of the Shiqi He River for flood control. The careful design was to create a soft bank and pleasant space for people. Permeable pavement with local stone and ground cover was used as part of an ecological approach. 27, 28 Views of the red box.
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Fiascoes of Chinese Urban Development and Turenscape’s Alternatives How a society shapes its landscapes is, of course, an expression of how its people deal with one another and with nature. Traveling around contemporary China, tourists admire the uniqueness of landscapes as diverse as the vast country’s climate zones, soils, topographies, and cultures. These landscapes—among them rice terraces, mountain terrains, and canals—were shaped by local people for centuries based on their understanding of the land’s unique conditions. To achieve high agricultural productivity within fragile landscapes that are difficult to cultivate and maintain, they linked their cultivation and urbanization patterns closely to the logic of each site’s geography, topography, hydrology, climate, and ecology. Complex human land alterations like terraced rice paddies trace and enforce the gradients of natural topography. Responsiveness to specific site conditions is an essential skill for farmers. Traditional vernacular landscapes are popular tourist sites because they reveal landscape-specific land-cultivation processes, like the flow of water guided by irrigation systems, or planting and harvesting activities that correspond with the growth cycles of crops.
north-south orientation of cities and buildings is essential to the Chinese. This is often annoying to foreign architects. Apartments with a different orientation are usually sold at discounted prices, and this makes Western building block typologies difficult to implement successfully.
Standard Fiascoes Chinese cities have become similar to each other. In fact, they have become so similar that I myself do not know which one is which. Xiadong Wang 1
Despite this history, almost all contemporary Chinese urban landscapes have taken a lamentable turn: They look the same, from planning and architecture to planting style and even plants, no matter what the climate, topography, water, or soil conditions may be. In contrast to the slow development of the countryside, the growth of Chinese urban landscapes during the last two decades has been a breakneck comprehensive structural and cultural transformation promoted by the central government and its planners, architects, and landscape architects as “city beautification”—a “green leap forward” to decoratively vegetate the city in ignorance and defiance of the constraints of nature and of peasants’ time-tested practices.
A deeply rooted biocentric perspective can still be experienced in modern China. When asking for directions in a city, Westerners hear the Chinese guide them by the orientation of the planet: north, south, east, and west. But Westerners find it hard to use that information without having tools like a compass or a map. The feng shui
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dyked with concrete (as they have been in Changde in Hunan Province). Nature is reduced to an abused servant of culture. In their need to present landscape as controlled, the engineers do not respond to the existing natural and other unique features of a place. Processes and patterns such as changing water levels, the formmaking effects of water movement, and water-adapted vegetation are not integrated into design but rather suppressed by superimposed forms and structures. The vernacular Chinese landscape: rice paddies on terraces yielding to topography, a perfect balance of the human and the natural. Yunnan, 2006.
Two ethical and symbolic concepts of nature and landscape are colliding: The central government’s belief that cities must be saved from “backward” cultural values and made “beautiful” and “modern,” and the traditional ethic of trying to work with nature, maintain fragile ecosystems, and seek safety and comfort in unstable terrain and difficult climates. The Chinese “City Beautiful Movement” modernization campaign has several detrimental effects. Constructed landscapes are high-maintenance, use excessive energy, and consume much water, reducing the energy and water available for industrialization and agriculture (to the extent that, for instance, electrical supply in some regions must now and then be cut off). Ground water tables are sinking, landscapes have high water runoff rates, water levels fluctuate in extremes, and rivers are often dry yet flood after rainfalls. According to Pan Yue, the Chinese Vice Minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the area of habitable land in China was halved in the last fifty years due to soil erosion and water loss. One third of China’s landmass is affected by acid rain. More than 300 million rural residents have no access to clean drinking water. One third of urban residents breathe heavily polluted air. 2 The public debate about these severe problems is largely confined to consideration of industrial pollution, while the huge environmental cost of constructing modern cities and urban landscapes is usually suppressed. The negative consequences of dirty smoke rising over factories and polluted waters flowing into rivers are easy to recognize. What can be done? Develop and modernize, of course. However, the more developed the Chinese cities become, the “cleaner” and the more “beautiful” their urban environment appears, the more they destroy their natural resource bases.
The traditional productive terraced landscape becomes overwhelmed by the huge, artificial, imposed landscape of modern urbanization. Dalian, 2004.
This urban development approach treats nature as an enemy that can only be defeated by increasingly aggressive cosmetic and technological interventions. Engineers devise infrastructure projects, and their “products” are kept as visually recessive as possible so that urban and landscape designers can work on a generic empty canvas and apply uniform aesthetic and spatial formulae to screen and “beautify” roads, concrete riverbanks, and dykes with a veneer of exchangeable elements such as stones and statues, benches and fences, and topiary shrubs and flowerpots. Anything seems possible in the pursuit of a modern city image. If a hill is in the way, it can be removed (as one was in Dalian Software Park, Liaoning). If a hill is needed for the design, it can be constructed (as one was in Beijing´s Olympic Park). If lakes are needed for a new city, they will be created (as they have been for the residential communities along the dried-out Chaobai River in Beijing). If the landscape is too wet, rivers will be channelized and
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For Qingyun Ma, a Chinese architect and dean of the University of Southern California School of Architecture, politicians and private entrepreneurs took Deng Xiaoping’s exhortation to enrich themselves to heart and generated a climate of competition and envy among the inhabitants of cities and among the cities’ leadership. As people were encouraged to individualize and an urban entrepreneurial class emerged out of a society in which the city used to be a “direct construction of power and cultural conformity,” its fabric became disorganized and fragmented. 3 Looking at this development from an aesthetic point of view, Yung Ho Chang, another Chinese architect and head of the architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks that contemporary Chinese urbanism produces a “City of Objects.” 4 While the traditional urban Chinese landscape of one-story buildings grouped around courtyards and organized in neighborhoods is considered a boring gray ocean of bricks, the new city is dominated by ostentatious architectural objects detached from and often contrasting with their surroundings—sculpturally and formally unique in geometry, material, and color. Modern Chinese architectural renderings usually fail to present real contexts; they present new buildings, neighborhoods, and cities in a pretty green fantasyland. In the “City of Objects,” nature is only a landing pad for objects and the playground for architects, developers, and politicians. The conflict between the deeply rooted biocentric perspective of man in nature and the desire for a modern city image often causes a clash of objectives. The new satellite city Lingang for 800,000 inhabitants outside of Shanghai was planned by German architects von Gerkan, Marg und Partner according “to the ideals of the traditional European city combined with a revolutionary idea”5: Its whole structure is based on the image of concentric ripples formed by a drop falling into the water of an inner lake with a diameter of 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles); the urban structure is ordered in concentric rings spreading out from the lake. This idea was awarded the first prize in an international competition, since it managed to deliver a compelling image out of the logic of a superimposed metaphor. However, in its realization, the layout has created several challenges:
People lose their orientation because of the radial pattern, the buildings that are not north-south orientated are difficult to sell, and the quality of the lake water in the marsh environment next to the coastline is hard to maintain. New Chinese developments try to attract residents with marketing concepts like “lake paradise.” Yet this effort is highly contradictory: The reality of their built projects is still one of highly artificial landscapes. (Outside the jurisdiction of official planning, however, many non-regulated urban open spaces have been taken over as informal productive landscapes managed by farmers coming in from the countryside to find new jobs and places to survive in the city.) Landscape architects in China are not employed to help make strategic development decisions with planners and engineers. Since the engineers have already prepared the ground, landscape architects need not consider processes and patterns of changing water levels, the form-making effects of sedimentation and erosion, or site-adapted vegetation. Because there is cheap labor for planting, pruning, and watering, Chinese urban landscapes consist of highly artificial forms and structures demanding intensities of maintenance not possible in Western countries. A century ago, German architect Ernst Boerschmann (1873–1949) traveled through China to document vernacular Chinese architecture and was amazed by the harmonious relations between built structures and their environment. He documented these in his book Picturesque China, Architecture and Landscape: A Journey through Twelve Provinces.6 Are there contemporary concepts of nature and landscape that can tap into the traditional Chinese culture of humans rooted in nature while allowing for the modernist need to individualize and develop? And what would be the role of landscape architecture in such a reconciliation? Even if its human-and-nature harmony has been almost destroyed, China has the potential to achieve a spectacular inversion in the relationship between built structure and natural milieu in its urban environments in the twenty-first century. I believe this because I have worked closely with Turenscape and its founder
Fiascoes of Chinese Urban Development and Turenscape’s Alternatives
cultural identity” and the “erosion of the spiritual connection to the land.” 8 He denounces the “City of Objects” in verbal and visual attacks on the famous icons of architecture in Beijing, like OMA’s China Central Television (CCTV) Tower, Paul Andreu’s National Opera House, and Herzog & de Meuron’s Beijing National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest), built only for the “power to bewitch.” 9 At the same time, he emphasizes the relational dimension of landscape architecture as the medium in “which various natural, cultural, and spiritual processes interact” and urges landscape architects to take a “major role in the mission to rebuild the land of peach blossoms.”10 He strongly opposes equating landscape architecture with the gardening tradition, a mere “art of decoration,” and promotes the former as the “art of survival,” grounded in knowledge of agricultural traditions, including finding the right sites to settle, cultivating the land for productive use, and managing water to secure provision and safety.
Kongjian Yu and have followed the firm’s impact on the development of Chinese cities since 2003. Within his projects and in contrast to the current Chinese practices of landscape architecture, engineering, and urban design, Yu seeks to demonstrate that relationships are essential; different scales need to be linked (an urban green needs to be seen as part of the regional and national landscape), and methods that combine scientific landscape analysis (GIS- and ecology-based analysis of landscape patterns and processes) and creative landscape design need to be implemented. Yu also wants to show that landscapes can be agriculturally productive (as in Turenscape’s “Rice Campus” in Shenyang) and ecologically restorative (Red Ribbon Park), as well as able to purify water (Houtan Park), provide flood protection (the Floating Gardens), and create new experiences and spaces for people to use and enjoy without needing to “keep off the grass.”
Very high-maintenance “beautification” of the new Chinese City. Beijing, 2008.
Turenscape’s Alternatives Artificial nature taken to the extreme. Guangdong, 2009.
Humans must learn to speak the language “in terms of which living things are organized,” in order to read the world
Turen, the Chinese name Yu chose for his company, programmatically and provocatively expresses this claim: Tu ( 土 ) and Ren ( 人 ) mean “earth” and “people.” Modern urban residents use the term in mockery of rural people whose hands are dirty from field work. Evoking the culture of common people working the land, the name indicates exactly what the company strives for. While still not gaining appropriate recognition from the Chinese landscape architecture community (he was not even invited to the 2010 International Federation of Landscape Architects world conference held in Suzhou,
not as discrete things, but as dynamic relations, and to practice the art of managing complex, living systems. Anne Whiston Spirn7
Trained as a landscape architect in both China and the United States, Kongjian Yu is pained by the conflict between traditional land ethics and modern models for shaping the human environment in his homeland. For him, the environmental and ecological degradation China is facing is a direct expression of the “loss of
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China), Yu is using his recognition by landscape architects abroad to gain influence among prospective clients and the broader public in China. Many Chinese clients follow the aesthetic ideals of modern urbanism, an international style, and hire international architects to brand their projects. By becoming an internationally celebrated landscape architect, Yu can prove he plays in the same league and even beyond: He wins international prizes with his Chinese projects, and thus puts China on the world map of landscape architecture, being mentioned in the same breath with international “stars” like James Corner, Adriaan Geuze, and Kathryn Gustafson. That is why he puts so much energy into lecturing outside China and competing with international landscape architects for prizes like those of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Turenscape´s and Yu´s success shows that the Chinese people’s deeply rooted understanding of landscape and their desire to live in cooperation with nature have merely been thrust underground by the drive to modernize. Yu is able to tap into this suppressed vein when he preaches to mayors (as he frequently does) about the need to revive fundamental Chinese traditions. There is an increasing effort among some city governments and investors to establish closer relationships with the qualities of their cities´ or their sites´ natural environments. For example, the coastal city Qinhuangdao has adopted several of Yu´s proposals and implemented projects designed by Turenscape, including Red Ribbon Park along the Tanghe River to preserve the natural character of an urban riverbank rather than channelizing it; a restoration project to ecologically recover a heavily eroded and decaying beach; and a new botanic garden, which simultaneously serves as a tourist attraction, an environmental and botanical education facility, and an open space for daily use by local communities. During an era in which shaping the land has been split among many specialized disciplines without care for the land as an entity of value in itself, Yu asks landscape architects to “play the leading role in dealing with the big environmental and survival issues.”11 By revealing the relationships between the objects and their effects on the environment as an “art of survival,” Yu links
planning methodology and design implementation, bringing forward the scientific base of landscape architecture while putting theoretical ideas into practice. As such he synthesizes best management practices for ecological performance with landscape aesthetics and couples cultural education and professional training, creating clear, pictorial, and patriotic rhetoric appealing to a broad audience while creating a multiplier effect by educating future professionals.
The “boring” old tight uniform gray fabric of the old Chinese city. Lijiang, Yunnan Province, 2006.
The Future of Landscape Architecture: Designing Urban Infrastructure Systems Conceptualizing sustainable landscapes requires new words as well as new technologies, new languages as well as new techniques. Elisabeth Meyer12
Landscape architecture projects in developing countries like China that deal with the increasing speed, intensity, and unpredictability of urban development and that try to enhance basic infrastructure systems are much more relevant and instructive to other developing countries than are examples from Europe and the United States. Within quickly growing megacities, the conventional planners’ tools for controlling land use, organizing infrastructure services, and greening the city are put to task. As cities become denser and more industrialized, sanitary and ecological conditions must
Fiascoes of Chinese Urban Development and Turenscape’s Alternatives
that provide multiple economic, natural, social, and cultural functions in support of urban sustainability.
be improved and urban green spaces introduced for recreation. However, those parts of the city with the worst environmental and living conditions are usually the poorest, unable to support parks and new infrastructure systems. In these situations, the provision of basic landscape-based infrastructures to prevent floods, purify water and soil, and produce crops for food or biofuel can be used as the most important and perhaps the only opportunity for the creation of public green space otherwise lost to other types of development.
While providing diverse aesthetic experiences, Turenscape’s low-maintenance and socially popular projects demonstrate a new approach to developing urban landscapes with a higher degree of ecological resilience and with less need for intervention and technical control. For contracting cities, Yu demonstrates that landscape architecture can be affordable, ecologically sound, and beautiful. The Floating Gardens project (Yongn ing River Park, Taizhou, 2004) serves as an excellent specific and concrete example that demonstrates these criteria.
Similar approaches need to be instituted in developed countries, where urban growth is becoming more unevenly distributed. In the 1990s, the population of more than a quarter of the world’s largest cities shrank.13 Cities like Detroit in the United States or Halle in Germany were built for populations two or three times their current size. Some areas in these cities resemble scenes in Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us that portray what would happen to abandoned infrastructures and buildings if humans were to disappear. The motivation for expensive urban infrastructure and greening are gone in these places; it is hardly possible to maintain urban coherence and function in a situation of decay that speeds the exodus of people from these areas, in turn causing them to deteriorate further. Traditional planning concepts and engineering techniques typically deal only with problems related to growth and densification. Shrinking cities also need to develop cheaper and more flexible infrastructure and green areas.
“City of Objects,” creating “outstanding architecture”: This billboard at a building site in Beijing features OMA’s China Central Television Tower, according to Yung Ho Chang part of “The City of Objects.” Beijing, 2009.
Faced with the simultaneous worldwide processes of extreme and unpredictable urban growth and decline, coupled with the huge challenges of the affordability and viability of high-cost and high-maintenance conventional infrastructure systems and urban greening, new strategies are needed. In the twenty-first century, emerging concepts of “ecological urbanism”14 are forming a basis for cooperation among civil engineers, architects, urban designers, ecologists, and landscape architects. The need to rethink and invest in less expensive and more flexible forms of urban infrastructure systems is spurring a strategic effort to generate ideas about built and managed systems of ecological infrastructure
The “Water Cube” Olympic swimming center and the six-star hotel on the right, creating “The City of Objects.” Beijing, 2007.
The starting point for the project was the standard practice in the city of Taizhou of channelizing rivers. Turenscape heavily criticized this for several reasons: It destroys the fragile edge conditions of the river´s marginal zone; it is expensive and increases the problem of flooding downstream while reducing the river´s
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self-cleansing capacity; and it destroys the physical, visual, and emotional experience of the dynamic character of the river environment. Turenscape´s aim was to recreate a river park that could “provide an alternative flood control and storm water management solution to be used as a model for the entire river valley” as well as for “all the river treatment and flood control projects in China.”15 This inherently meant that the landscape architect needed to lead and collaborate with engineers to develop an alternative infrastructure approach— not an easy task, especially since in this case this in part contradicted the legally defined engineering code. With their proposal for Yongning River Park, Turenscape managed to persuade the clients that they could achieve the needed flood security level by implementing a new kind of flood protection strategy, which at the same time would overcome the disparities between purely technical, ecological, and decorative intervention measures in a holistic design approach.
New buildings and infrastructure obliterating the human scale. Shanghai, 2010
While the riparian wetland along the river edge provides additional flood protection, the inland wetland provides space for storing, detaining, and filtering rainwater collected from the adjacent city area, thus reducing flooding of the river. The planted earthen dyke separating the two water systems is essential for flood protection and also serves as an integral component of the park´s topography, providing good views over the river landscape. Due to its rich topography, the park provides valuable habitats for local vegetation and wildlife, and, by making this accessible and visible, it educates the public about ecology. The diversity of spatial experiences—with paths leading through tall grasses, through enclosed colored boxes and tree blocks and across water surfaces and wetland vegetation—links human activities to the biophysical experience of the river environment. Nature is not out there and inaccessible, but right here in the middle of the city, interwoven with flood protection and urban recreation. The design of the Floating Gardens proves that landscape architecture as a profession is able to take the lead in designing infrastructure systems that no longer relate only to their own networks, defined solely by functionality and efficiency, but also to their context of cultural, social, and ecological performance. The large investments necessary to build new infrastructure systems give opportunities to impose radically new spatial configurations. Turenscape´s innovative work leads the way for the profession of landscape architecture to move away from merely providing decorative urban design. It proves that infrastructure can become landscape, and landscape can become infrastructure.
The Floating Gardens are composed of two layers— underlying natural and overlying human processes —that together form an ecological infrastructure for flood control. The first comprises a riparian wetland and an inland rainwater wetland, both with native wetland vegetation adapted to changing water levels and temporary inundation. The elevated layer of human function is formed through an earthen dyke providing flood protection and dividing the two types of wetland, an elevated network of paths connecting the park to the adjacent urban fabric, and a matrix of native tree blocks and “story boxes” as resting and viewing platforms.
Fiascoes of Chinese Urban Development and Turenscape’s Alternatives
Panorama of Pudong from the Bund in Shanghai, 2005. In the “City of Objects,” nature is only a landing pad for objects and the playground for architects, developers, and politicians.
Plaza in Wuxi, near Taihu Lake, 2008. In their need to present landscape as controlled, the engineers do not respond to existing natural features or other peculiarities of place.
1 Xiaodong Wang, “The Change of City Concept,” in Eduard Kögel and Ulf Meyer, eds., The Chinese City: Between Tradition and Modernism (Berlin: Jovis Publishers 2000), p. 22.
5 Von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, Luchao—Aus einem Tropfen geboren/ Luchao—Born from a Drop. Architecture for China (Altenburg: Leonie edition im dza Verlag, 2003).
2 Pan Yue, “Green China and Young China,” 2007, available at http://www. chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/ en/1167-Green-Chaina-and-youngChina-part-one-Seite.
6 Ernst Boerschmann, Baukunst und Landschaft in China: Eine Reise durch zwölf Provinzen (Berlin: Wasmuth Publishers, 1923), published in English as Picturesque China, Architecture and Landscape: A Journey through Twelve Provinces, trans. Louis Hamilton (New York: Brentano’s, 1923).
3 Qingyun Ma, “Chinese Urbanism,” in Gregor Jansen, ed., Totalstadt. Beijing Case (Cologne: Walther König Publishers, 2008), pp. 349–352. 4 Yung Ho Chang, “City of Objects,” in Jansen, pp. 370–371.
8 Kongjian Yu, “The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture,” in Kongjian Yu and Mary Padua , eds., The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture (Mulgrave, Victoria: Images Publishing, and Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2006), p. 19. 9 Daniel Burnham, quoted in Yu and Padua, The Art of Survival, p. 17. 10 Yu and Padua, The Art of Survival, p. 19. 11 Ibid., p. 22.
7 Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 25.
12 Elisabeth Meyer, “Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appear-
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ance,” Journal of Landscape Architecture, (Spring 2008), p. 16. 13 Philipp Oswalt and Tim Rieniets, Atlas der schrumpfenden Städte; English edition: Atlas of Shrinking Cities (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2006). 14 Mohsen Mostafavi with Gareth Doherty, eds., Ecological Urbanism (Cambridge: Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2010). 15 http://www.turenscape.com/ english/projects/project.php?id=323.
The Big Foot Revolution
Woman from Liuyi Village, Yunnan, showing one of her bound feet, 2007.
For thousands of years, the urban elite worldwide have maintained the right to define beauty and good taste as part of its assertion of superiority and power. Bound feet and deformed heads are among thousands of cultural practices that, in trying to elevate city sophisticates above rural bumpkins, have rejected nature’s inherent goals of health, survival, and productivity.
“Lilly Shoes” for Chinese women with bound feet, ca. 1870–1910.
Pearl S. Buck vividly depicted this process of urbanizing and denaturalizing taste in her novel about Chinese village life, The Good Earth, published in 1931. Early on we meet Wang Lung, a poor man who could marry only a slave from the local aristocrat’s Great House. The slave was not beautiful but hard-working and very productive. She gave birth to three sons and two daughters, cooked and kept house well, and begged in the streets to relieve her family’s poverty. Wang Lung eventually became so wealthy that he didn’t need to labor himself but instead hired farmers. He could even afford to leave his land unfruitful, buy from others, and build rooms to accommodate a slender beautiful woman as his concubine. She was prevented from working or having children. As Wang Lung’s property increased, he was able to rent the Great House as his family’s residence and live in town. His unproductivity was the measure of his social success.
Little Feet/Big Feet: Urbanity and Aesthetics For almost a thousand years, Chinese girls were forced to bind their feet so they could marry citified elites, since their natural, “big” feet were associated with provincial people and rustic life. At first, foot binding was the sole privilege of the high class. The practice flourished until the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. Respected intellectuals had written poems and created paintings to praise artificial tiny feet that today would be considered grotesque and a sign of abuse. Painters portrayed classic Chinese beauties with small feet, flat breasts, tiny waists, and white skin, in complete contrast to strong and healthy peasant girls. For a long time, in other words, the beautiful has been seen as necessarily unproductive, above the “crude,” survival-oriented processes of nature.
Mixed into the evolution of the Chinese idea of beauty are the Chinese people’s changing ideas of urbanity and good taste in landscape design. For thousands of years, farmers managed living landscapes using the survival skills passed on by their ancestors through countless trials and errors. Generations adapted to both the threat and the results of natural disasters—floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides, and soil erosion—while honing their abilities in field grading, irrigation, and food
This definition of beauty and its connection with highstatus urbanity is not unique to Chinese culture. PreHispanic Mayan priests and nobles deformed their children’s bodies in a quest for social status. Their “beautiful” features—foreheads forcibly sloped by vises, almondshaped eyes, large noses, and drooping lower lips—today seem equally grotesque.1
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Please don’t misunderstand me: In one sense all art, music, and dance is “unproductive”—it is useless for sustaining biological life. I am not arguing for the end of all this or for any demeaning of the value of beauty and pleasure in our lives. What I am arguing is that in our resourcedepleted and ecologically damaged and threatened era, the built environment must and will adapt a new aesthetic grounded in appreciation of the beauty of productive, ecology-supporting, survival-enhancing things. Our desire for beauty detached from utility is weakening, and should be. In our new world, survival is at stake. Wastefulness becomes viscerally unattractive. But there is plenty of opportunity for joyful pleasure in useful things.
production. A popular story arose: Our ancestors created and maintained “the Land of Peach Blossoms,” a lost paradise, a productive and harmonious basin discovered by a fisherman. 2 Efforts to survive were what engendered the skill and artistry of rendering the landscape productive and durable. People found this land beautiful because it contained the order and integration with natural processes that resulted from working with the given. But as China has become more urbanized and “civilized” over the years, this vernacular landscape has gradually been deprived of its productivity, its support to and of life, and its natural beauty. Like the peasant girls crippled by foot binding, it has gradually been adapted by the minority urban upper class and transformed into artificial and decorative gardens. The aesthetics of uselessness, leisure, and adornment have taken over in China as part of a larger overwhelming urge to appear “modern” and sophisticated. Designed landscapes and gardens in different cultures have roots in the agricultural landscapes that were the first expressions of civilization: Islamic gardens evolved from dry fields that needed irrigation. Italian terraced gardens originated as vineyards adapting to steep slopes. Picturesque English landscapes began as pastures. And Chinese gardens are descendents of agricultural farms. But the owners and designers of urban gardens did not appreciate the vernacular peasant landscapes, which were associated with the disheveled rural working class.
The “big foot” landscape: typical productive Chinese farmland.
Using ornamental plants and artificial rocks for two thousand years, emperors and nobles created fake “Lands of Peach Blossoms” for the pursuit of indolent pleasures. Irrigation ditches and ponds were turned into decorative water features. Fish farms were stocked with mutant ornamental goldfish. Green plants were replaced with golden or yellow-leafed plants; vegetables and herbs were ousted by ostentatious peonies and roses. Healthy trees were pruned, twisted, dwarfed, and damaged to make bonsai. Only delicate “little foot” rocks were arranged. Peach trees unable to bear fruit were planted. Like tiny-footed women, these urbane ornaments survived only with constant upkeep. They were watered, pruned, weeded, and artificially reproduced. Most of the “great gardens” in history decayed soon after their owners passed on. What survives or has been revived today requires endless maintenance.
The “little foot” landscape: rockery in Chinese garden of Liu Yuan in Suzhou.
From Rusticitas to Urbanitas and the Challenge of Survival The massive movement of population from rural to urban areas is a recent phenomenon. Today there are more people living in cities than in the countryside. In the past century, the proportion of urban population worldwide rose from 13 percent in 1900, to 29.1 percent in 1950, to 48.6 percent in 2005; it is expected to rise to 60 percent (4.9 billion) by 2030. By 2050 over 6 billion people, two thirds of humanity, will be living in towns and cities. 3
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For the two thousand years prior to 1950, China’s urbanization was enabled by agriculture surpluses, and its urbanization rate barely reached 10 percent. In contrast, by the end of 2007, around 43 percent of the 1.3 billion Chinese were urbanites. Each year some 18 million people migrate to China’s cities. The UN has forecast an even number of urban and rural people in China by 2015.4 The aestheticized landscapes defined by the privileged urban minority prior to the twentieth century are now eagerly sought by the masses, whose peasant ancestors had struggled for generations to become city dwellers. These migrants, just like the peasant “big foot” girls, are eager to bind their feet, to gentrify themselves physically and mentally. Contemporary Chinese landscape, architecture, and urban design simply reflect the aspirations of ordinary people to become sophisticates. Before the recent swarming to cities, ornamental landscape and civic design in China projected the aspirations of the privileged urban class typically through European Baroque landscape designs and ornamental gardening. The forms of these elite spaces are now markedly proliferate in newly developed urban settlements and public spaces. Postvernacular inherited values about urbanity have changed not only cities, but also the whole landscape of China. Rough and wild Chinese rivers have been channelized and lined with concrete. Rustic wetlands have been replaced with fountains and immaculate artificial ponds. “Messy” native shrubs are uprooted and replaced by exotic horticultural ornaments; native grasses are replaced by tidy, exotic lawns that consume more than 1 cubic meter of water per square meter (25 gallons per square foot) each year in Beijing and most of China. From 2002 to 2010, China consumed about half the world’s total production of cement and more than 30 percent of its total production of steel. 5 Is this necessary to urbanize a rural country? Not all of it, since some of these unrenewable resources are being wasted in the destruction and channeling of “messy” nature and the creation of decorative landscapes and visually “iconic” buildings. Examples include the new Olympic park, the steelwasteful “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium, the exorbitant and “spectacular” CCTV tower, and the energy-gorging National Center for the Performing Arts. The beautiful
Bird’s Nest consumed 42,000 tonnes (46,300 US tons) of steel; roughly 500 kilograms per square meter (2,440 pounds per square foot). The CCTV tower consumed nearly 300 kilograms per square meter (1,464 pounds per square foot) and is the most expensive office building in the world in terms of steel used.6 Millions of dollars were spent on decorative flowerbeds during the 2008 Olympic games: It is estimated that 40 to 100 million flowerpots were used.7 Imagine the positive effect on Beijing’s air pollution had those been 40 million trees! In Shanghai almost all landmark buildings are crowned with ornamental hats. One hat represents a lotus flower, another a lily, another a screwdriver, a fourth a UFO. The city is trivialized by this frippery. In the current Chinese “City Beautiful Movement” (or rather “City Cosmetic Movement”), the arts of urban design, landscape, and architecture have lost their ways in a search of mind-numbing conventional styles or meaninglessly wild forms and exotic grandeur, guided by “little foot” aesthetics. Work of this type accelerates the degradation of the environment. China has 21 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its land and fresh water. Two thirds of its 662 cities lack sufficient water; 70 percent of its rivers and lakes are polluted. In the north, desertification has created a crisis. In the past fifty years, 50 percent of China’s wetlands have disappeared. The underground water level drops 1 meter (3 feet) each year in many sites.8 These conditions and trends are desperately unsustainable. What values do we hold as designers? Both global and local conditions compel us to embrace an art enmeshed with fostering survival, promoting land and species stewardship, and making ornament subservient to those goals. We need a new aesthetics of big feet—beautiful big feet. The Big Foot Aesthetic: Recovering Landscape Architecture as the Art of Survival As the world has finally admitted, anthropogenic climate change has brought and will bring additional floods, storms, droughts, and diseases, along with extinction of many animal and plant species, and other threats to
The Big Foot Revolution
camphor laurel tree with exposed roots, a water well with deep marks on its rim made over centuries by pulled ropes, or a stone bench with a missing corner.
survival. A new study shows that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and industrial processes are increasing three times faster than earlier worst case predictions: The Arctic ice cap is melting three times faster; the seas are rising twice as rapidly. 9 On every continent there are rivers that are drying out, threatening severe water shortages.10 We are experiencing the greatest wave of extinctions since the disappearance of the dinosaurs: Every hour, three species disappear.11 We must redefine what seems pleasurable and beautiful to us, especially in landscape architecture—itself a crucial profession in the struggle for sustainable ecology.
In general, such places share the following characteristics: They are practical and satisfy diverse functions; they are economical, using local materials, adapting to natural topography and climate, and constructed and managed with the least investment of labor and energy; they are designed in human scale and proportion; they tell stories closely related to their users. All these contribute to the beauty of these public places. Beauty is not a kind of form; it is experience and communication between human beings or between humans and nature.
The Road to Urban Landscape
Since the emergence of professional designers, the rich meaning of public spaces built without such designers seems to have weakened. When designers work on their own or under the authority of God, the monarchy, or wealth, they tend to forget about the ordinary people for whom they are supposed to be designing. Here, the word people refers to specific individuals with ordinary lives, rather than an abstract, collective “people.” It is only when you have learned enough about ordinary people’s lives that you can design public spaces in harmony with the local culture and people, and the local environment. Come back, poetic site; come back, people’s space; come back, narrative place.
Urban Design Follies and Wisdom After almost a hundred years, around 1995, the ghost of the “City Beautiful Movement” arrived in China, bringing with it Italian piazzas from the sixteenth century, French landscape avenues from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and American skyscrapers from the twentieth century. The Chinese urban landscape must not repeat the mistakes of past European and American methods of city beautification. Since the 1980s, many tour groups, textbooks, and media have striven to correct the Chinese people’s misunderstanding of Western society. The same applies to urban landscapes—eulogy and imitation are omnipresent, but the recognition of lessons and failures is far from adequate. This lack of reflection has caused Chinese urban landscape development to follow the same unreasonable road. Through careful examination of the Western urban landscape history, urban development decision makers, especially mayors, should calm down, engage in serious contemplation, and gain perspective.
Based on the common qualities of sovereign centralized feudal power systems worldwide, it is possible to decode the urban pattern of ancient Chinese capitals, the most typical of which is the Forbidden City in Beijing. Interestingly, the self-conceited and conservative monarch of the Qing Dynasty willingly accepted a splendid exotic landscape that displayed what he imagined was the charm of the landscapes of European royalties. From the big cities in the north to the small towns in the south, whether in the little towns newly built for those displaced by Three Gorges Dam or in the ancient capital cities, many large Chinese constructions create “landscape avenues” just for the purpose of monumentality and exhibitionism, using the Baroque model that pursues comprehensiveness, style, and the decoration of street facades to dress up the urban surroundings. Landscape avenues are usually designed as main vehicular
Public places created without designers are often those we desire because they are romantic, boundless, poetic, challenging, or able to move us to praise and tears. These spaces are simple yet practical and are naturally shaped by human footsteps and other traces during spontaneous activities. Universally approved and engaged by people, they are democratic spaces with forms engraved deeply into people’s everyday lives and memory—things like a
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roads with minimal connection between the two sides, an inaccessibility that poses both inconvenience and a real threat to pedestrians. There was a phase when the fashion for urban plazas spread across China, so that “central squares,” “cultural squares,” “century squares,” and “citizen squares” were created. Although they were originally intended to provide citizens with space for activities, squares now are not constructed for facilitating daily recreational activities and leisure. Instead, they treat citizens as an audience. Sculptures and downtown buildings dominate, while the plaza has become nothing more than a backdrop. Plazas are not human-oriented because they place people outside their boundaries, usually above them, so that they may stop and admire the beautiful and elegant patterns that they present. The best spots for sightseeing these cityscapes are high in downtown buildings. This is reminiscent of the way in which King Louis XIV would view through the windows of his Versailles ballroom the patterns of his garden when people were excluded from its enormous lawn. Complicated diverse geometrical designs were thought beautiful, but human needs were neglected. The construction of urban squares in pursuit of “City Beautification” may bring the following problems:
3. Judging a space’s beauty by its riches and treasures: The value of material things determines the quality of plazas so that outdoor spaces may be treated like decorated indoor halls, with gleaming granite pavement and elaborate white marble pilasters that reflect the splendor and riches of the Chinese and Western imperial capitals and royal courts. Great sums of money have been invested in making enormous fountains, dramatic illumination, and strange mechanisms (such as rotating stages), which are then used infrequently due to their huge operating costs. Ignoring the importance of creating a sense of place and reflecting local characteristics, these plazas are simply locales for seeking novelty, and they compromise the urban spirit. This problem is especially serious in historic cities. 4. Damage to spatial and social structure: If these plazas are in city centers, then many buildings have to be demolished and scores of people are forced to move. Not only does this cost billions, it also devastates the social structure. Contemporary urban spaces should be designed to satisfy the everyday needs of men and women, young and old, the healthy and the disabled, to be able to work, live, study, and enjoy recreation.
1. A place without people, existing only for its buildings, with exhibition, commemoration, and ritual surpassing function. For example, it is now common to find a granitepaved square in a suburban rice field. During a summer day, it is merely a frying pan on which even ants are terrified to linger, while at night a deathly stillness lies under the illumination of ornamental lighting. Even if plazas are located in the city center, designers and managers still try to exclude commercial and daily activities in search of formal beauty.
Most urban planning or design professionals seem to be weak and incapable in face of the strong “City Beautiful Movement” and even add fuel to its fire. On the one hand this is because urban planning, design, and management agencies under the direct charge of mayors are often reduced to mere rubber stamps of the mayor’s grandiose beautification plans. On the other hand, the theoretical and practical level of professionals is greatly limited due to their lack of international experience. They are often reduced to simulating photos taken home from abroad by mayors. In fact, it is the mayors who are designing cities.
2. Under the influence of the “City Beautiful Movement,” designers of urban plazas often forget that they are designed for ordinary people who are neither mayors who inspect plazas from downtown buildings nor officials and plutocrats who drive around in fancy automobiles. People’s access and comfort are limited by the fences that keep them out of large expanses of lawn, and restricted by slippery polished marble or granite surfaces during rainy and snowy seasons.
The autocratic culture of a whole nation following the judgments of the emperors is embodied in contemporary city construction because, as Chinese sayings go, “higher officials speak louder” and “you must listen to your superior.” As a result, urban landscape can become the manifestation of an executive will that even surmounts laws. Karl Marx hit the mark when he wrote that the only principle of tyranny is to look down on human beings, to rob them of their right to be human.
The Big Foot Revolution
Defining and Making the Ecological City
The Fifth International Eco-City Conference in Shen-
W hen sanitation movements are launched to build healthy cities or when garden cities are built, one of the most important jobs is to remove weeds. Only exotic species are considered worth growing and maintaining, with shading facilities to protect their delicacy and greenhouses to keep them warm. Imported grasses are treated as legitimate plants while vigorous local species are removed by hand and herbicides. But flowers were originally weeds, and exotic plants were once native plants in their original environments. The local “weed” species are most suitable for urban landscapes; they proliferate in the local habitat and should be cherished as of the highest ecological value. In our time, when we lose more than seventy-two species per day, the protection of local living things has become a global agenda. Local weeds have their own beautiful features and reduce the cost of maintenance. They will grow vigorously without use of pesticides and fertilizers.
zhen, China, in August 2002 produced the Shenzhen Declaration,12 which advocated that, to promote a city’s ecological construction, the following actions must be taken: 1. Through environmentally sound measures, provide a safe living environment with safe water sources, and secured land use for urban inhabitants, particularly the poor, in order to improve the quality of life and ensure public health for all. 2. Town planning should be people-oriented rather than car-oriented. Reverse urban sprawl and minimize the loss of arable land. 3. Identify ecologically sensitive areas and the carrying capacity of regional life-support systems, and define natural and agricultural areas that require ecological restoration. 4. Strongly advocate energy conservation and renewable energy while enhancing the efficiency of resource use and material recycling in urban design.
The Futilities of Greenbelts The Beijing greenbelt is built up evenly around the city; its dimensions and layout show a lack of analysis of the regional environment and how it could be best managed in the face of spatial expansion. The moment the greenbelt is completed, the new built-up circle just outside it is also completed, and thus the greenbelt not only fails to prevent urban sprawl but actually strengthens it.
5. Create highly efficient, convenient, and low-cost public transportation. Abolish vehicular subsidies, increase taxes on private car use and on automobile fuel, the income from which can be used for public transport. 6. Provide strong economic incentives for ecological transformation of enterprises and rehabilitation projects of historic areas. Tax those activities that violate the principles of ecological urban construction, such as emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Develop and strengthen preferential policies to encourage investment in ecological urban construction.
The Need for an Untraditional Planning Methodology The speedy urbanization process in China challenges traditional planning methodology. This focus on prognosis of population growth and building development has proven incapable of dealing with current environmental urban development issues. A kind of “negative” approach is needed, giving priority to what is not built up and dedicated to protecting and strengthening ecological infrastructure instead.
7. Establish viable education and training programs about environmental optimization and ecological restoration. Encourage the community to actively participate in ecological urban design, management, and restoration efforts. Enable demonstration projects of ecological urban construction.
Such an approach includes the following combination of landscape strategies: › Maintaining and strengthening the overall continuity of landscape patterns and processes. › Protecting and establishing diverse native habitats.
Urban green space is the bond for various functions, the basic material that forms the life of urban landscape.
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› Maintaining and restoring the natural form and configuration of rivers and coastlines. › Protecting and restoring wetlands. › Integrating the former farmland shelterbelts into urban green systems. › Building greenways for non-motor vehicles (such as bicycles). › Establishing green heritage corridors that integrate environmental protection, leisure, education, and cultural heritage preservation and that include areas along gorges, channels, roads, and railways. › Removing the boundaries of walled communities and walled green areas, opening them up and linking them together. › Integrating parks into cities as the basic means of achieving high-quality life. › Making high-yield farmland an integral part of cities. › Establishing native plant nurseries for local species. Integrating Green Spaces Throughout Cities Traditional parks are rapidly dying out. Parks should now not only be special places for outings but “ordinary landscapes” necessary for daily life and recreation, organic parts of the work and residential environment. Isolated parks with boundaries can be reabsorbed into a matrix of different land uses, infiltrated into residential districts and official and industrial parks in compact, ecological, and open shapes, then finally assimilated into the suburban landscape matrix. Urban parks can be understood as a green liquid permeating and nourishing the whole city. Urban Farmlands High-yield farmlands should permeate into built-up areas, while built-up areas extend into farmlands. Farmland in combination with urban green systems will constitute the green matrix of urban landscape. Agricultural landscapes have a high aesthetic value of their own, and, when introduced into cities, can provide opportunities for citizen recreation. People can grow, maintain, and pick fruit with their own hands, which will be educational to the young and provide recreation and evoke memories for the old.
The primary ecological service of city farmland is improving the environment. The productive function fundamental to agriculture may be carried out in rural areas. But urban farmland’s beneficial impact on urban hydrology, air quality and humidity, on the diversity of species and landscape pattern, the richness of seasonal change, and the city’s vigor can never be replaced through the suburban gardens or urban greenbelts. Wasteful Temporary Landscapes for National Celebrations Celebrations for “May Day” or “National Day” get bigger and bigger, more and more stylish, with yearly innovations. If it is a colorful phoenix made of 5,000 pots of chrysanthemums this year, then it may be a huge dragon made of 100,000 five-colored grass shoots the next year. But it is a pity that all the visitors will go away, the plants will wither, and the pavements and walls will collapse no sooner than the festivals have ended. During the rest of the year, citizens have to face lifeless concrete walls. According to credible estimates, the investment for the annual “May Day” and “National Day” celebrations in Chinese cities is enough to build a medium-sized park that citizens could use every day. Why not do so? Protecting Natural Water Systems Natural water systems are the blood vessels of the earth and the main infrastructure of the landscape’s ecosystem. Pollution, drought, and flood are the three most severe problems for the Chinese urban water system, and among those pollution is the most difficult to solve. Consequently, water system management has been treated as a key task. However, people usually make the river itself the target. Natural rivers are straightened, cut off, culverted, or lined with concrete. The engineers ignore the fact that the causes of the three main problems have little to do with the riverway itself. As it turns out, the hugely costly river engineering exacerbates the original problems further. Protecting and recovering the natural forms of riparian zones are meaningful for their: 1. Ecological significance: A natural river and its riparian area are bound to have both concave and convex banks,
The Big Foot Revolution
A continuous green zone will be the matrix of Chinese cities of the future, shared by every citizen rather than being the backyard of the privileged.
deep pools, shoals, and alluvium that provide livable habitat for various life forms and thus a base for biodiversity. Other kinds of habitat cannot replace the diversity of the riverside and the effects of the riparian corridor. Moreover, continuous natural riparian landscapes provide a migration corridor for numerous life forms.
Editor’s note These excerpts are particularly striking and daring for the openness of their indignation and criticism of the landscape preferences of people in positions of power in China, especially the mayors to whom it is addressed. The editor has selected, edited, and somewhat reordered what he considers the strongest and freshest passages, notable for their acuity and relevance. The first part of this text, the essay “The Big Foot Revolution,” was first published in slightly different form in Harvard Design Magazine 31 (Fall/Winter 2009/2010), pp. 48–59. The second part of the text, “The Road to Urban Landscape,” are excerpts from the book by Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市 景观之路 : 与市长们交流 ; the English translation was provided by Turenscape.
2. Aesthetic significance: Thriving riversides fully demonstrate the beauty of natural patterns in which animals and plants depend on each other. Mobility and stillness, variety and order coexist. 3. Flood-mediating significance: The dynamic zigzag shape, fluctuating depth, and lushly vegetated banks of rivers help in reducing current speed and lessen flood damage. The natural wetlands alongside a river act like a sponge, which can modify the water quantity to mitigate drought or flood. However, the Chinese Water Bureaus, afraid of flooding and being held responsible for it, upped the standard of flood prevention to cope with a once-ina-hundred-year event, heightening the flood protection banks and straightening riverways. The results have turned out to be the opposite of their goal: The damaging power of floods has been strengthened, and this has caused even more waste of money and labor.
1 Vera Tiesler, “Head Shaping and Dental Decoration Among the Maya: Archeological and Cultural Aspects,” Society of American Anthropology 64 (1999), pp. 1–6. 2 This is, in essence, the original story of Shangri-La, a mystical, harmonious valley described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British writer James Hilton.
3 World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, pp. 1–4.
In creating non-vehicular green corridors, it is better to make full use of existing spaces such as internal community roads, rivers, plazas, and pedestrian streets, assisted by some specialized newly built ones, to link existing and planned green spaces such as parks, city greenbelts, recreation areas, large reserves in the center of residential districts, grass areas, and private institutional green spaces. In the renovation of the old city and construction of new communities, greenways for pedestrians and cyclists should be established at different scales: between communities, between residences and offices, and between residences and culture and leisure sites, as well as to suburban natural land. The dimension and function of cities keep on changing, while their ecological infrastructure— landscape elements such as river systems, green corridors, forests, and wetlands—are a necessity for the city forever and should be constant.
4 UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision Population Database, http://esa.un.org/unup/. 5 “Industry News: China to Dominate Cement Use in 2007,” Concrete Monthly, January 2007, www.concretemonthly. com/monthly/art.php?2596; see also Freedonia Group Inc., “Cement in China,” August 1, 2006, www.marketresearch.com/product/display.
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asp?productid=1331744&g=1. RNCOS; “China Steel Industry Forecast till [sic] 2012,” February 2008, www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/590881/china_ steel_industry_forecast_till_2012. 6 Huang Hong, Cheng Chao, Li Li, 2007, Cu Tian Du Shi Bao, 2007, December 27, 2007. Published only in Chinese as 黄宏、程超、李立 , 楚天都市报 . 7 Xing Yunfei, 2008, Hua Xia Shi Bao, July 19, 2008. Published only in Chinese as 邢云飞 , 华夏时报 , 2008 年 07月 19 日 . 8 Chen Kelin, Lü Yong, Zhang Xiaohong, “No Water without Wetland,” China Environment and Development Review (2004), pp. 296–309. See also: John McAlister, “China’s Water Crisis,” Deutsche Bank China Expert Series, March 22, 2005. 9 Michael R. Raupach, Gregg Marland, Philippe Ciais, Corinne Le Quéré, Josep G. Canadell, Gernot Klepper, and Christopher B. Field, “Global and Regional Drivers of Accelerating CO2 Emissions,” PNAS 104, pp. 10288–10293. 10 C. M. Wong, C. E. Williams, J. Pittock, U. Collier, and P. Schelle, “World’s Top 10 Rivers at Risk,” WWF International, Gland, Switzerland, March 2007, http://assets.panda.org/ downloads/worldstop10riversatriskfinalmarch13_1.pdf. 11 Ahmed Djoghlaf, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “Statement to the Second Meeting of the Advisory Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity,” Released by United Nations Environment Programme, April 30, 2007, http://www.cbd.int/doc/speech/2007/ sp-2007-04-30-8j-en.pdf. 12 http://www.asianaa.com/ ShenzhenDecl.html.
Go Productive: The Rice Campus of Shenyang Jianzhu University Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China, 2004
This project demonstrates how agricultural landscape can become part of the urbanized environment and how cultural identity can be created through an ordinary agricultural landscape. Kong jian Yu believes that his projects should be “productive” in as many ways as possible: yielding crops, promoting biodiversity, providing species habitat, and more. Much of this conviction stems from his boyhood experience of severe food shortages in his homeland and his adult awareness of food scarcities in many areas of the globe. In his essay “The Good Earth Recovered,” he wrote: “In the past twelve years, from 1996 to 2008, China has ceded 7 percent of her agricultural land to urban development. … Each year more than 10 million peasants across China leave their rural homes searching for a ‘better’ life in the city, leaving millions of hectares of fertile land uncultivated or eagerly selling it off for development and industrial use. Currently, China owns only 10 percent of the world’s arable land but must feed 20 percent of the world’s population. With China’s arable land per capita at approximately 40 percent of the world average, the entire country is on the brink of a land and food crisis.”1 As a farmer, he views preserving the landscape and making it productive as a moral imperative. Productivity creates new aesthetic values: Beauty without usefulness now seems ugly, and the most thoroughly useful seems beautiful. It is in the context of contemporary China’s endless creation of merely ornamental landscapes that Yu designed the rice campus of Shenyang Jianzhu University. This project asserts that landscape architects should
rebuild the connection between the earth and the people—especially the younger generation estranged from the land because of urbanization—and raise awareness of the food crisis. This working landscape is an example of Yu’s “big foot” aesthetics—beautiful by being productive. In March 2002, the city of Shenyang in northern China commissioned the landscape architect to create a suburban campus for Shenyang Jianzhu University. Originally located downtown, the university was established in 1948 and played an important role in educating architects and civil engineers. But after a dramatic national surge in interest in architecture, enrollment at the school ballooned, causing congestion and overcrowding. After much deliberation, the school decided that the best solution was to move the entire campus to the suburbs. This project is the crop-field portion of the campus at its southwest side. Only about one US dollar per square meter (0.09 US dollar per square foot) was allocated for landscaping. Most of the budget was set aside for the design and construction of new university buildings. The university required that the design be developed and implemented within just one year. The site for the proposed campus was originally a field that produced the famous “Northeast Rice,” rice known for its high quality stemming from the cool climate and long growing season (a single crop of rice in Liaoning Province is grown in 135 days, but in southern China in only 100 days.) The soil quality was good, but a new irrigation system was needed; for this Yu designed a storm water collecting system and a reflecting pond to store the rainwater. This pond is an
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attractive landscape feature with native wild grass growing in abundance and requiring little maintenance. The design uses rice, wheat, and other crops, as well as native plants, to keep the landscape productive while fulfilling its new roles of providing an environment for learning and usable outdoor space. The rice paddy spans the landscape, has small open sitting platforms, and is completely functional with its own irrigation system. Other native crops like buckwheat grow in rotation across the campus annually. Native plants line pathways. The productive aspect of the landscape draws students and faculty into dialogue about sustainable development and food production. By situating the architecture school within a rice paddy, the design makes agriculture become easily understandable to all on campus. Students participate in crop management, planting, and harvesting. Both farming and observing the plants’ natural processes offer educational opportunities. The rice produced on the campus is harvested and distributed as “Golden Rice,” serving as a keepsake for visitors to the school and a source of identity and pride for the young suburban campus. The wide distribution of Golden Rice has the potential to raise awareness of new hybrid landscape solutions combining agriculture with social space.
1 Kongjian Yu, “The Good Earth Recovered,” in Donata Valentien, ed., Wiederkehr der Landschaft/Return of Landscape (Berlin: Jovis Publishers, 2010), pp. 225–233.
1 Master plan of the campus rice field: Storm water is col-
Dry crop area
lected to create a reflecting pond that becomes the water
source for irrigating the rice paddies. A path network was laid
out allowing faculty and students to access and cross the
paddies while keeping them a working agricultural field.
The main paths are oriented north-south so that trees can be
planted without creating major shadow over the crops while
providing comfortable shaded pedestrian corridors. Cul-de-sac
9 University library
platforms are distributed in the fields as private study spaces
for groups of students to use under the shade of canopy trees.
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2 A bird’s eye view of the productive campus: productive crops (rice, wheat, and buckwheat) create the campus landscape. The paths across the fields are connections between different functional buildings (between student dormitories to classrooms and laboratories). 3 Spring: The rice paddies are filled with water, and rice seedlings are ready for transplanting. Groups of students are gathered for the rice planting festival.
The Rice Campus of Shenyang Jianzhu University
4 In the rice paddies cul-de-sac study platforms and seats are distributed for students to use. A tree provides shade in the hot summer. 5 The north-south paths are lined with poplar trees that cast attractive shadows on the paths but not on the productive fields.
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6 Goats are allowed to eat what is left in the field after the dry crop is harvested. 7 The autumn color of the rice paddies. Rice fields are made penetrable using concrete narrow paths that allow students, faculty, and staff the experience of walking through the productive landscape and touching the rice.
The Rice Campus of Shenyang Jianzhu University
8 Spring: The third Saturday each May has been designated as Rice Planting Day for the university. Students and faculty members celebrate the planting of rice seedlings. This provides a unique unforgettable experience for the students and is becoming an integral part of the university culture. 9 Summer: Wheat is ripening in the dry field while rice is in its fast growing season, creating lush green. 10 Fall: On Rice Harvesting Day, the last Saturday in October, all students and faculty members participate in harvesting their own rice. The long lost tradition of rice culture in China becomes a part of campus life. 11 Winter: Some rice patches are deliberately left on 10
the fields to last through the winter, to give a bright warm color in the cold atmosphere, and to attract birds and small animals. The harvested rice is packed in bunches to dry, and this creates another unique scene on the campus. Long cut plants are kept on the ground as ground cover to avoid soil erosion during the windy winter. 12 The product: The rice produced on campus is harvested and distributed as “Golden Rice,” serving as a keepsake for visitors of the school, a supply for the student cafeteria, and a source of identity for the newly established suburban campus.
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The Art Field: North Grant Park Chicago, Illinois, USA, 2009
North Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, is currently a plain and undistinguished open area (containing mainly tennis courts) adjoining Chicago’s celebrated Millennium Park (2004). The City of Chicago is dedicated to make this area, bordering Lake Michigan, distinguished and vibrant. The Art Field was designed for this site and as a proposal for Chicago’s Design and Construction Administration Services, overseers of the competition for this park. It was conceived as a cultural emblem and a canvas on which the natural cycles of the metropolitan landscape can occur. The corn field, the identifying feature of the Field, is both a symbol of Chicago’s agrarian heritage and a representation of a continually regenerating agricultural process. Among the crops, various installations in “art boxes,” performances, children’s playgrounds, ice skating rinks, meeting places, and observation decks have their own cycles in tandem with the progression of the seasons. The planting and harvesting of the Field each year will become a community event to support the continued renewal of Chicago’s vitality. North Grant Park is now composed of the 8 hectare (20 acre) Daley Bicentennial Plaza (with an underground parking garage), the 3 hectare (6.5 acre) Cancer Survivor’s Garden, and Peanut Park. Due to the renovation of the garage, the Plaza will be removed. The project resolves several challenges. As part of addressing its historical context, an existing urban axis is preserved and new references
to architecture itself (prominent in Chicago’s history) are created. The second challenge is to respond to the temporary character of the park while finding viable technical solutions for the short- and long-term maintenance of a park built on a garage roof. The third challenge is to transform the area at the east end of North Grant Park into an active pedestrian gathering place. The conception of the Field is built around five design strategies: 1. Agricultural and Adaptable Landscape: Corn fields evoke a productive landscape linked to the cultural and agricultural heritage of the city and region, and offer an effective and low-cost solution that will give the project flexibility in the use of space. Corn fields can grow in shallow soil; they impose a low construction load on the structure beneath. The crops, orchards, and vegetable garden are a main focus but also become a background for art installations and winter activities. 2. Water Harvesting: Urban storm water from the surrounding streets as well as the rainwater on site are harvested and guided through channels in the Field into nine wetland ponds, arranged strategically in a natural filtration system that leads to the waterfall at the south end. The channels make water available for irrigation while offering recreational wading paths in summer and linear skating surfaces in winter.
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The wetland system serves as a conservation and restoration habitat at the edge of the city, where birds, small animals, and plants can flourish and be seen from the Skywalk and Viewing Platforms above. This swampy area will hold native wild leeks found on site during the city’s first construction here. 3. Geometric Pattern: The Field paths create geometrical patterns that divide spaces orthogonally and recall the city’s architectural heritage. 4. Skywalk: The Skywalk, a curvilinear bridge, cuts through the geometrical pattern diagonally and lands at the lakeside of Lakeshore Drive. A single curving line through the Field offers a minimal intervention with observation vantage points for walkers. The Skywalk allows nature to be untouched. There is an important tradition of promotion of the arts in Chicago, and this is reflected in the name “Art Field.” The Park is to become a place for art exhibitions, organized in thirty spaces: five orchard exhibits, eleven corn exhibits, and fourteen multimedia art exhibits. The layering of discrete elements in the landscape of the Field is more than an organizational tool; it helps to give greater meaning to the experience of the place. Juxtapositions and adjacencies create unexpected connections between art and agriculture, people watching and bird watching, farming and community gardening.
1 Site plan. Children’s playground
4 Existing trees 5
6 Orchard art boxes 7
9 Entrance to the visitors’ center
10 Vegetable gardens
11 Water catchment ponds
12 High grass
2 Plan of the proposed Art Field in North Grant Park.
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3 Bird’s eye view of the Art Field with corn fields and rectangular stations for art (“Art Boxes”) among them. Art boxes 4 Design concept with layers of landscape elements.
Winter skating range/Summer water spring Water canal (skating rink in winter) Water catchment ponds
North Grant Park
5 The wetland park that collects the storm water and cleanses it before it is guided into the ponds is a bird habitat in the summer and a skating field in the winter. The skywalk is hovering above the wetland in the winter. 6 The art boxes.
The art box accommodates a ventilation structure for the garage underground.
Raised art box with images projected from within onto all four sides.
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William S. Saunders
The Boy Who Read Books Riding a Water Buffalo his family had once enjoyed. During his childhood, he lived with his parents and siblings in one third of a two-story courtyard house. Four people slept to a room, his sister and mother on one bed, he and his father on another. His parents were illiterate. During the Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1961), tens of millions of Chinese died of starvation. Yu’s family also had too little food, and his older brother and sister suffered the consequences in poor health.
The story of Kongjian Yu’s journey from farming in a remote Chinese village to international preeminence in landscape architecture traces an extraordinary odyssey. But it also helps us understand the sources of his design values, passions, and modes. He was born in 1963, growing up in a village of five hundred people communally raising crops and livestock. That, as a boy during the 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution, Yu saw his mother and father stripped of their dignity and possessions for being from well-off, land-owning families helps explain his vast ambition. He grew up near an enchanting forest and a fish-filled creek, only to see the forest cut down and the creek become too polluted to support life. This helps explain the depth of his commitment to recreating and protecting natural abundance. He suffered social ostracism in the countryside for having wealthy ancestors and then for being a “country bumpkin” when he made it to the big city. This helps us understand his conviction that parks are to be enjoyed by all ranks of people. He loved farming and was proud that his commune used every square meter of its land productively. This helps explain his revulsion to landscapes that are “merely” ornamental. He learned how to deploy scarce water resources and cultivate crops in ways that ensured their survival. And this helps us understand his will to create parks that are low-maintenance and “productive.”
View of Yu’s boyhood village, Dongyu, with surrounding rice paddies and harvested rice piles, 2001.
But beyond all this, his extraordinarily challenging coming-of-age—so foreign to Western landscape architects—is moving for its elemental human content. Yu knew only through storytelling of the modest privilege
Lane in Dongyu, with Yu’s house the third on the right, 2003.
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to offer more confessions. For ten years, peasant boys cursed and threw stones at him for being from a “bad family.” In school, he was forced to write “confessions” criticizing his parents. His teachers resented his intelligence. He was not allowed to attend middle school. When Yu was seven, his rebellious brother wrote a letter of complaint to the government. As a result he was thrown in jail, but before long he ran away, hopping on a train to another province. The rest of the family heard nothing from him and worried that he had died. He returned after a year and was convicted as anti-revolutionary and faced beatings and public humiliation.
The courtyard of Yu’s house in Dongyu, shared with his father’s brothers, 2003.
Yu’s village, Dongyu, was originally settled by an ancestor nineteen generations before Kongjian’s birth and is named for that ancestor. The village is about 10 kilo meters (6.3 miles) from the town of Jinhua (now a city of four million and a major center for grain production) in the heart of Zhejiang Province, a region famous for its scenic mountain waters, rich vernacular architecture, and intellectually and commercially successful people.1 But Kongjian knew nothing of this wider reality. If, once or twice a year, he went to Jinhua with his father to sell farm produce, the sale was the sole goal of their trip to the town. His family knew nothing of Beijing and Shanghai.
Yu says no one in the family seems to have been psychologically crushed by all this. Until he was thirteen, these conditions represented “normal life” for him; they were shared by the other “bad families.” Once or twice, he heard quiet crying at night. His mother would complain about the bad feng shui that must have come down through her husband’s family. The father’s eyes welled with tears when his son ran away to an unknown fate. When Kongjian and a peasant friend broke a water vessel in school, Yu remembers indignantly the unfairness of being punished with a much larger fine. One thing that kept up the spirits of Yu and his family were his exceptional athletic abilities in track and field—in situations in which cheating and bias could not affect success, he won many championships.
In 1966, when Kongjian was three years old, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, meant to root out capitalism, industrialize the country, and bring power to the poor. One night the local people took Kongjian and his family to the playground of the elementary school to hold them with the other “bad families.” His parents had overnight become enemies of the state, their house was ransacked, and their possessions (even wedding rings) were taken. They were jailed in a buffalo pen with about twenty other people for a month. He and his siblings were allowed to stay at home; to assist their parents’ survival, his sister cooked meals and Kongjian carried them through the village to hand to his parents through a window. Finally released from the pen, his mother and father were forced to sweep the village streets before dawn, wear belittling signs, and make public confessions, sometimes enduring beatings. Once Yu saw his parents dangled for many minutes from poles by their tied hands and feet being told
During all this hardship, nature and agriculture provided Yu’s consolation and escape. From the front of his house, he gazed southward at a pine forest 500 meters (550 yards) away beyond the rice paddies and ponds. It frightened and enthralled him. Now and then, he would see wolves emerging from it. The elders would gather under giant shade trees on hot summer evenings and tell tales of mythological beasts and ancestors buried in that forest. Not until he was seven did Yu muster the courage to accompany his brother there. When he did, he found “an Eden”—birds, animals, flowers, streams, and plants he had never seen. Before long he would go regularly, sometimes alone, to gather mushrooms, grass for his rabbits and sheep, wood for fires, water weeds for his pigs, and weasels for the family dinner.
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The immediate landscape provided more than enough food for human survival as long as it was not abused. Just west of the village was White Sand Creek, edged by grasses and willow trees and filled with fish that Yu both loved and caught for family food. Villagers diverted some of the creek’s water into channels that fed manmade ponds and filled an intricate irrigation system for the rice paddies. Fish and drinking water were taken from these ponds; when rains were heavy, the ponds stored excess water; when droughts hit, their waters would be diverted into the paddies. All this required skillful engineering—land grading, weirs, and more. North of town was the large and dangerous Wujiang River, which villagers avoided except during one severe drought, when they spent a whole summer building an earthen aqueduct to channel its waters to their village. Yu’s father was one of those in charge of making sure the rice paddy irrigation system was functioning properly. He would have to inspect and adjust it day and night during the summer. Young Kongjian would often go with him. In dry summers, his commune fought with sticks and stones to prevent other communes from stealing their water. Riding water buffalo, Yu worked the rice paddies from an early age. He remembers negotiating the 1-meterwide (3 feet) paths edged with bean plants among the paddies and loving to feel surrounded by the vegetation. Besides the paddies were patches of sugar cane, sunflowers, yellow-flowering rapeseed, corn, and hemp. (Yu’s parks often replicate these features.) No fertile land remained unused. Each family had a small patch by its house to grow vegetables. Yu felt it was a great honor to carry grain to the city to “contribute to the national welfare.” (More than half the commune’s production was used in this way.) However, by the time Yu was in high school, there were no more fish in the creek; the increasing use of DDT had killed them. Since snails in the messy grasses along the creek were thought to carry the “blood-eating disease” (schistosomiasis), the long grasses were eradicated, and at the same time the water became heavily polluted from a new town and factory upstream. In the 1980s, local officials cut down and sold the forest and a few
three-hundred-year-old camphor trees in the village. Both the big river and the creek were channelized with concrete. Yu was devastated. (Later, in college, he realized that this kind of abuse of nature had become typical across China.) Yu was able to go to high school because of the special care given him by an elementary school teacher who admired Yu’s reading and writing. Riding a water buffalo to the creek while reading a book, Yu had just heard over the village loudspeaker that Mao had died when his former teacher approached and encouraged him to take a month to prepare for the national high school entrance examination. Supported by his parents, Yu studied hard and got in. His first semester, he was placed at the bottom level of students; in one semester, he jumped to the middle level; in one more, he was at the top.
Yu, bottom row, second from left, after his high school graduation with a group of fellow students. Each student received an award for being best in his or her class, 1979.
Yu and his family in 1986 in Dongyu. Bottom row: Yu’s brother’s two children. Top row, left to right: Yu’s brother’s wife, Yu’s mother, brother, and father, and Yu himself.
The Boy Who Read Books Riding a Water Buffalo
on plant cell genetics, later published. He continued in a master’s program, writing a thesis on landscape perception and assessment in 1987 under the guidance of Professor Chen Youming, whom Yu respected highly for being broadminded. I would like to quote Dihua Li again, since he shared many experiences with Yu at the time:
Yu’s coed high school, which he walked 10 kilometers (6.3 miles) to reach, boarded students weekdays. On weekends at home, his parents wanted him to study, not farm. Of the six hundred in his class, he was the only one to pass the national university entrance examination. During the Cultural Revolution, Beijing Forestry University was moved to Yunnan Province to be in the rural areas where students could learn from peasants. After the revolution, it was brought back to Beijing. The Ministry of Education wanted to place some poor rural students in the university; Yu had listed forestry as one of his interests and was chosen as one of four rural students to enter a class of thirty studying “landscape gardening.” His parents and teacher were overjoyed at the thought that he would be designing pavilions and flower gardens, things Yu would come to deride. Beijing gave Yu a real shock, and not just for its size. He was treated as a “country bumpkin” (his phrase) among fashionable girls and boys who could draw, speak “properly,” and had “taste.” After one semester, students were separated into those who would do design and those who would do horticultural science. Yu preferred design but could not draw and did not get placed in that track. For his drawing test, he tried to win faculty sympathy by submitting a sketch of an eye crying. As his close friend and contemporary Dihua Li relates, Professor Sun Xiaoxiang reassured him that being a scientist in a field like genetic plant breeding held high promise. One of a few respected designers in China, Sun thought of landscape architecture as a profession for solving social and environmental problems from local to global scales. He used the word “earthscape” (close in meaning to Turenscape, Yu’s firm’s name). His influence on Yu is clear. Li writes: “The first important prize awarded to Yu was the 1989 State Distinguished Young Scientist Prize. It would have been impossible for him to have received this had he started in a design program. But Kongjian was highly attracted to traditional Chinese paintings, design drafts on the wall, and English books on the bookshelf he saw in Professor Sun’s room. He then started to teach himself painting. Horticulture was his required study, but design was his private dream.” 2 After studying plant science from 1980 to 1984, Yu wrote a thesis
White Sand Creek next to Yu’s village, 1985, site of his boyhood infatuation with nature.
White Sand Creek after channelization and destruction of adjacent vegetation, 2003.
Polluted and littered canal near the edge of Yu’s village, Dongyu, 2003.
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“In 1985, Professor Chen Youming brought Kongjian Yu to Professor Chen Changdu’s class on plant geography in Peking University. This opened Yu’s mind and allowed him to meet new colleagues. Chen Changdu was one of the most important pioneers in landscape ecology research in China. With Professors Yang Jingchun and Tian Zhaoyi, Yu studied geomorphology. And he met Professor Chen Chuankang, the eminent physical geographer and China’s main tourism planner, educator, and writer. Chen Chuankang, who died in 1997, was a true thinker. For him, academic boundaries did not not exist; his research papers read like literature. “In 1987, Professor Chen Youming was Kongjian’s Master’s degree mentor and later his colleague. In many conversations, Yu tells of his gratitude for Chen’s encouragement and open-mindedness, giving Yu the courage to jump into other fields and work with other professors. By joining a research project on state landscape tree zoning led by Chen, Yu was able to journey north to Heilongjiang and south to Guangzhou. This travel gave him ways to understand landscape, culture, and the relationships among landscape elements. His Master’s thesis was on landscape assessment and visual perception. He published some of his important papers in 1987 and 1988; they are still cited today. “Chen Chuankang said that a distinguished person should have knowledge following the shape of the Chinese character 干 , which means a clear central study field with multiple intersecting fields. More interesting is that 干 means decisive action. Yu participated in Chen’s tourism planning and regional development consulting from 1987 until he left for Harvard. China in the 1980s saw the beginning of domestic tourism, which catalyzed the development of scenic landscape planning and design, and the effort to apply computational analysis to environmental studies. One of the main projects Yu took part in was the master plan for the Red Stone National Park in Guangdong Province, which became his dissertation research site and led to his research papers on the aesthetic assessment of landscape resources. “Soon after receiving his Master’s degree in 1987, Yu worked at the Research Center for Eco-Environmental
Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences with Shijun Ma and Rusong Wang; from them he learned a great deal about land ecology.” 3 While a student at Beijing Forestry University, Yu was asked to be the translator for a series of speeches on land planning by Carl Steinitz of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Steinitz recognized his special intelligence and encouraged him to apply to a new doctoral program at GSD. At Harvard in 1992, Yu once again felt like a country bumpkin. At the airport, he could not figure out how to use the pay phone; among his classmates, he was the only one unfamiliar with computers. Again, a feeling of inferiority provoked in him an intense motivation to achieve. Before long he became a specialist in computer-driven Geographic Information Systems (GIS). When, after receiving his doctorate in land use planning at Harvard in 1995, he worked for two years at the landscape architecture firm SWA in Laguna Beach, California, he again felt inferior. He was the only person there who had never taken design studios and could not make project design drawings properly. But on returning to China in 1997 and seeing the extent and nature of the problems caused by its rapid urbanization, his confidence and his sense of personal mission emerged fullblown. He soon published his first book, which he dedicated to his parents.4 Although his former classmates and teachers told him he was a scientist, not a designer, he had within one year, to their surprise, started his design firm Turenscape. Yu then tapped his artistic talents. In 1999, he won a competition for the design of Dujiangyan Square in Sichuan Province and was designing Shipyard Park in Zhongshan. He was launched. Editor’s note This biographical sketch of Kongjian Yu is based primarily on my interview with him on January 25, 2011. I include passages about Yu’s education in China written by his friend and Peking University colleague Dihua Li. Frederick R. Steiner’s essay on pp. 106–115 in this book picks up the story where I leave off. 1 From Dihua Li: “One of Jinhua’s most distinguished intellectuals, Ai Qing (1910–1996), was a poet, deeply loved by the Chinese because of the independence of his thought and his appreciation for the land. ‘Why are the tears always in my eyes? Because I love the land so much,’ from one of Ai Qing’s
The Boy Who Read Books Riding a Water Buffalo
most popular poems, has been hanging in Turenscape’s office since the day it was founded. Jinhua is the home of an Architecture Park organized by Chinese designer and architect Ai Weiwei, with seventeen pavilions designed by Chinese and international architects.” Email to William Saunders, January 16, 2011. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Kongjian Yu, The Origin of the Ideal Landscape: The Cultural Meanings of Feng Shui (Beijing: Shangwu Publishing House, 1998 and 2000). Published only in Chinese as 理想景观探源：风水 与理想景观的文化意义 .
Yu’s study area in his small apartment when he was a junior teacher at Beijing Forestry University, 1992.
Make Friends with Floods: The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park Taizhou, China, 2004 In 2006, after graduating from Harvard, Kongjian Yu was invited to lecture at various universities, including Shenzhen in the south, and Beijing and Tsinghua in the north. Taking the train from Shenzhen to Beijing and riding bicycles in these cities, he was stunned by the enormous urbanization taking place and the devastation of water systems and fertile land. He then made up his mind to return to China to help stem the tide of wanton destruction. In his essay “Crying Mother River,”1 Yu poured out his lament: “South Rivers, North Rivers, all my beloved Mother Rivers, are now crying: My cruel children, why are you binding my feminine body with high dams? Flowing is my instinct; spreading is my life. From the snowy mountains and plateaus to forests and valleys, from plains and footpaths to lakes and beaches, I give oxygen and mineral nutrition. Using my flow, plants can disperse and thrive, and wild animals can migrate. “I used to have shoals and deep pools where water played sweet music. When the spring flood water came, my bends and curves slowed its rush so it could sink into the earth and be stored abundantly underground, to be released later to support life. I once held fresh and tender grasses on my fertile skin and sheltered fish and mussels. I once nurtured arrowheads and reeds, which grew in my deep hollows, where frogs sang at dawn and nightfall. … “My shameless and tasteless children! You dislike my grass and shrubs? You dislike my curling shape and natural simplicity? You rape me with concrete and granite and cover the ground with Italy’s tiles, Netherlands’s flowers, and America’s lawns, robbing me of my ancient plant companions ... North man and South man…do you remember me, your Mother River?” Following his return to China, Yu has voiced this lament all over the nation in lectures and television shows. He is committed to show that rivers can meet the functional and spiritual
needs of humans. Yongning River Park demonstrates how ecological design can accommodate both floods and urban development. In July 2002, the Taizhou government asked Turenscape to design a 21 hectare (51 acre) park along the Yongning River. At that time, most of the riverbank was reinforced with concrete. The project brief was to develop an appealing design concept while providing an alternative flood control and storm water management system. The project challenges were many. In China’s urbanization process, most rivers are subjected to single-minded flood control based on concrete-heavy engineering and damming. A first task was to persuade the local authority to stop channelizing the river, a practice expensive and ecologically destructive. A second major goal of the design was to develop and demonstrate an alternative flood control and storm water management approach that can be used throughout China. And a third challenge was to design a functioning park that, unlike a bird sanctuary that when flooded just serves wildlife, is still accessible in high water conditions. For resolving these challenges and goals, the park has two layers: a natural matrix that is overlapped by a human matrix, the “floating gardens.” The natural matrix is formed chiefly through a wetland and vegetation system designed to receive flood water and provide wildlife habitat. Above this matrix float the gardens of humanity, composed of a geometrically regular tree matrix, a path network, and a matrix of “story boxes.” Storm water analysis was used to establish flood levels and patterns for five-, twenty-, and fiftyyear flood events which became the basis for designing the wetland system to enable flood control and water management. Composed of a restored riparian wetland along the flood plain and a man-made lake outside the riverbank that runs parallel to the river, the park is covered with native plant communities.
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During the rainy season, both the riparian wetland and the inner man-made lake adapt to high water levels. During the dry season, the lake still holds retained water and is filled by water piped in from an inlet in the upper river. Year-round, water is accessible to park users. Native wetland plants, trees, and bamboo are massed along the riverbank and used throughout the park not only to ensure successful establishment of the vegetation but also to promote continuity of the design with the surrounding ecosystem. The upper “human” layer floats above the natural matrix and includes groves of a neglected native tree, the Chinese redwood. A network of paths extends from the surrounding urban fabric to the park. Punctuating the landscape at strategically placed points is a matrix of nine “story boxes,” each 9 by 9 meters (30 by 30 feet), alluding to the culture and history of the native land and people. The stories are about rice, fish, crafts, Taoism, stone, mountains, water, citrus, and martial arts. In the box about stone, a native yellow rock, for which the Huangyan district of Taizhou is named, is displayed in a yellow box. Using the box as a frame, the normal native rock becomes a special feature, and the vernacular landscape element is celebrated. For the story box about rice, a patch of tall wetland grass was grown in a box, floating above the wetland; a path runs through the box, recalling the narrow path of a rice paddy. Martial arts are another cultural heritage of this region, so a matrix of red poles was installed in which people can practice those disciplines. In front of each story box, a poem is inscribed on a rock. The boxes create human scale in the large landscape.
1 Kongjian Yu, “Crying Mother River,” in The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 .
1 Viewing platform 2 Low wetland plantation 3
4 North entrance 5
Resting area under the trees
10 Middle entrance 11 Bicycle parking 12 Villas 13 Event field 14 Yacht club 15 Fishermen’s dock 16 Skating park 17 Commercial area 18 Gate house 19 South entrance
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Matrix of dawn redwood trees
Flooded every 10 years
Location of the park
Flooded every 20 years
Network of paths
Flooded every 50 years
2 An ecological approach for storm water management was proposed as an alternative to channelization. The heavily engineered, concrete-reinforced river was restored. The Yongning River Park set up a model for the recovery of the whole river. 3 Design concept: Adaptation to the potential flooding
pattern of the drainage basin provided an ecologically
sound alternative solution for storm water management. A wetland system both inside and outside of the riparian plain was developed. This natural landscape became the background on which gardens could float. 4, 5 A view of the preexisting conditions at the site: The riverbank was lined with concrete and channelizing of the whole river was underway. The channelization process was stopped after Turenscape convinced the mayor that a better way of controlling floods could be devised.
The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park
6 Bird’s eye view of the park. 7 Construction in progress: Concrete was removed, diverse terrains on the riverbed and along the riparian plain were laid out to create habitats for native plants, and the riverbank was graded, giving people access to the water.
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8 The ecologically restored riparian wetland, conducive to the natural processes of flooding and serving as habitat for native species, is also accessible to people. Native grasses were used to consolidate the riverbank and to create an attractive setting for visitors.
The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park
9–11 The man-made lake near the riverbank runs parallel to the river. A network of bridges and paths, dotted with story boxes, is overlaid. Matrices of Chinese redwood are created to contrast with the natural setting and create a sense of “designed” nature.
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12 A story box of stone that displays the unique yellow rock found in this region for which Huangyan was named. The yellow box sets up a frame to display this native common rock, making it both special and memorable. 13 The native grass in front of a simple and pure yellow box evokes the juxtaposition of nature and culture. 14, 15 A floating box above the riparian wetland, one of the ten “story boxes” that use a minimalist formal and spatial language to tell the stories of local people and their land. Visitors can walk into the boxes and experience a human scale within a natural setting, a strategy totally the opposite of classical Chinese garden design where the emphasis is on making small spaces feel larger.
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The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park
16 This red box at the cross section of two paths, one of the ten “story boxes,” draws attention to the widely distributed and barely noticed native plant Nippon lily (Rohdea japonica), featured in the enclosed setting, and celebrates and dramatizes the beauty of its commonness. 17 One of the lanes that is part of the path network is lined with Chinese redwoods. 18 The floating plaza: pavement above a man-made wetland. 19 This lane is planted with bamboo.
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20 Groves of native Chinese tallow trees (Sapium sebiferum) were planted on the earth dyke. 21 An installation of columns tells the story of martial art (gong fu), for which the Huangyan district is famous. The columns allow water to drain during the flooding season and create a lively atmosphere for visitors. The native grasses and the designed art work installed on the riparian plain pose a strong contrast.
The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park
22 One of the paths across the inner lake. 23 A teahouse in the park extends itself toward the natural setting.
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Reshape an Urban Waterfront: Yinzhou Central River Transformation Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China, 2007
River channelization using concrete and hard materials is ubiquitous in urbanized China. This project meets the challenges of limited budget and available land, and combines flood control with transforming a rigid and barren waterfront into a user- and ecofriendly, biologically productive, and aesthetically pleasant green corridor. The project is located in the center of the dense, newly developed Yinzhou District of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. Typical of this east coast, monsoon-affected province is the network of water courses shaped through hundreds of years of use for both irrigation and drainage. This water system once supported a multitude of ecosystem services, including spaces for biodiversity, recreation, cultural expression, and aesthetic pleasure. During the rapid recent urbanization process, water courses have one by one been filled or channelized with concrete, resulting in rigid and lifeless ditches that function only as drains. As an alternative, the Yingzhou Central River Transformation project restores a channelized river to its former ecological productivity.
The site presented several challenges. The central district provided just 1 square kilometer (247 acres) of land for the project. All the surrounding and connecting water courses are channelized. The distance between the adjacent roads and the water course ranges from only 50 to 80 meters (55 to 87.5 yards). Along one bend at the water’s edge were 10 to 20 meters (11 to 22 yards) of concrete and granite pavement. Beyond this bend was a green strip recently planted with trees. Flood control regulation stipulated that the drainage capacity of the channel not be reduced through the new works. And because the budget was small, no large-scale earthworks were possible. The design solutions were to retain as many of the recently planted trees as possible to reduce costs and to remove the upper part of the concrete wall while keeping its base to prevent erosion of the earth bank. The riverbank was partially reprofiled so that a wetland zone could be created where lotuses are grown and their tubers harvested in the fall. In order to allow for access, a boardwalk was constructed in the middle
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of the wetland, surrounded with lush lotuses, and a bench was installed that doubles as a fence. Nine semi-enclosed 30 by 30 meter (33 by 33 yards) courtyards at intervals of 150 meters (164 yards) along the boardwalk create spaces to linger. One of these courtyards makes use of granite tiles like those found as paving in vernacular courtyards in local villages; native grasses grow there. Double steel panels shield another courtyard where bamboo was planted. A wooden screen creates a sheltered place to sit. This project showcases an alternative solution for the design of urban waterfronts, one that harmonizes the relationship between nature and city.
0 20 50
1 Site plan: reshaping a channelized river into an eco-
friendly, productive, and pleasant public open space.
4 Path in the wetland
8 Preexisting trees
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2–5 Before and after: The preexisting concrete-reinforced and channelized river (2) and typical cross section (4), and the restored river (3) and typical reprofiled cross section (5). 6 Winter view of the waterfront: An alley of native Chinese redwood leads toward the courtyard. The bamboo forest creates a dense screen at the street side to block off the noise of traffic. 7 The productive lotus (it can be eaten) growing at the water’s edge. The bridge in the vegetation allows people to sensually touch plants and water. 8 Steps at the waterfront are in the floodable waterfront zone, resolving the challenge of combining flood remediation with public access to the water course. 9 An entrance from the street to the waterfront, with stone seats.
Yinzhou Central River Transformation
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10 One of nine courtyards. Yellow steel
walls integrated with bamboo together
with the long wood pavilion, the detailed 1
paving of traditional Chinese tiles, and the native vegetation of lotus and
grass (Imperata cylindrica) create a tranquil space with a sense of both local
traditions and contemporary sensibilities and materials.
1500 1500 1500 1500 1500 1000 1200
11 Yellow steel wall and grass garden plan.
4 Grass 7
5 Stairs 01. tree basin 6
steel wall Water 02. edge
03. pedestrian road
7 Water 04. grass
05.water stairs edge 8 Original 06. water edge
9 Pergola 07. water
08. original water edge
10 Landing stage 09. pergola
landingbelow stage 11 Glass 10. lit from 11. light groove
12 Blady 12. grass cylindrica) tree (Imperata basin 13. paddy field 13 Stepping stones
14. stepping stones
14 Tiles paved 15. tilesvertically paved vertically 16. pavement 15 Concrete pavement
Yinzhou Central River Transformation
12 One of the courtyards: a wooden pavilion awning and intricate paving pattern that uses local tiles that are waterpermeable and retain enough moisture to allow moss to grow over them. 13 Details of the waterfront design.
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Tread Lightly: Red Ribbon Park Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China, 2007
Kongjian Yu believes that most contempo rary designed landscapes are too costly, both financially and environmentally, especially in China.1 His goal is to remedy this and estab lish models to show how minimal interven tions can make urban landscapes functional, pleasant, and socially vibrant for everyone. He also believes that traditional Chinese gar den design does not address important envi ronmental and ecological challenges, and he seeks to create landscapes that he defines with some key terms: the “new vernacular,” 2 the “beauty of weeds,” 3 “big foot aesthetics,” and “ecological minimalism.” 4 Visible against a background of natural terrain and vegetation in this Qinhuangdao park is the Red Ribbon, a fiberglass structure that extends 500 meters (547 yards) through the landscape. It integrates lighting, seat ing, environmental interpretation, and orien tation into its sinuous red form. While pre serving as much of the natural river corridor as possible, the project demonstrates how a minimal design solution can achieve dra matic improvement in the landscape. The park is located on the Tanghe River at the eastern urban fringe of Qinhuangdao, a northern Chinese coastal city. The following site conditions presented both opportunities and challenges for the design: › Good ecological circumstances: The site was covered with lush and diverse native veg etation, providing varied habitats for a range of species. › Unkempt and deserted land: Located at the edge of a coastal city, the site was a gar bage dump with a deserted shantytown and old, unused irrigation infrastructure such as ditches and dykes.
› Potential safety and accessibility problems: Covered with dense vegetation, the site was virtually inaccessible, and combined with poor lines of sight, this made it unsafe for public use. › Functional demands: After the arrival of nearby urban sprawl, the site was developed to serve new communities for recreation, including fishing, swimming, and jogging. › Development pressure: The lower reaches of the Tanghe River had already been chan nelized, and a similar treatment was likely at the site of the park. The natural river corri dor would probably have been replaced with concrete embankments and ornamental flowerbeds.
environmental information. White, yellow, purple, and blue perennial flower gardens appear as a patchwork over the formerly des olate fields. The vibrant color of the Red Ribbon adds brightness to the densely vegetated site, links the diverse natural vegetation and the four flower gardens, and provides a struc tural device that reorganizes the formerly unkempt and inaccessible area. The site has been dramatically urbanized and modern ized, in tune with local residents’ desires, while keeping the ecological processes on the site intact. 1 Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观 之路 : 与市长们交流 ; and Kongjian Yu and Mary G. Padua, “China’s Cosmetic Cities: Urban Fever and Superficiality,”
The major design challenge was to protect the natural habitat along the river while cre ating new opportunities for recreation and environmental education. The Red Ribbon was designed to fit its set ting of green vegetation and blue water, curv ing with the terrain. It integrates a board walk, seating, and lighting; lit from the inside, it glows red at night. It is 60 centimeters (24 inches) high, and it varies in width from 30 to 150 centimeters (11 to 59 inches). Ground level crossings for small animals are built into the Ribbon. Creating an abstract pattern on the top of the Red Ribbon, strate gically placed holes hold lights or allow vari ous grasses from the site to grow up through the surface. Five pavilions in the shape of clouds are distributed along the Red Ribbon. These pro vide protection from harsh sunlight, oppor tunities for social gatherings, visual focal points, and plaques that provide interpretive
– 84 –
Landscape Research 32:2 (2007), pp. 225–249. 2 Kongjian Yu and Birgit Linder, “Vernacular Cities and Vernacular Landscapes: The Legacy of the May Fourth Movement in Chinese Landscape Architecture,” in Kongjian Yu and Mary Padua, eds., The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture (Mulgrave, Victoria: Images Publishing, and Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2006), pp. 31–32. 3 Kongjian Yu and Wei Pang, The Culture Being Ignored and the Beauty of Weeds: The Regenerative Design of an Industrial Site—The Zhongshan Shipyard Park (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 足下文化与野草之美 : 中山岐江公园 . 4 “Interview with Kongjian Yu,” American Society of Landscape Architects 2008, http://www.asla.org/contentdetail.aspx?id=20124.
1 Site plan. The existing riparian vegetation and terrain
were preserved. A long fiberglass bench-like structure,
the Red Ribbon, was introduced, integrating multiple
functions: lighting, seating, environmental interpretation,
and orientation. In addition, sections of boardwalk along
the riverbank were designed and a bicycle path was built
Pavilion of wolf tail grass
along the former dirt road on the dyke. The wall of the
preexisting irrigation ditch was transformed into a long
bench along the bicycle path.
10 Pavilion of mayflowers 2–4 Preexisting site conditions and the construction
11 Pavilion of reeds
process. The site had dense riparian vegetation rendering
12 Long bench
it inaccessible and unsafe. The area was unkempt and
13 Pavilion of silver grass
deserted, and was under threat of development and river channelization.
– 85 –
5 Even seedlings on the site were 1500
preserved and the Red Ribbon was built
around them. The Ribbon runs through the 1
trees and curves with the terrain, creating
romantic areas for young lovers.
6, 7 Diagrammatic plan and plan of the Red Ribbon.
1 Boardwalk 2 Light 3 Fiberglass 4
Planter connected to the ground
7 200 550
Pressure-treated wooden board,
Lights embedded in the floor
Red reinforced fiberglass, 8 mm
Wood keel, 70 x 50 mm
Pressure-treated wooden board,
40 mm 01. antisepsis wooden board, 40mm
02. tree basin Red plastic-reinforced fiberglass, 03. lights embedded in the floor
red plastic reinforced glass, 8mm 8 mm04. 05. wooden keel, 70X50mm
Square steelwooden tubes, 100 x 150 mm 07. antisepsis board, 40mm
(5 mm thick) 09. square steel tubes, 100X150mm(5mm thick)
06. concrete basis
08. red plastic reinforced glass, 8mm
10. square steel tubes, 150X150mm(5mm thick)
11. reinforced walls 150 x 150 mm 10 Square steelconcrete tubes,
(5 mm thick)
11 Reinforced concrete walls
RED RIBBON PARK
Section of the Red Ribbon.
9–12 People of different ages use the Red Ribbon in
Pressure-treated wood, 40 mm
varying ways, and it serves as a gathering place for all.
Wood keel, 80 x 50 mm
The existing site was dramatically urbanized and modern-
C15 concrete, 100 mm
ized—two qualities that are desired by the local residents,
Sand, 30 mm
many of whom were recently farmers—while keeping the
ecological processes intact.
Wood keel 1. preservative wood, 40mm 2. wood keel, 80X50mm 3. C15 native concrete, 100mm 4. reinforced sand, 30mm 5. rammed earth 6. rectangular steel 7. FRP flange 8. wood keel
1 2 3 4 5
– 87 –
RED RIBBON PARK
13 The Red Ribbon runs through stands of trees, helping to create a sense of place. 14 There is minimal disturbance to the native vegetation as the Red Ribbon winds along the river and through the woods. Crossings for small animals are built into the Ribbon.
– 89 –
15, 16 The Red Ribbon helped to integrate a preexisting garbage dump into the park, transforming the area into a landscape amenity. 17 The Red Ribbon acts as a lighting element at night and provides a sense of orientation across the forest.
RED RIBBON PARK
18, 19 The Red Ribbon, seen in winter, as it winds through the remnant seedlings of a former tree nursery.
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20, 21, 24 The Red Ribbon and one of the pavilions, the wolftail grass pavilion, each of which is named after a native grass species. Plaques provide interpretive
environmental information for park visitors.
22 Plan of the wolftail grass pavilion.
Steel column, Ø 203 mm, with holes on the side
and white paint on the surface
Terrace with plants
Steel column, 203 mm, with white paint
on the surface
Sesame white granite seat
1. clear wood preser 2. sesame white gra 3. sesame white gra 4. sesame white gra 5. steel column ෘ20 the surface 6. sesame white gra 7. sesame white gra 8. sesame white gra 9. plantation terrace
1. aluminum panel fixed on the frames 2. aluminum frame 3. sesame white granite seat 4. steel column ෘ203,fluorocarbon painted on the surface 5. sesame white granite seat
Sesame white granite seat
Aluminum panel fixed on the frames
23 Section of the wolftail grass pavilion. 1
Sesame white granite seat
Pressure-treated wood flooring
RED RIBBON PARK
25 A bicycle path was built on the former dirt road on the site, and the former irrigation ditch wall was encased by a long green bench. The formerly unkempt place has become an attraction for local people of all ages.
– 93 –
Regenerate Surgically: Beach Restoration Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China, 2008
This beach site is 6.4 kilometers (3.9 miles) in length and located on the Bohai Sea. The entire site was environmentally and ecologi cally damaged. The sand dunes were heav ily eroded, vegetation was decaying, and the beach was deserted and littered. Prior devel opment had destroyed the coastal wetland and left it full of construction debris. The aim of this project was to rehabilitate the damaged natural environment, restore the beauty of the site and unveil it to tourists and residents. The degraded beach was to be transformed into an ecologically healthy and aesthetically attractive landscape. The site can be divided into three zones: 1. The boardwalk as an ecological restoration device The windy shoreline is covered with coastal sand dunes and diverse plant communi ties that have adapted themselves to vari ous niche conditions. The plants include wetland cattail (Typha angustifolia), sand dunes grass, desert false indigo (Amorpha fruiticosa), Chinese tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis) groves, forests of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), and willow (Salix matsudana). For a long time, this shore had been de serted and almost inaccessible to tourists and locals. The design solution has created a boardwalk that winds along the shoreline, linking different plant community zones. The boardwalk also protects the shoreline from much of the erosion caused by wind and waves. The boardwalk’s eco-friendly bases are made of fiberglass, allowing the boardwalk to “float” above the sand dunes and wetland. This innovative technique (now patented) makes the process of boardwalk installation far simpler while causing mini mal impact on the environment.
Pavilions for resting, structures providing shade, and signage offering environmental interpretation have been placed along the boardwalk at locations that allow visitors to discover the ecological workings of the site and its panoramic beauty. The pavilions are focal points for tourists and residents who come in groups to enjoy the landscape and take their recreation. 2. A recovered wetland with an interlocking wetland museum In the central zone, a new bird museum has been installed. This area was a severely degraded coastal wetland in an intertidal zone. Although listed as a national bird reserve, a former theme park had destroyed the coastal wetland habitats, and abandoned structures, building debris, and garbage marred any natural integrity. Ecological restoration was obviously nec essary, and an idea was sought that could be natural, social, and economically sustain able. The team opted for a wetland museum as an educational facility linked to the bird reserve beyond. Inspired by the small, round water pits along the intertidal zone, water holes were created to catch flowing rainwa ter, enabling the establishment of wetland plant and animal communities and attract ing birds to feed. The museum is designed as an integral part of the landscape, stretching into the wet land and allowing in cool breezes from the ocean in summer, which reduces building energy use. The interlocking pattern of the building and its site design were inspired by local fishing boats anchoring in groups off the shore in a pattern that keeps the vessels stable in the wind and waves. A system of boardwalks and platforms was built to allow people to walk from the building
– 94 –
into the wetland and enjoy the diverse spe cies and newly created habitats. 3. The dotted isles lake and eco-friendly rip-rap This zone is at the east end of the project. It was previously a park with a heavy con crete embankment built to protect the shoreline from erosion and to create a lake by trapping seawater during high tide. This park was unsatisfying in ecological and aes thetic terms. The concrete embankment was boring and barren, and the lake was usually empty. The regenerative design strategies included demolishing the concrete and replacing it with ecologically friendly rip-rap. A boardwalk was built to replace the hard pavement, and native ground cover was introduced to green the surface along the boardwalk. In addition, nine green islands were created in the middle of the lake to visually enliven the water sur face and allow birds to rest and nest. The result of these ecological restorative interventions has been noteworthy. The ero sion of the shoreline has been greatly dimin ished and the coastal wetland is thriving. This project demonstrates how landscape architects can incorporate ecology, engineer ing, and innovative technique and design ele ments into a regenerative surgery on a dam aged landscape, and transform the degraded man-nature relationship into something sus tainable and harmonious.
The Bohai Sea
0 Zone 2
1 The site plan and restoration design strategies for three different zones along the linear landscape to stop soil erosion, restore decaying vegetation, remediate the damaged shoreline, and regenerate a wetland while building an integrated educational facility. Zone 1: By integrating regenerative design techniques, a boardwalk is designed as a remediation strategy for treating the heavily eroded beach and decaying costal vegetation, and as a route linking diverse habitats along the beach that allows visitors to experience the natural environment and learn about its ecology. Zone 2: A former degraded wetland has been recovered by catching storm water from the land, and a wetland museum is designed to become an integrated part of the restored wetland in an interlocking form inspired by the anchoring fishing boats nearby. Zone 3: An earlier built concrete embankment has been replaced with ecological engineering work and an open lake been added with isles acting as resting places for birds and as an enhancement of the water body’s aesthetic quality. 1 Boardwalk 2
5 Lake 6
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2, 3 The boardwalk has become a tourist attraction and educational opportunity that links diverse costal habitats and captures the scenic beauty of the beach. 4 The new boardwalk: The regenerative design strategy reduces beach erosion and helps vegetation get established. 5 The preexisting site conditions included heavily 9
eroded sand dunes.
6, 7 Boardwalk under construction: A wood decking is placed on “floating” bases made of fiberglass. 8–10 The recovered wetland (8) before (9) and during construction (10): The site was an abandoned theme park built on a sensitive costal wetland. Ponds were dug out while removing building debris to intercept storm water from the land. 11 The wetland museum was designed as an integral part of the wetland; its interlocking form was inspired by how local fishing boats rest on the beach.
– 97 –
12, 13 In the lake, islands have been added for birds and to enrich the view. Concrete embankments have been replaced with eco-friendly rip-rap. Lake views in the winter and the summer. 14 The lake was previously lined by concrete embankments.
15 The embankment has been replaced with ecofriendly rip-rap, a boardwalk and native vegetation (view from east to west). 16 The former concrete embankment was supposed to protect the shoreline from erosion.
– 99 –
Transforming a Working Landscape: Qinhuangdao Forest Park Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China, 2011
Minimal inter ventions, productive land scapes, and the integration of contemporary design with nature’s messiness are some of the most characteristic features in Kongjian Yu’s projects that are of particular relevance in the Qinhuangdao Forest Park. With a minimal intervention, an ordinary tree plantation started in the 1950s and serv ing as a windbreak on an abandoned farm has been transformed into a lively urban park that will provide multiple ecosystem services including food production and storm water management. It will also serve as a habitat for a diverse flora and fauna and provide rec reational and aesthetically pleasurable expe riences for its visitors. The Qinhuangdao Forest Park, on the west coast of the Bohai Sea, is located in between two densely populated districts of Qinhuang dao, a renowned beachside tourist destina tion in northern China. The whole area was afforested in the 1950s to form a windbreak, transforming coastal sand dunes into a green wedge for the city that also protected the coastal land and railroad from erosion by the sea. It was an uninteresting tree planta tion dominated by fast-growing trees, includ ing poplar (Populus tomentosa and Populus Canadensis) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Dotting the Forest Park are fish ponds and rice paddies, most of which have been abandoned since this area was desig nated as a national forest park in 1993. The fish ponds and agricultural areas were made into functional public spaces. The wind break plantation was made porous and uni versally accessible for visitors.
The design approach makes use of what land scape architects call “landscape acupunc ture”: the identification of critical points and positions and the use of minimal interven tions to dramatically change the landscape. These interventions comprised the following four measures: 1. The 5 hectares (12 acres) of existing farm land, used for the production of rice and other crops, were transformed into urban farmland that will involve the local communities in the agricultural production process. A skywalk and boardwalk were built at the edge of the farm, allowing visitors to observe the working landscape in all seasons. 2. The abandoned fish farms were used for the construction of wetlands that will catch storm water and enrich biodiversity in the park. Lotuses and various wetland plants were planted for their beauty. Some fish ponds are made accessible by boardwalks and platforms, and provide opportunities for sport fishing in the park. 3. The forest landscape was enriched by the introduction of self-reproductive wildflowers in its gaps and along the paths. 4. A network of footpaths and boardwalks leads visitors through the park. These are designed to link various types of habitats. Pavilions and platforms at strategic places give the park identity and points of orientation.
– 100 –
1 Meadow 2
Construction phase 1 (preexisting)
5 Bridge 6
Fish pond transformed with a resting deck
10 Landscape lake 11 Service facilities 12 Existing pear orchard preserved 13 Lotus pond 14 Administration building 15 Xinhe River 16 Wetland park 17 Elevated skywalk
– 101 –
2 Visitors on the skywalk enjoying the view of the agricultural landscape. 3 Here, the skywalk provides a view over the sorghum field. 4 The former rice farm has been transformed into an urban park with an elevated skywalk above the edge of the wetlands.
Qinhuangdao Forest Park
The skywalk allows visitors to walk through the forest
while minimizing the impact on the wetland habitat. 6
Detail elevation of the skywalk.
60 x 5 mm orange-coated steel strip
60 x 4 mm white-coated steel handrail
50 x 10 mm white-coated steel column
60 x 5 mm orange-coated steel panel,
edge smoothed, R = 2.5 mm, rotated 90 degrees
45 x 145 mm chestnut-colored, pressure-treated
wood board, 5 mm gap between boards
60 x 50 mm pressure-treated wood keel at 500 mm
centers, 50 x 5 mm steel angle fastener
125 x 100 mm wide-flange steel beam
125 x 100 mm white-coated wide-flange steel beam
500 x 300 mm white-coated wide-flange steel beam
10 60 mm white-coated steel beam 11 350 x 350 mm white-coated wide-flange steel column 12 White LED lighting
– 103 –
Qinhuangdao Forest Park
A forest gap has been covered with the self-reproduc-
tive cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). 8
A mature poplar forest has been rejuvenated with
the introduction of self-reproductive and nitrogen-fixing plants such as legumes (here desert false indigo [Amorpha fruticosa]) as undercover. 9
A path and a pavilion enhance the forest setting.
10 Locals participating in the harvesting. 11 Elevation of the pavilion. 1
50 x 50 mm chestnut-colored pressure-treated
wood bars at 120 mm centers
Wide-flange steel beam
90 x 50 mm chestnut-colored pressure-treated
wood bars at 120 mm centers
Wide-flange steel beam
Stainless steel intersection
145 x 45 mm pressure-treated wood, 5 mm gap
80 x 40 x 3 mm square steel joist at 600 mm centers
45 mm pressure-treated wood board
10 50 x 2 mm square steel plate
– 105 –
Frederick R. Steiner
The Activist Educator Kongjian Yu has transformed and advanced landscape
Chen believed that China badly needed macro ecology, ecol-
architecture and ideas about landscapes on several fronts
ogy dealing with the land, and that that ecology would be
simultaneously. He has done so by challenging the tra-
useful in solving the big problems. So he convinced me to
ditional garden-design aesthetics of his homeland as he
teach in the ecology program in the geography department,
imported fresh concepts about ecological design from the
which he was chairing.”3
United States. In the process, he has led the establishment of an ecology-based approach to landscape architecture in
In the beginning, there were three graduate students in the
China. Yu has accomplished this as an academic, a prac-
Master of Human Geography program specializing in land-
titioner, an editor, and a writer. I will focus mainly on his
scape architecture, and two to three students every year
work as an educator—his impact in this realm has been
thereafter. The center was upgraded in 2003 to become the
as significant and as important as his work as a practicing
independent Graduate School of Landscape Architecture,
and 2005 saw the creation of two new master’s programs in the science and practice of landscape architecture. The cen-
In early 1997, during a period of staggering growth of aca-
ter had been strictly controlled by the geography depart-
demic programs in China, Yu started Peking University’s
ment, and Yu’s move to create a school helped enhance the
Center for Landscape Planning and Architecture. He had
identity of landscape architecture and its ability to offer
completed his doctoral studies at Harvard University and
graduate degrees. 4 (Yu developed the school to become
had worked with the SWA Group in Laguna Beach, Califor-
the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
nia, for two years. The center began in Peking University’s
in 2010. 5) According to Yu, Peking University let him start
prestigious geography department, which focused on both
the school “because I kept pushing and gradually convinc-
physical and cultural studies. A well-known ecologist on
ing them of the importance of landscape architecture in
the faculty, Chen Changdu, was instrumental in recruiting
China.”6 Yu adds:
Yu.1 Chen sought to strengthen his department’s design and planning offerings. 2 As Yu writes:
“To start a new school was almost impossible due to the fact that altogether we only had six faculty members scattered
”Chen Changdu is one of the most important pioneers in
throughout different departments. It was a ‘chicken or egg’
ecology, especially landscape ecology, in China. He came to
dilemma. Our strategy was to have the eggs (the students)
visit me at SWA Group in 1996 and encouraged me to teach
first. That is why we initiated two Master of Landscape
at Peking University. He was my first official connection to
Architecture programs with sixty students and virtually
Peking’s geography department. Chen knew that ecologist
no independent faculty. We relied on professors from other
Richard Forman had been one of my advisers at Harvard.
departments and visitors. My firm, Turenscape, played a
My doctoral thesis was on landscape ecology, specifically
critical role by sponsoring visiting professors and providing
landscape security patterns for China. For many years,
space for the students, so that the university put few limits
– 106 –
on us. The chicken (the college) came later and was more
“Turenscape is associated with Peking University because I
reasonable to have, since we already had so many students.
am a full-time professor there, and many of the Turenscape
But the process was time-consuming and required opti-
team leaders and project managers are my former students.
mism about what could be achieved.”
We carry on the ideology I instilled in my students of the ‘big foot’ landscape. Turenscape is my private firm, financially
Although landscape gardening and design programs had
and administratively independent from the university.
existed in China since the mid-twentieth century, most
At the same time, it has become one of the major sponsors
prominently at Beijing Forestry University, only a couple of
of the college. This arrangement allows me to operate both
landscape architecture degree programs existed in 2000.
the college and the firm more freely. For example, I do not
Now there are 184, including those at elite universities such
have to get permission if I want to pay high salaries, using
as Peking, Tsinghua, and Tongji. Meanwhile, Yu has built
funds from Turenscape to support a visiting professor,
his landscape architecture firm, Turenscape, into an inter-
which would be impossible if Turenscape were affiliated
national leader in design and planning, completing a series
with Peking University. Turenscape can sponsor socially
of stunning projects. His work spans scales from the local
beneficial publishing activities and seminars. All these
to the national. His team completed a comprehensive eco-
aspects make Turenscape unique.”12
logical inventory of the People’s Republic of China.9 He has helped expand knowledge and understanding of landscape
Yu is a master communicator of his ideas, through his
architecture by translating key English-language landscape
many public speeches and publications worldwide. He has
texts into Chinese, by founding and editing the magazine
been interviewed on Chinese television roughly thirty
LA China, and through his own prolific writing.
times (ten times on Chinese Central Television). Because of the range of his activities, it may not be an exaggeration to
Yu’s impact on landscape architecture inside China and
say that his impact is comparable to that of Frederick Law
beyond has been significant. He founded Turenscape,
Olmsted or Ian McHarg in the United States.
China’s first private landscape architecture firm, in 1998. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has singled out the firm for nine awards, including seven Honor Awards for design and planning since 2002, and presented Turenscape with its top prize, the Award of Excellence, for Houtan Park at the Shanghai Expo in 2010, and for Qunli Storm Water Park in 2012. Yu received the Overseas Chinese Pioneer Achievement Medal from the People’s Republic in 2005. His work has also been honored by the Urban Land Institute, the World Architecture Festival, the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies, the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Chinese Cultural Ministry, and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Municipal
Kongjian Yu and Ian McHarg (department founder and Professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania; author of Design with Nature) at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1992.
Government of Beijing.10 Turenscape employs more than five hundred people in three offices. Most of the staff is in the Beijing office, with about thirty employees split between the Shanghai and Guangzhou offices. Since its inception, the firm has worked on 1,164 projects, 48.5 percent in urban design and city planning; 41.8 percent in landscape architecture (up to 50 percent in 2010); 8 percent in architecture, and 1.7 percent on other projects.11 Yu writes:
– 107 –
University established a landscape program (at Tsinghua) in 1951, and this is recognized by many to be the first in China. It was transferred to Beijing Forestry University in 1955. Beijing Forestry is essentially the parent of the Peking University program; as a student in the program, Yu broke from it ideologically. Beijing Forestry, as its name suggests, evolved from an agricultural and forestry base. But it also has historic links to traditional Chinese garden design and teaches an “ornamentalism” that Yu rejects in his rhetoric and writing. In 1987, Carl Steinitz of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design established strong ties with Beijing Forestry, starting with a series of lectures on theories and methods in landscape planning that Yu attended and translated.13 Steinitz subsequently encouraged Yu to enroll in Harvard, which he entered in 1992. He earned a Doctor
Kongjian Yu and Carl Steinitz, Wiley Research Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1994. Steinitz was Yu’s primary intellectual mentor.
of Design degree in 1995 with Steinitz as his adviser. The program at Peking University focuses on ecological design and planning, beginning at the site and expanding to the national level. Many of its students graduate to important faculty positions at key universities, including Tsinghua, Beijing Forestry, and China Agricultural. Although Tsinghua and other Chinese programs include the study of ecology, Yu was responsible for introducing contemporary ecological design and planning ideas from his experience in practice with SWA, as well as theories such as James
Kongjian Yu and Steven Ervin, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1994. Ervin taught Yu how to use Geographic Information Systems.
Corner’s “recovering landscape” and Charles Waldheim’s “landscape urbanism.” The stature of Peking’s program has ascended rapidly within China, as has its influence abroad, which is evident in international student design awards won by Peking University students, perhaps due singularly to Yu, who is by far the dominant presence there. What is particularly impressive about Yu’s leadership at Peking University is his ability to cultivate international contacts. The program at Peking is autonomous, in con-
Kongjian Yu being conferred the Doctor of Design degree at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1995, by Dean Peter Rowe, Raymond Garbe Professor of Architecture and Urban Design (left), and Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez, Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy (center).
trast with that at Tsinghua, which is situated within the school of architecture. Both programs exhibit a sense of collective responsibility to increase the influence and quality of landscape architecture in China and to promote the
The program Yu founded at Peking University is one of
accomplishments of the discipline, especially to govern-
three at elite universities that have established landscape
ment officials, who may be more inclined to turn to other
architecture degree programs in the past two decades.
professional disciplines such as engineering.14 While the
Tsinghua University in Beijing and Tongji University in
Tsinghua program has remained relatively small and selec-
Shanghai are the others. Tsinghua and Beijing Agricultural
tive (limits are imposed by the Ministry of Education),
The Activist Educator
Each year, Peking University also has two to three new
with about sixty students, the Peking program has one 15
doctoral students studying ecological planning, ecological
hundred and sixty students.
infrastructure interlocked with urban planning and design, Yu has a strong supporting cast at Peking University. He
cultural landscape, water-adaptive urbanism, and climate
identifies the ecologists Dihua Li and Chen Changdu (Pro-
change, usually in four-year programs with eight to ten
fessor Chen retired soon after Yu went to teach at Peking
students total. 21
University) as his “most important colleagues.”16 Concerning Li, Yu observes, “Dihua has been my supporter and
Landscape architecture at Peking University has always
close friend from day one, when he picked me up from the
been closely linked to geography. “I think this is an advan-
airport as I returned to China from the United States and
tage for us,” Yu says. “Some of the visiting faculty members
began teaching at Peking University, until the day we estab-
in our new college are still professors from the geography
lished the College of Architecture and Landscape Archi-
faculty; some are retired well-known geographers in physi-
tecture. He is also the first scientist with whom I worked
cal and cultural geography. In addition, Geographic Infor-
to become a landscape architect and planner. Without his
mation Systems (GIS) is the most commonly used tool for
continuous assistance and encouragement, I would have
us and our students. Our research projects are still at large
left Peking University a long time ago, either to go back to
scales, and our definition of landscape is that of geography.
the United States or to go to another university.” Li has a
Our student pool also includes undergraduate students
degree in soil sciences from Hunan Agricultural University
from the geography-based urban planning program.” 22
and a Master’s degree in ecology from Peking University’s Geography Department. Li is also a lecturer in Peking
As the college evolves, Yu believes the link with geography
University’s ecology department. With Yu, he is a frequent
will continue to be valuable, especially for landscape archi-
coauthor as well as a coadviser of award-winning student
tecture. As he notes, “My understanding of landscape is that
projects. As Yu notes, “Dihua has sacrificed a lot to follow
of geography, more about land and ecosystems than about
me. He helped me considerably by taking care of my stu-
gardens and ornamental horticulture. Cultural landscapes
dents and by taking over most of the administrative work
are taught by human and cultural geographers; landscape
of our research center and later the landscape architecture
and urban sociology are also taught.”23
graduate school. But most important is his understanding and support and his loyalty to our common cause.”19
The new college will bring additional opportunities to Peking University. An international interdisciplinary advi-
Aside from Yu and Li, Peking University’s core faculty
sory committee has been organized to help develop the
include Wang Yun, Han Xili, and Zhang Tianxin. At Peking,
college, with an internationally recruited architecture fac-
about sixty-five new graduate students enter the college
ulty. 24 Yu and his colleagues are developing Doctor of Land-
each year to earn one of four Master’s degrees: Master of
scape Architecture and Doctor of Architecture programs.
Human Geography in Landscape Architecture, with two
In the future, the college may offer undergraduate degrees
to three students each year in a three-year program, and
in architecture, landscape architecture, and urbanism. 25
a total of about eight students; Master of Science in Land-
Sixty-eight schools in the United States now offer land-
scape Architecture (an independent program, but under
scape architecture degrees. 26 China has created many more
the canopy of geography, independent in the sense that stu-
landscape architecture degree programs in a decade than
dents are selected using criteria from those of other science
the United States has in over one hundred years. (Yu would
programs, have more professional education in landscape
argue that most of these programs are not truly focused
architecture, and will take separate entry examinations),
on landscape architecture in the fullest and most cur-
with about thirty students each year; Master of Landscape
rent sense, but rather on horticulture and environmental
Architecture in Practice (an independent landscape archi-
design.27) Clearly, landscape architecture is a growing pro-
tecture program), with twenty to thirty students each
fession in China. In fact, it is now considered one of the top
year; and five Master of Architecture students per class.
ten professions by the mass media there. 28
– 109 –
Design Practice in China and
projects with real problems” are undertaken to advance landscape architecture education and practice. 32
at Turenscape Landscape architecture and urban design practice in China
With little tradition in design and not previously known
is dominated by large Western firms (including many based
for its design education, Peking University now has a very
in the United States) and huge Chinese design institutes
visible landscape architecture program because of Turen-
like those at Tsinghua and Tongji. Tied to governments
scape’s high profile. It is interesting to note, however, that
or universities, the institutes were created after the 1949
many people still wrongly think of Turenscape as somehow
revolution for the purpose of offering practical training
an official part of Peking University.
for students and faculty. The relationship between architecture and planning programs and their affiliated design and planning institutes varies depending on when and how the institutes were created. In the older schools, par-
The Centrality of Ecology in Yu’s Work
ticularly the “Old Eight” (Tsinghua, Tongji, Tianjin, South China University of Technology, Chongqing, Southeast,
Ecology informs and inspires Yu’s work. But there are other
Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, and Har-
equally important factors: Yu’s huge ambition, his integra-
bin Industrial), which were engineering-focused, design
tion of ecology with bold design, and his affinity for Ian
institutes are part of an architecture school, department,
McHarg’s position that ecology should be used as a catalyst
or program. They have full-time practicing architects and
for change. Yu’s ecological orientation is well illustrated
urban planners who do not teach. Usually faculty members
through one of his research efforts, the National Ecologi-
obtain commissions for projects from clients, and students
cal Security Pattern Planning, which clearly demonstrates
are hired to work part-time during the school year and full-
McHarg’s influence in its use of ecological inventories and
time during the summer, grouped around professors to
“design with nature” principles.
undertake the projects. After China’s embrace of a managed market economy at the end of 1978, increasing demand has
In the early 1990s, McHarg and several colleagues produced
brought many projects to the institutes, and they are oper-
a prototype database for a US national ecological inven-
tory, built on an earlier proposal for a national inventory he
ating like consulting and architecture/engineering firms.
had prepared for the US Environmental Protection Agency In most of these cases, conflicts of interest and academic
(EPA) in 1972–1973. EPA administrator (and McHarg
independence are not concerns. Professors are paid a mea-
admirer) William Reilly commissioned the study, and the
ger salary from the government (around 200 US dollars a
prototype was submitted to the EPA in 1993. McHarg and
month in the late 1990s, when Yu returned to China, and
his colleagues proposed an extensive multi-scale approach,
1,000 to 2,000 US dollars a month now), and thus need
consisting of comprehensive national, regional, and local
extra income from projects to make a decent living. As Yu
information about geology, climate, hydrology, soils,
was well-educated and had practiced in the United States,
plants, animals, and land use.33
he recognized some potentially serious problems in such a system and intended to make changes. He invented a
Similarly, Yu led a team of Peking University researchers
new model: Instead of building a design workshop within
who identified nationwide ecological patterns with GIS
the university, Yu made his Turenscape firm independent
technology. 34 The National Ecological Security Pattern
and hired professionals to work on projects. 31 He used part
Planning effort to establish a comprehensive spatial inven-
of the income to sponsor student research projects that
tory of key environmental, ecological, and cultural heritage
evolved from real projects. In this way, according to Yu,
realities is a pilot project supported by the Chinese Ministry
“three birds are killed with one stone: Enough money is
of Environmental Protection. Yu’s use of GIS and landscape
made to sponsor the college; individual students all have
ecology also illustrates the influence of his Harvard men-
a private space for study—a luxury in China; and real
tors, Carl Steinitz and Richard Forman. 35 While McHarg
The Activist Educator
had advocated such nationwide inventories and had suggested the framework for conducting them, Steinitz advanced the tools for realizing such inventories through GIS. Yu and his colleagues provided a synthesis of these influences, adapted for the Chinese context. They systematically analyzed and inventoried critical natural processes such as climate, topography, hydrology, soils, vegetation, Graduating class in landscape architecture, Peking University, with Dihua Li (center in white shirt) and Kongjian Yu (center in red gown), Peking University, 2010.
wildlife habitat, and land use to reveal important areas for headwater conservation, soil erosion prevention, storm water management and flood control, desertification prevention, and biodiversity conservation. From these data, Yu and his colleagues employed GIS to display the high, moderate, and low levels of “security” needed to protect important ecologies. 36 As Yu relates: “In 2006, the Chinese central government announced its ‘new socialism countryside’ movement, meant to diminish the imbalance of urban wealth and rural poverty by improving the countryside through the financial return on the urban investment. Based on my extensive visits to rural
Landscape architect Peter Walker and his wife, the writer and editor Jane Brown Gillette, with Kongjian Yu in his office, 2009.
China and knowing the mentality of the local leadership, I immediately felt that this policy would mean that wide roads would be built, rivers channelized with concrete, old villages torn down, and the vernacular landscape transformed into a ‘modern’ one. The Chinese rural landscape seemed to be facing unprecedented destruction: thousands-of-years-old ecological and cultural landscapes, based on generations of trial and error, would be wiped out, as urban landscapes had been in the past decades. I felt scared. “On the first day of the Chinese New Year (the day when I
Frederick Steiner, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, and Kelly Shannon, lecturer in landscape urbanism, University of Leuven, with Kongjian Yu in his office, 2009.
heard the announcement of the new policy), I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and told him that it is important to have national ecological security planning before the implementation of the new countryside movement to protect the ecological and cultural landscape, and that these landscapes have safeguarded dense Chinese populations for millennia with their delicate and carefully managed ecological landscapes. The Chinese, like no other people, were able to live on meager and scarce resources. This cultural and ecological landscape system could protect the harmony of contemporary Chinese society to prevent the overall national landscape from losing its ecological resilience,
Kongjian Yu and his closest colleague, Professor Dihua Li of Peking University, Dali, Yunnan Province, 2007.
as well as its life-supporting cultural and aesthetic values.
– 111 –
I pointed out that the Grand Canal, built more than two thousand years ago and running 1,700 kilometers (1,060 miles) across eastern China and now threatened, should be surveyed and protected immediately as a National Heritage and Ecological Corridor. Four years later, the threat of development to ecological security is even more serious. “The prime ministry responded to my letter quickly, and I was called on to discuss national ecological security patterns with the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Ministry agreed to sponsor our national ecological pattern planning research. We were able to obtain data from government departments at minimum cost, and we
Guests who have lectured at Kongjian Yu’s invitation at Peking University: left, Dennis Pieprz, President of Sasaki Associates (landscape and urban designers, architects, Watertown, Massachusetts); right, Charles Waldheim, Professor and Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
spent two years on the project, with about thirty people— mainly my doctoral and graduate students, together with Dihua Li and a few post-doctoral research fellows from Peking University. The result was highly regarded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the Ministry of Land Resources uses the ‘negative planning’ approach and the concepts of security patterns and ecological infrastructure in guidelines for national land planning. The Chinese Department of Cultural Heritage initiated the Grand Canal protection program, and the Beijing Land Resources Department hired us to do ecological security pattern planning and suburban land use planning. For the first time, the Ministry of Land Resources identifies and defines ecologically important land that must first be set aside for
Opening celebration for the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Peking University, 2010. Left to right: Han Xili, lecturer; Fang Zhenning, curator; Wang Yun, Associate Professor and Associate Dean; a student; Kongjian Yu; Dong Yugan, Associate Professor; Huang Runhua, retired Professor of Science; Dihua Li, Associate Professor.
any land-use planning to be carried out through its Comprehensive Land-Use Planning Guidelines. My team was invited to help write the guidelines.” 37 Yu adds, “This is a pilot project, and we are now trying to continue our research, based on this project, to develop a national urbanization and development plan.” 38 Mapping any nation is an audacious undertaking, and given the sensitivity of “national security” in the People’s Republic of China, it is amazing that Yu and his team were able to undertake this project. Due to the scale of the maps, the information is rather coarse at the national level, which underscores the importance of regional and local mapping. Although crude, the national maps effectively display patterns that can help Chinese planners identify broad conservation areas that can be further elaborated at the regional and local levels. 39
The Activist Educator
Cover of LA China, edited by Kongjian Yu, issue 1, 2011.
As a pilot project, National Ecological Security Pattern
An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning (first
Planning goes a long way to illustrate the conservation
edition, 1991). These recent core American books in land-
planning potential for such mapping. The Peking team
scape planning, landscape design, landscape construc-
members do an admirable job using the best available
tion, and landscape history have been made available
GIS data and remotely sensed imagery. They also identify
and have sold well to the expanding Chinese market of
three shortcomings to be addressed to move the concept
students and practitioners. Yu has pointed out that Land-
from theory to action: First, the protection of ecologically
scape Architecture by Simonds has been reprinted at least
important areas requires planning-enabling statutes and
four times, and landscape architectural programs across
interagency cooperation. Second, more science is needed
China use it as textbook.41
to inform and refine the project. Last, the rating criteria for low, moderate, and high levels of ecological security
This readership is also being reached through Yu’s work as
require continuous refinement. In addition, the mapping
a periodical editor and conference initiator. Yu brings in
could be more comprehensive and encompass other places
experts from all over the world to speak at Peking Univer-
that have ecological security implications for China, such
sity and orchestrates major conferences there, the results
as those prone to earthquakes, fires, and typhoons. Histori-
of which are published in LA China, which he established
cal, archaeological, and cultural areas like the Grand Canal
to provide an alternative to the Journal of Chinese Land-
could also be included in the national mapping because of
scape Architecture ( 中国园林 ). (The latter is published by
their value to human ecology.
the Chinese Society of Landscape Architects, with Tsinghua University represented on its editorial board. Yu views the Society as having created a rigid intellectual monopoly closed to new ideas—they published his work regularly,
Yu as Publisher, Editor, and Writer
then abruptly stopped.) Yu founded LA China in 2008 and has served as the chief editor of the bimonthly magazine
Yu has helped advance landscape architecture with his
since then. LA China addresses timely topics like land-
activities as publisher, editor, and writer. He established
a team of ten full-time people, sponsored by Turenscape, who are responsible for editing and publishing LA China
Yu has written or co-written some two hundred articles
magazine and a widely read website, www.landscape.cn.
and sixteen books in Chinese and English. Yu’s The Art of
Yu requires his doctoral students each year to translate
Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture42 is the most
at least one book from English into Chinese. This activity
comprehensive, succinct statement of his theoretical posi-
is also intended as a way for these students to refine their
tion in English. Yu is especially critical of the Chinese tradi-
English. Also some of his master’s students get involved
tion of garden design. His criticism echoes McHarg’s scorn
in translation work voluntarily. His team has published
for French Baroque gardening, especially when contrasted
more than ten books by American authors, including Pio-
with the more natural English picturesque approach.
neers of American Landscape Design, edited by Charles Birnbaum and Robin Karson (2000); both the third (1998)
According to Yu, the recovery of landscape architec-
and fourth (2006) editions of Landscape Architecture by
ture depends on placing a high value on an “authentic
John O. Simonds (first edition, 1961); Landscape Plan-
relationship” between land and people.43 He advocates a
ning by William M. Marsh (first edition, 1983); Landscape
“fine-grained, ecological integration model that can be
Architect’s Portable Handbook by Nicholas Dines and Kyle
envisioned, implemented, and managed at all scales.”44
Brown (2001); People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban
In The Art of Survival, as well as his other publications,
Open Space, edited by Clare Cooper Marcus and Carolyn
he illustrates how this vision can be realized. Increasingly,
Francis (1998); Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning
he advocates linking design with the restoration of “ecosys-
Beyond the City by Richard T.T. Forman (2008); and the
tem services,” which he defines as “provisioning services,
second edition (2000) of my own The Living Landscape:
including food, water, and energy; regulating services,
– 113 –
such as purification of water, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, waste decomposition and detoxification, crop pollination, and pest and disease control; supporting services, such as nutrient dispersal and cycling, and seed dispersal and primary production; and cultural services, including cultural, intellectual, and spiritual inspiration, recreational experiences, ecotourism, and scientific discovery.”45 Yu has used ecosystem services more as a model for practice than as an actual solution to regional-scale landscape problems. The application of that model presents a significant future challenge for Yu and his team. Yu is a prolific writer, popular and charismatic speaker, and
Part of the roughly six hundred employees of Turenscape in their Beijing office building, 2010.
innovative practitioner. He does not shy away from controversy. His boundless energy, ambition, and promotional activities are disconcerting to many of his peers in other institutions in China, who are often more socially conservative and cautiously deferential. Yu is a product of postrevolutionary China. He is envied and admired by many, especially his students and by a generation of post-Confucian officials and businessmen who, like him, are gaining real power in the country. A s is often noted, the Chinese understand the word “change” to mean both opportunity and danger. Both are present in Beijing today. Air pollution is clearly visible on most days. Traffic clogs streets. There is a common saying about the city: “Living in Beijing is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”46 Once-plentiful ground water sources dry up at a pace of almost 1 meter (3 feet) a year, and water quality degrades as pollution increases.47 Yu is responding to the environmental challenges facing his nation, and in the process he is leading the field of landscape architecture worldwide.
Acknowledgments I appreciate the helpful information and suggestions on drafts of this paper made by Richard Forman, Gary Hack, Ron Henderson, Liu Hailong, Patrick Miller, Laurie Olin, Bill Saunders, Carl Steinitz, Yang Rui, Zhang Ming, Zhang Zhenwei, and Zhao Zhicong. Kongjian Yu provided invaluable, detailed information and graciously responded to my many queries. I value the many discussions with other Chinese friends and colleagues that informed this paper, in particular Yang Rui, Hu Jie, Dihua Li, and Zhu Yufan. While I have tried carefully to sort out sometimes conflicting accounts of academic history and contemporary practice, some information probably became lost in translation. I take responsibility for any such inaccuracies. Anita Ahmadi provided important editorial and word-processing assistance.
on the sciences poses challenges for the design disciplines, which do not produce many peer-reviewed publications. With few students and scant resources, creative entrepreneurship of the kind exhibited by Yu is necessary for design to thrive at Peking University. Emails from Zhang Ming (November 5, 2010) and Ron Henderson (October 6, 2010), as well as interviews with Yu, November 9 and 11, 2010.
1 Professor Changdu Chen was one of China’s two leading ecologists (the other—Professor Ma Shijun—died in an accident) and the pioneer and “father” of landscape ecology in China.
10 Yu, Curriculum Vitae, 2010, on Turenscape website.
2 Yu’s efforts were supported by his Beijing Forestry University supervisor, Sun Xiaoxiang. During the startup period, Sun helped considerably. However, according to an email from Zhao Zhicong, on November 16, 2010, Sun and Yu diverge about the name of the center in Chinese, jing guan, as well as the content for the new degree. 3 November 23 and 28, 2010, email interviews (like all interviews with Yu mentioned below) with Kongjian Yu. 4 Ibid.
Books written by Kongjian Yu.
5 After Chang Yung Ho left Peking University to become head of the architecture department at MIT in 2005, the architecture program he left went into disarray. Peking University’s emphasis
The Activist Educator
6 Ibid. 7 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 9, 11, 23, and 28, 2010. 8 The number of degrees is given in an email from Yang Rui, November 17, 2010. 9 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 9 and 11, 2010.
11 Kongjian Yu, email to William S. Saunders, December 23, 2010. 12 From information provided by Kongjian Yu, email, January 5, 2011. 13 Carl Steinitz met Professor Sun Xiaoxiang of Beijing Forestry University at an International Federation of Landscape Architects meeting in Kobe, Japan. Born in 1921, Sun is considered the “Godfather” of Chinese landscape architecture, and Steinitz invited Sun to give a lecture and conduct a workshop for landscape architecture students on Chinese brush painting. An exhibition of Professor Sun’s own paintings was held on what was then the “faculty wall” in the lobby of Gund Hall at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The internationally oriented Sun asked Steinitz to give ten theories-and-methods lectures in Beijing. Yu served as one of three live translators at these lectures.
Carl Steinitz, emails, October 10, November 2 and 24, and December 13, 2010. 14 Ron Henderson, email, November 3, 2010. 15 Emails by Ron Henderson (October 8, 2010), Kongjian Yu (October 11, 2010), and Zhang Zhenwei (November 10, 2010). 16 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 28, 2010. While Chen Changdu played a valuable role in helping launch Yu’s academic career, he retired shortly after Yu joined Peking University’s faculty, according to an email from Kongjian Yu, December 1, 2010.
opened to the market, but this transformation seems to be very difficult and slow. The Chinese central government is now trying to cut off the direct link between affiliated design institutes and teaching programs due to increasing legal issues, e.g., a client may sue the university, not the design institute, for construction problems. Some have already changed their name—we now have the Tsinghua Institute of Urban Planning and Design, in which most planners and designers are contract employees, not permanent faculty and staff, as they were before 1978. Zhang Ming, emails, November 8, 23, and 25, 2010, as well as interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 29, 2010.
talented and are expected to perform at a high level. But among Chinese students in doctoral-level landscape architecture, a lack of depth of experience is a common problem. 22 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 9 and 11, 2010. 23 Interview with Kongjian Yu, January 5, 2011. 24 I serve on the advisory committee. The architect/urban designer Kelly Shannon, based in Belgium, was an early recruit to teach in the new college as a visitor. 25 Interview with Kongjian Yu, November 11, 2010.
31 Students’ research projects can be sponsored by a real project that has already been undertaken by Turenscape by taking advantage of the client’s cooperation. Students can join Turenscape professionals to visit the site and obtain data (without paying for data, often necessary in pure research). The students operate independently and do not work on the client’s project. Students only conduct academic research for their own theses. Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 29, 2010.
17 Ibid. 18 See, for instance, Kongjian Yu, Dihua Li, and Han Xili, “The Negative Approach to Urban Planning in China,” in Kongjian Yu, Dihua Li, Han Xili, and Liu Hailong, “On the ‘Negative Planning,’” City Planning Review 9 (2005), pp. 64–69; Kongjian Yu, Zhang Lei, and Dihua Li, “Live With Water: Flood Adaptive Landscapes in the Yellow River Basin of China,” Journal of Landscape Architecture (Autumn 2008), pp. 6–17; and Kongjian Yu, Dihua Li, and Li Nuyu, “The Evolution of Greenways in China,” Landscape and Urban Planning 76 (April 2006), pp. 223–239. Yu and Li were faculty advisers for the 2010 ASLA Student Award for Research, “Discovering the Grand Canal Heritage in the Changing Landscape,” www.alsa. org/2010studentawards/132html. 19 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 28, 2010. 20 Ibid. 21 Interview with Kongjian Yu, November 20, 2010. According to additional information provided in emails from Ron Henderson (November 15, 2010), Zhang Zhenwei (November 10, 2010), and Zhao Zhicong (November 16, 2010), the landscape architecture degrees at Peking University remain connected to geography, while at Tsinghua and Tongji universities, the degrees are tied to architecture and the Master’s degree in engineering. The relationship with horticulture remains at Beijing Forestry University. The doctoral programs at Peking University and its Chinese peers are ambitious. In the United States, there are only four doctoral programs in landscape architecture (in order of their establishment: the University of Michigan, Harvard University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Oregon, plus the University of California at Berkeley, if their Ph.D. in Environmental Planning in the landscape architecture department is counted). The US programs are small. Chinese landscape architecture doctoral students that I have met are quite
26 http://www.asla.org/accreditationLAAB.aspx. 27 Kongjian Yu, conversation with William S. Saunders, January 23, 2011. 28 http://news.17hr.com, “Ten Most Welcomed Professions,” Guangzhou Daily, March 11, 2010. 29 Aside from university-associated design institutes, every Chinese city has institutes in planning, architectural design, and (increasingly) landscape architecture, plus others for public works. There is also a National Urban Planning Institute directly affiliated with the Ministry of Housing and UrbanRural Development, and a provincial institute of rural and urban planning in each of the provinces. In small cities/ counties, these professions may be in one institute. In large cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, there are separate institutes for architecture, planning, and landscape architecture. There are also regional design institutes covering multiple provinces (a districting practice from the 1950s to the 1970s). The power division between school and institute really depends on the history of its creation at the specific university and varies significantly. Tsinghua is one example in which school, architectural design institute, and planning institute exist in parallel with three different heads who are all professors in the School of Architecture. At South China University of Technology, the same person (who designed the China Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo), He Jingtang, heads both the school and the institute. At Huazhong University of Science and Technology, the design institute’s director is also an associate dean at the School of Architecture and Planning, but he does not have teaching responsibilities. Zhang Ming, email, November 23, 2010, and interview with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 29, 2010.
32 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, October 29 and November 8, 2010. 33 See Ian L. McHarg, A Quest for Life (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996). 34 See Kongjian Yu, Li Hailong, Dihua Li, Qiao Qing, and Xi Xuesong, “National Scale Ecological Security Pattern,” Acta Ecologica Sinica (October 2009), pp. 5163–5175. 35 The National Ecological Security Pattern Planning was an outgrowth of Kongjian Yu’s 1995 Harvard University Graduate School of Design doctoral thesis, “Security Patterns in Landscape Planning: With a Case Study in South China.” His chair was Carl Steinitz, with Richard Forman and Steven Ervin as committee members. The thesis was partially published: “Security Patterns and Surface Model in Landscape Planning,” Landscape and Urban Planning 36 (1996), pp. 1–17. 36 Emails from Liu Hailong (November 12, 2010) and Zhang Zhenwei (November 10, 2010), as well as interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 9 and 11, 2010. 37 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 9, 11, 23, and 28, 2010, elaborated in email, January 5, 2011. 38 Ibid. 39 The Trust for Public Land has adopted a similar approach for local level mapping in the United States through its “greenprinting” program. See http://www.tpl.org.
30 Other changes are underway in how the institutes are organized, because, in part, the World Trade Organization required that the design profession be
– 115 –
40 Interviews with Kongjian Yu, November 23 and 29, 2010. Students are paid by the publishing house according to official contract and market value and receive the same compensation that professional translators would. 41 Ibid. Chinese graduate students at elite universities commonly read and write English. Tsinghua also requires its landscape architecture students to translate English works, usually between 4,000 and 5,000 words per student, as part of their education. 42 Kongjian Yu and Mary Padua, eds., The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture (Mulgrave, Victoria: Images Publishing, and Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2006). 43 Ibid., p. 23. 44 Ibid., p. 23. 45 Kongjian Yu, “Qiaoyuan Park: An Ecosystem Services-Oriented Regenerative Design,” Topos 70 (2010), p. 28. 46 “Air Pollution in China,” http://factsanddetails.com/China. 47 See, for example, Banyan, “Asia’s Alarming Cities: How Asian Cities Are Built Will Determine the Prospects for Global Carbon Emissions. Oh Dear,” The Economist (July 1, 2010); Thomas J. Campanella, The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What It Means to the World (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008); and Elisabeth Rosenthal, “A ‘Crazy Bad’ Day in Beijing,” The New York Times (November 26, 2010).
Let Nature Do Her Work: The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan Wetland Park Tianjin, China, 2008
Urban green space is supposed to provide psychological and physical benefits. The real ity of many traditional ornamental urban parks, however—particularly those built in the last twenty years in China—is that they create economic and environmental bur dens because of their high maintenance costs and water and energy consumption. Qiaoy uan Wetland Park implicitly asserts that the beauty of wild grass landscapes has been undervalued, especially in terms of the sustainable services they provide. Concrete channelization of streams and rivers in China has resulted in the loss of ground water sup plies. Native plants have been replaced with swaths of ornamentals that suppress biodi versity. It is critical to recover landscape as a living ecosystem that has the ability to adapt, change, and provide ecosystem services. In the northern coastal city of Tianjin, a deserted shooting range, then used as a garbage dump and drainage sink for urban storm water, has been transformed into a low-maintenance urban park by changing its landform and allowing the natural pro cesses of plant community adaptation and evolution to take place. The park provides diverse natural resources for the city, includ ing retaining and purifying storm water, improving the soil, offering opportunities for environmental education, and creating pleas urable aesthetic experiences. The regional landscape is flat and was once rich in wetlands and salt marshes that have
now been mostly destroyed through decades of urban development and infrastructure con struction. The site was heavily polluted, lit tered, and surrounded with slums and rick ety temporary structures. The soil was saline and alkaline. Densely populated at the south and east boundaries, the site is bounded on the west and north sides by a highway and an overpass. In early 2006, in response to resi dents’ call for improvement of the site, the municipal government commissioned the task of an immediate transformation. Inspired by the adaptive vegetation com munities that once dotted the landscape in this region, the new park concept is known as “The Adaptation Palettes,” since the park is designed to let nature do her work with minimal management. Twenty-one pond depressions were constructed, varying from 10 to 40 meters (30 to 130 feet) in diameter and from 1 to 5 meters (3 to 16 feet) in ele vation above sea level. Some depressions are below ground level and some are above, within mounds. Through the seasons’ evolution, patches of different species of the regional waterand alkaline-sensitive vegetation grow in correspondence to the conditions of the individual depressions. Though it is too diffi cult to grow trees in the saline-alkaline soil, the ground cover and wetland vegetation are richly diverse and vary in response to subtle changes in the water table and pH values. Initially seeds of mixed plant species were
– 116 –
sowed in the varied habitats to start the veg etation; other native species were allowed to grow spontaneously wherever this was suitable. In the rainy season and due to the high ground water, some depressions have turned into ponds, some into wetlands, and some into seasonal pools; some stay dry. Thanks to the washing effect of seasonal rain, the saline-alkaline soil of the dry depressions has improved, while nutrients have been deposited in the deeper ponds that catch storm water runoff. Within some of the depressions are wooden platforms that allow visitors to sit in the mid dle of the vegetation patches. A network of red asphalt paths weaves through the palettes. Along the paths are environmental interpreta tion signage that offer descriptions of natural patterns, processes, and native species. The park achieved its goals within two years. Storm water is retained in the depres sions; diverse water-sensitive communities have evolved. Seasonal changes in plant spe cies occur and integrate with the beauty of the “messy” native plant landscape. In the first two months of its opening, from October to November 2008, about 200,000 people visited the park; hundreds still visit every day.
0 20 50
1 Site plan and design concept “The Adaptation Palettes.” 1
6 Mound 2 The preexisting state of the site: an abandoned shooting range, then used as a garbage dump and drainage sink for urban storm water, heavy polluted with saline-alkaline soil, littered, deserted, and surrounded by slums and rickety temporary structures.
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The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan Wetland Park
3 Summer view: deep ponds with permanent water can be recognized in the foreground and shallow, seasonal ponds are in the background. 4 The design concept for “The Adaptation Palettes”: Let nature do her work. Here the adaptation process is visualized in habitat types sensitive to water and soil pH values. They were inspired by the regional landscape with the same kinds of patches. 5 Fall landscape, with deep ponds in the foreground. 6 Bird’s eye view of the park in the winter from the southwest corner showing the diverse patchwork landscape of pond depressions occupied by varying plant communities.
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7 An environmental interpretation board sits by a deep water pond with water lilies and Chinese fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) and other native grasses on the shore. 8 One of the shallow water ponds dominated by reed community at the water edge create a quiet and romantic place in the middle of the park. 9 The same pond as in ill. 7 in the fall. 10 Plans and construction details of this pond.
The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan Wetland Park
Piling: no. 25 mortar rubble
Compacted gravel with soil, 200 mm
Compacted prime soil
1.0 0 2 .0
2.0 0 1.5 0 1.0 0
2.0 0 1.5 0 1.0 0
200 200 500 500
01. No.25 mortar01. piling rubblemortar piling rubble No.25 02. gravel compaction with soil ,thickness 200mm 02. gravel compaction with soil ,thickness 200mm 03. prime land compaction
03. prime land compaction
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11 A shallow water pond: various species of Typha and surrounded on the shore by rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and Aizoon stonecrop (Sedum aizoon) among other plants. 12 A boardwalk and a wooden platform beside a seasonal pond occupied by reeds and surrounded by a diverse native plant community. 13 A dry depression on a mound above a garbage dump with Aizoon stonecrop (Sedum aizoon) and surrounded by garden cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and other plants in a totally different flora community than that in the ponds. 14 A network of red asphalt was designed to weave through the “palettes” and allow visitors to stroll through the patchwork landscape covered with “messy” native grass. Tree groupings are placed at the intersections of paths to create a pass-through experience. Bridges allow visitors to go across some of the ponds.
The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan Wetland Park
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Gather People: Bridged Gardens Tianjin, Tianjin Province, China, 2008 The projects Bridged Gardens, Dujiangyan Square, Long Sleeve Skywalk, and Chinatown Park in Boston are grouped together in this book because their focus is more on public place than on ecology. They strive to achieve human-scaled spaces rich with natural ele ments. These spaces stand in opposition to the bloated and inhuman monumentality of many recent Chinese large hard-surface squares, cut off from nature’s beneficence. In “Return of the Spirit: Urban Landscape Calling for Human Space” Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li explore what makes space human, as is apparent from the example of daily life among Hani people in Yunnan Province: “Under enormous shade trees, boys and girls play with total abandon. A massive tree stands silently at the intersection of two ridges on a field with a small creek run ning through it, providing a perfect venue for young lovers to confide in each other in the soft glow of moonlight. The village well with its stone benches is a gathering space where women fetch water and wash clothes while work-worn men sit comfortably with bamboo opium pipes in one hand.”1 Yu and Li go on to say that in “good” public places people can talk, share in joyful cele bration, and feel hope and belonging. Without human activity, story, and spirit, public places lose their meaning. Designers must imag ine people’s lives from within: Human beings need communication, for they are afraid of being alone. They need to exercise and have places to rest, to take ownership of their sur roundings, to pursue things around them but also to find places of shelter. They need to feel both safe and challenged. People prefer walk ing on smooth roads, but they also seek the unexpected—a river, a wild animal, a bridge. Yu and Li continue: People need to love and be concerned about others. To under stand the lifestyles, habits, and values of inhabitants, you must experience their tradi tions and customs. It is only when you have learned a great deal about the local peo ple’s lives that you can design public spaces. Listen to them and explore the natural and
social history of the site. Supporting the local spirit is the motivation of the design. Urban landscapes should be the projection of human desires and ideals. In the northern coastal city of Tianjin, a series of differently designed gardens form an L-shaped linear open space, located along a small man-made lake between the city and the large Qiaoyuan Wetland Park. The park and the Bridged Gardens, completed in 2007 and 2008, were designed to improve local water and soil conditions, to create an envi ronment that celebrated the local culture and its landscapes, and to provide recreational opportunities for the surrounding population of more than 10 million people. This open space presented challenges and opportunities: How could the new landscape improve the site’s poor soil and water con ditions? How could the city be connected to nature? How could a boring, flat landscape be made interesting? Bridged Gardens combines five areas— Hilled Gardens, City Windows, Sunken Gar dens, Terraced Waterfront, and the Skywalk— to create a banded landscape that provides ecological and recreational services as well as aesthetic pleasure. The regional landscape was once rich in wetlands and salt marshes; many were destroyed over decades of urban development and infrastructure construction. The conventional approach to enabling tree growth, i.e. raising the ground level, would have blocked the view to the water’s edge from the city. So the landscape architect used a cut-and-fill strategy and excavated the soil from the former fish pond to create a raised ground suitable for trees to grow. This excava tion also allowed expanding and connecting the preexisting ponds and swales into a linear lake. The excavated soil was used to make eleven terraced mounds, which were then bridged with the Skywalk. A series of City Windows were created between these ter races, relinking the city with nature: From the city one can see through the Windows to the Sunken Gardens, and from the Gardens one can look back to the city.
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In lower-laying areas are the nine Sunken Gardens and at the crests are stepped Hill Gardens connected by the Skywalk, which is a red elevated path intersected by ten obser vation towers. To allow park users, including the elderly and handicapped, to easily enter the gardens and the Skywalk from the street, the Hilled Gardens gradually slope down to the waterfront. Both the City Windows and the elevated areas provide views not only to the water (fed by rainwater and a nearby canal) and lower gardens, but also to the man-made wetland beyond. Finally, the continuous red Skywalk links each hilled and sunken gar den with separate observation towers, offer ing fresh perspectives on the wetlands and gardens. At the waterfront edge, cascading planters hold diverse species. Inclined stone retention walls are constructed with a variety of rocks excavated in the region. The park comes to embody the culture and context through a variety of references to the region. The nine Sunken Gardens, each measuring 20 by 8 meters (22 by 9 yards), are inspired by the local land conditions: water borders, crop fields, harvested farmlands, flowing riv ers, marshes, meadows, and pastures. The landscape architect reinterpreted these pat terns with sustainable materials and con temporary designs that allow people to make playful use of the space. Five meters (5.5 yards) above the main garden level, observation walkways run the length of the site perpendicular to the Sky walk and provide platforms for observation and connection to the various small gar dens and the large park beyond. They also afford vistas of the water and the metropolis of Tianjin.
1 “Return of the Spirit: Urban Landscape Calling for Human Space,” in Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 ; the English translation was provided by Turenscape.
1 The site plan reveals how the project acts as a filter between park and residential community. The park site was a former shooting range that became a garbage dump and drainage area for urban storm water, with polluted ponds. The edge was occupied with temporary structures. 1
Viewing platform (one of twelve)
Fields under the trees
3 Pergola 4
6 Courtyard 7
Viewing pavilion (one of ten)
10 Plateau 2 A lake was made by enlarging the existing ponds to manage storm water runoff, and eleven terraced mounds were built using the excavated earth. The Skywalk connects the terraces and creates City Windows underneath that open to the wetland park. Nine Sunken Gardens with a diversity of designs sit between the terraces.
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01. dry stack ore stone 02. yellow sand stone, 300X100X20mm 03. landing stage 04. water level
1000 1000 1000 1000
1000 1000 1000 500
The Skywalk, colored in classic Chinese red,
connects the terraces. 4 Section through the earthen terraces and the Corten steel planters on the lakeside. 1 Dry stacked stone 2
Yellow sandstone, 300 x 100 x 20 mm
5 There are eleven terraced mounds, and stepped Corten steel planters on the lakeside of each mound feature one plant species each. Paths run between the lake and the terraces. 6 Raised walkways at the water’s edge create an ecofriendly waterfront, mixing Cartesian geometries with natural growth and allowing people to walk into the wetland and touch the Oriental cattails. 7 A boardwalk by the water frames the native “messy” vegetation dominated by reeds.
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01. steel paving 02. plantations 03. sand and gravel paving 04. gray granite 05. steel benches A 06. steel benches B 07. steel benches C 08. steel benches D
8 Playtime in the third sunken garden: Strips of curved steel panels, also serving as benches, and plantings set into the ground cover of sand provide a new type of play experience for children.
9 The third sunken garden: The cut aspect of the cut-and-fill concept of the park is evident in the sunken
gardens. They create varied atmospheres, each in a
space ideal for small groups to gather.
10 Plan of the third sunken garden. 1 Steel paving
2 Planters 3 Sand and gravel paving 4 Gray granite 5 Steel benches
UHWDLQLQJZDOO JUDYHOSDYLQJ VWHHOSDWKZD\ VWHHOOLQHURQWRSRJUDSK\HGJHV
11 The sixth sunken garden: Small landforms covered with wolf tail grass and a diagonal path running through
the space afford users different uses and close contact with plants. 12 Plan of the sixth sunken garden. 1 Retaining wall 2 Gravel paving 3 Steel pathway 4 Steel liner on underground planter edges
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7 01. gray granite, 400mmX400mm (30mm thick) 02. stairs (3steps) 03. cogon grass 04. bench 05. tree basin 06. wooden paving 07. steel edges
13 The seventh sunken garden: Curved wood benches are bounded by 15
red steel panels formed into elevated planters. The bright daylily plantings create a strong contrast in color and attract visitors of all ages. 14 Plan of the seventh sunken garden. 1 Gray granite, 400 x 400 mm (30 mm thick) 2 Stairs 3 Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)）and aizoon stonecrop (Sedum aizoon) 4 Bench 5
7 Steel edges 15 The seventh sunken garden from above.
/RQGRQSODQH EHQFK GUDLQDJHGLWFK FRDUVHVDQG UHGFKDQQHOEDUHGJH FRJRQJUDVV JUD\JUDQLWH;PP PPWKLFN
17 Plan of the ninth sunken garden. 1
London plane tree (Platanus acerifolia)
2 Bench 3 Drainage ditch 4
5 Red edging to contain the reeds 6
Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrical)
7 Gray granite, 400 x 400 mm (30 mm thick) 16, 18 The ninth sunken garden: Linear plantings of wolf tail grass entice visitors to experience the vegetation through touch. Red blocks at the end of the garden create a simple and playful space in a landscape that changes dramatically with the seasons.
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Gather People: Long Sleeve Skywalk Xuzhou, Suining County, Jiangsu Province, China, 2010
A bridge is more than a physical structure providing passage over an obstacle. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote, it “gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals.”1 The Long Sleeve Skywalk was intended to be such a bridge, one that goes beyond simply allowing people to cross, since it integrates natural and cultural processes and gives orientation and humane character to a harsh place. Commissioned by the Planning Bureau of Suining County, the Skywalk also performs as an element of civic infrastructure accessible to handicapped and elderly people. The Skywalk straddles several watercourses and an expressway (Xuning Road). It integrates complicated urban functions into a space that is meant to be poetic. It connects the focal point of the county, Harmony Square, to the Forest Plaza across the road. The main bridge spans 635 meters (694 yards), with a total construction length of 869 meters (950 yards). Four auxiliary bridges span a total length of 242 meters (265 yards), with decks ranging from 2.5 to 9 meters (2.7 to 10 yards) wide, sloping from 0.4 to 12.6 percent. The bridge has an average height of 4.5 meters (4.9 yards) over the pavement below.
The conventional way of providing a pedestrian crossing for a busy highway is to build stairs that connect to a bridge. This allows the bridge to fit into a minimum of urban land, but it usually results in an underused structure that is particularly unfriendly to the handicapped and the elderly. To make the skywalk universally accessible, the landscape architect created a gently sloping ramp. The design was inspired by the long sleeves that dancing women often wear in Chinese operas, in which seamless flowing curves follow natural contours. All these relatively simple strategies transform the harsh expressway site into a more gentle and meaningful place. Other landscape improvement strategies for Xuzhou, the most underdeveloped city in its region, included naturalizing the waterways that had been channelized with concrete and growing low-maintenance ground covers and productive crops such as sunflowers.
1 Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971), p. 153.
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1 The site plan and a bird’s eye view rendering show the infrastructure of the Skywalk crossing over several natural and man-made obstacles. The Long Sleeve Skywalk provides continuous passage with universal access using gentle ramps, connecting various urban pedestrian streets, communities, and landscapes. 1
4 Trees 5
Tree island 2
2–4 The bridge was inspired by traditional opera choreography, where the dancers twirl their sleeves in graceful curves. The bridge flows elegantly through the landscape, creating an artful skywalk over the watercourses and traffic below.
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5 The embankments of the watercourse are planted with low-maintenance wildflowers that contrast with the bold green handrails of the bridge. 6 Where the main bridge and a connecting ramp merge, engineering and choreography clearly come together as one. 7 The bridge floats above the watercourses with a wooden ramp at a gentle slope that is universally accessible. 8 The main bridge and a connecting ramp merge over the watercourse. 9 Urban furniture is integrated into the design of the Skywalk. Public space is reconsidered, as is play equipment for children. Spaces merge and connect in three dimensions, creating a new kind of public realm. 10 The Skywalk allows views over the entire area. 7
Long Sleeve Skywalk
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Gather People: Dujiangyan Square Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, 2002
Dujiangyan Square sits in the middle of a dilapidated and nondescript old town. The design was inspired by regional and local lifestyles, irrigation works, and natural and cultural landscapes. With a budget of less than 40 US dollars per square meter (3.7 US dollars per square foot), the project tells ancient stories in a modern language and was designed to attract tourists as well as meet the daily needs of local citizens. Situated in the legendary Sichuan Basin, surrounded by high mountains, densely inhabited Chengdu is in one of the most productive agricultural zones in China, romantically called the “country of the heaven.” The city of Dujiangyan (part of Chengdu) was famous for its ancient irrigation works, the Dujiangyan Weir, which ensured the prosperity of the surrounding plains. The weir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built more than two thousand years ago and is still in use today.1 The site for Dujiangyan Square, two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the weir, was totally razed before the design competition was held. A water channel diverted from the weir is divided into three irrigation canals that run through this site. The project brief called for the square to provide an appealing public open space for local residents; to tell the city’s cultural and historical stories (especially about the irrigation works); and to become a tourist attraction. Located in the center of a busy and featureless urban matrix, the design faced several challenges. A main street that crossed the site was diverted into an underpass, at the ends of which two sunken water squares were constructed to connect the ends functionally and spatially. The slopes of the three rapidly flowing irrigation canals are steep. The design uses the elevation
differences to divert water in the square and create an accessible watercourse, which visitors can touch. To counteract the fragmentation of the square by canals, a unifying formal and symbolic language inspired by bamboo baskets was developed. The square resembles an unfolding basket radiating from a focal point where a sculpture stands. The basket pattern appears in lighting columns, carved stone walls, fences, and paving. (The ancient but still functional weir, which provides both irrigation and flood protection, has walls made out of pebble-filled bamboo baskets that are stronger than steel and concrete.) The way that people meet in groups to play cards and sit in the sun are inspirations for the site design, particularly the 5 by 5 meter (16.4 by 16.4 foot) seating boxes. A sunken amphitheater and three sunken pools are designed for people to enjoy various amusing water features. The fountains are designed for people to play in; seats are placed alongside canals. Many native camphor trees provide shade. Water flows on top of a 100-meter-long (109 yards) carved stone wall. At the base of the large granite sculpture is a spiral-shaped water feature that combines a fountain and a cascade. This public space tells stories of the place, its history, and its people.
1 Zhang Kan and Hu Changshu, World Heritage in China (Guangzhou, China: The Press of South China University of Technology, 2006), pp. 95–103.
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0 10 20
1 Site plan of the square. 1 Fountain 2
6 Sunken square 7
10 Stream 11 Linear glass pavement with lighting underneath 12 Fog fountains 13 Water wall 14 Pergola 15 Sunken garden with fountain like a village well 16 Sunken garden with fountain like a natural spring 17 Hotel 18 Outdoor theater 2
2 The central part of the square has a stone aqueduct that acts as a screen to create separate parts and help establish a human scale in the large space. Water is a main feature and is accessible to people with disabilities. 3 The preexisting site conditions.
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4 The curving, faceted stone “water steps” form the 6000
main element in the square and attract children to play.
5 Ground plan of the square showing the distribution of the canopies. 6000
6 Detail of the “water steps.” 7 A canopy made of copper-painted yellow on top, 6000
inspired by the yellow rapeseed flower of the region, becomes a setting for people’s daily activities.
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Gather People: Chinatown Park Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2007
Boston, Massachusetts, had a world-class traffic problem. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority engineered an immense and costly solution, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, commonly called “The Big Dig.” The Big Dig created more than 121 hectares (300 acres) of landscaped and restored open space, including some forty-five parks and major public plazas. The Chinatown project is one of these parks. Turenscape and the Boston-based landscape architecture firm Carol R. Johnson Associates proposed the Chinatown Park as a public space and performance theater. This idea was inspired by passageways in traditional Chinese villages, the voyage associated with Asian immigrants coming to Boston, and the active uses of this small urban zone. Five bamboo screens framed within scaffolds create a gate that references the traditional Chinese village entrance. The screens also provide a feeling of depth, making the small space seem larger than it is. A fountain and watercourse create a tranquil atmosphere and cool off the surrounding environment in the summer. Streams from Chinese villages are evoked with this watercourse; all the plant species are native to China; and the use of a classic Chinese red is a reference to the cultural identity of the place. Passing through the bamboo gateway, one enters an open space, an urban “theater” that accommodates a layering of uses that are constantly changing. The space is used
for such events as the Chinese New Year festival, dragon dancing, the lantern festival, and more. The design is intended to frame and support a wide variety of daily, weekly, and seasonal needs. Chinatown Park transformed a dangerous and deserted area into a lively place for locals. Traditional gateways covered with glazed tiles and roofed pavilions are well understood as signifying “Chinatowns” in various Western countries. This new park departs from those cliché elements and allows the image of Chinese culture to come through in a contemporary language of design, arriving at a fresh identity and idea of tradition. As Harvard Urban Design Professor Alex Krieger noted, “This quite small oasis presents a modern interpretation of a traditional Chinese garden, and as such enables one to experience a beautiful retreat from the expanse and bustle of the adjacent city.”1
1 Alex Krieger, “Boston’s Big Dig,” Topos 73 (2010), pp. 68–75, here p. 68.
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Es sex St
(s ou th
1 Site plan. 2 Along the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston is Chinatown Park. It is owned by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. Chinatown Park
3 Preexisting site conditions, with the elevated entrance right in front of the old Chinatown gateway.
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4, 5 Chinatown Park gateway is made from red-painted metal and extends the preexisting Chinatown gateway. 6, 7 Inside the gateway are a fountain and small watercourse that create a tranquil atmosphere and cool the surrounding environment in the summer. The stream evokes sensations of the Chinese countryside that are familiar to many immigrants.
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Myths and Strategies of Ecological Planning The legendary founder of China’s first ruling dynasty was known as Yu the Great, born approximately 2200 B.C. His ability to understand the dynamics of flooding led to the ultimate leadership role. Yu’s father, Gun, was originally in charge of limiting damage from massive flooding in Sichuan Province. Gun’s strategy against the flood waters was to build barriers, all of which eventually broke, with disastrous consequences. Gun was executed, and Yu was appointed to try a new strategy. Yu succeeded where his father had failed by excavating canals to allow the waters to flow away from the land and to the sea. Knowing the price of failure, he is said to have made the safety of others his first priority—not even visiting his own newborn son until he had finally succeeded in his thirteen-year canal-building project.1
to make new urban landscapes and no longer play ecological roles as nurseries for aquatic life. The wonders of magnetic levitation trains, the feat of building fifteenstory hotels in six days, and the spectacle of the Beijing 2010 Olympics have amazed visitors, but the underlying losses to ecological systems that support biodiversity, regional food supplies, and human health are tragic.3 This tragedy is similar to the one caused by the industrialization and urbanization of North America and Europe from the seventeenth through the twentieth century. Human and industrial waste was poured into rivers and bays, marshlands were drained for factories and housing, the air was polluted, fertile soil was paved over, and fish stocks were depleted to the point of collapse.4 The scale of these problems is larger in China. While growth in North American and European cities has slowed and environmental regulations have allowed some river and coastal systems partially to recover, China’s urban development seems to be just hitting its stride. The population of China is nearly 50 percent urban. 5 Some predict that China will have 221 cities with populations that exceed 1 million by 2025 and that the coastal region of eastern China will become a single megalopolis.6
A rare combination of time, place, and human spirit can sometimes open people’s hearts to an inspiring vision for the future. Another Yu, Kongjian Yu, seems to have such a vision, grounded in his exceptional ability to synthesize complex ideas. His vision allows those engaged with his work to understand themselves as living in continuity with an ancient cultural past and a soughtafter future. The design and planning projects he has completed with the support of many Chinese mayors have captured the imagination of professionals in the United States and Europe. This is due in part to Yu’s recognition of the immense challenges that China faces as it rapidly industrializes and urbanizes. 2
Regions as large as China affect not just international politics but also the global economy, global climate, and global ecosystems. China’s future will, to a significant extent, determine the future of a territory far beyond its own borders. Yu’s ability to win over Chinese mayors has led to new urban landscape projects and regional plans that provide significantly improved environmental models. However, Yu’s Turenscape projects
This urbanization has so degraded rivers in Chinese cities that most are now classified as unusable. Fertile delta soils, critical in the past for food production, have been paved over. Mud flats and marshes have been filled
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would involve reviewing a list of generic tactics to trigger insights. Using heuristics, planners and designers ask pointed questions that can help them develop strategies more quickly.
are minuscule compared with all of China’s landmass. Still, judging by the number of international awards his landscape architecture firm has won, there is evidence that the work has begun to provide important models for planners and designers on the global stage.7 What ideas and forms has Yu brought into this work, which he calls “The Art of Survival,” and what lessons does it offer an international audience?
For instance, Steinitz introduced ten strategies that could be used to prevent permanent damage from the disastrous release of a pollutant or of energy (such as a wildfire). 9 The strategies could be applied to any problem in which a vulnerable “structure” (including an organism or ecosystem) is at risk from a release of energy, other organisms, or materials, such as invasion by an exotic species, increased flooding, and so on.
Landscape Ecology and Urban Spatial Planning: Models Taught at Harvard A “heuristic” application of the science of landscape ecology underlies the spatial strategies that Yu promotes in China. Yu studied landscape ecology with Professor Richard Forman at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design from 1992 to 1995, where he was also exposed to field studies and lectures by prominent guest ecologists. Landscape planner Professor Carl Steinitz was Yu’s direct advisor for his Doctor of Design studies. (I was a doctoral student there at the same time, and Steinitz was also one of my advisors.) Since Yu uses Steinitz’s methods in his regional and national plans, I will outline them here.
Steinitz presented feng shui as a heuristic that contained empirical observations generalized by long association and implicitly linked to categories easy to remember over many centuries of lived experience. In the 1980s and 1990s, several Chinese students who were enrolled in Harvard’s landscape programs helped Steinitz to articulate the value of feng shui for contemporary landscape architecture and planning, treating it as a coded mnemonic system used to organize empirically observable patterns in ecology, hydrology, and geomorphology. “Dragon mountains,” for instance, refer to jagged young mountain ranges associated with seismically active regions; identifying them provides practical knowledge one can trust and apply—in this case to plan for earthquakes.
Steinitz emphasized the need for spatial analysis informed by ecological processes, economic trends, and political realities. “Heuristic,” which comes from the Greek word for discover, was the term Steinitz used for methods of making decisions, borrowed from the fields of artificial intelligence and decision science. 8 In planning, as in other areas of complex endeavor, so much information is available and so many choices possible that a strategy is needed to optimize the analysis of both data and probable outcomes. Heuristic landscape models synthesize many individual cases to identify strategic opportunities for intervention informed by complex information about specific localities. Individual tactics can be described in simple terms and then combined into complex, overlapping strategies. If the question were whether a housing development could be designed so that it would not cause problems for a species of fish downstream, the heuristic approach
The author (Kristina Hill, left), Kongjian Yu (center), and Professor Richard Forman (right) on a landscape ecology field trip during Hill’s and Yu’s studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design, ca. 1992.
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Rather than assume that more information is always desirable, Steinitz would ask what level of complexity a person really needed to make a good decision. In a time when Geographic Information Systems were gaining authority from their increasing ability to aggregate and visualize complex data, that was an unusual approach. When information was summarized in a studio for a real client, Steinitz would instruct students to use ranked categories (such as “low, moderate, and high”) of an assessed variable (such as “biodiversity” or “scenic value”) to avoid confusing the client or others with diverse and complex measurements. These categories were color-coded so that the spatial maps made with them would clearly show potential impacts for alternative scenarios. Emerging theories, vocabularies, and observations in landscape ecology were quickly applied in the context of Steinitz’s studios on regional development questions. Steinitz worked with ecologist Michael Binford, who taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, to map out environmental variables that should be explored in every designed landscape. Forman developed these into a shorter list of variables that included water quality and quantity, biodiversity and biological productivity, soil fertility, air quality, human health, fuel availability (for whatever technologies were dominant in a particular setting), and “cultural cohesion.”10 This set of variables became a heuristic for a generation of Harvard-educated designers, including Yu. Forman frequently asked students whether they could identify an optimal spatial configuration, using that heuristic, which would enhance the critical ecological and social variables for various human settlements. Yu worked with Steinitz to create maps of what Yu called “security patterns” in developing regions.11 These patterns were essentially an infrastructure of remnant and proposed vegetated corridors that could help support the processes underlying a sustainable human community. The spatial strategy that emerged from this heuristic was to connect large patches of characteristic regional plant life by means of vegetated corridors to increase the patches’ functional value and to extend their boundaries and protect their interiors from disturbance associated with urbanization and industrialized agriculture.
Turenscape, Yongning River Park, Taizhou, China, 2004. The “big foot” aesthetic of natural abundance.
At that time, Harvard University’s Department of Landscape Architecture had already been subject to more than a decade of ideological tension caused by opposing efforts to define the discipline’s most important role. Some wanted to define landscape architecture as an art; others thought of it as a science facilitating landscape design that could meet important performance goals. Students were often asked to express their allegiances, and their choice of advisor was taken as an indication of their alignment. Yu had chosen to work with Professors Forman and Steinitz, so it was clear to his peers that he had positioned himself to pursue a functional rather than an artistic path. But it would have been impossible for Yu to ignore the aspirations to art in the work of various studio courses there. Interestingly Yu has consistently demonstrated this same aspiration in his park projects. During this period, Forman had begun to relate his ideas about the connection between spatial patterns and ecological functions to regional planning around Concord, Massachusetts, as well as on a national scale in Costa Rica. For Steinitz, landscape ecology was an increasingly important component of his regional
Myths and Strategies of Ecological Planning
for instance, as they provided opportunities for walking and boating. Olmsted drew on the images and language of an idealized pastoral landscape and a utopian vision of the city during a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization. This rapid change is much like what is happening in China now.15
strategies for the United States federal government in planning a military base closing in coastal California. It is vital to recall that before landscape ecology brought an emphasis on spatial patterns, ecosystem ecology (which studies flows of energy and materials through living organisms and their environment) and community ecology (which studies interactions among species) were the common frames through which planners and designers gained ecological knowledge. Before the 1990s, these sub-disciplines of ecology used spatial concepts in only limited ways. Landscape ecology started a new wave of collaboration between ecological science and landscape architecture by creating a shared focus on measured spatial patterns and their relationships to natural processes, allowing designers and planners to ask questions such as whether a patch of forest would be big enough to support rare plants or whether a corridor interrupted by a footpath would still support rare mammals.12
Parallel with Olmsted’s later work, Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Geddes in Great Britain developed ideas about how to spatially integrate vegetated recreational and residential zones with industrial and commercial zones. They focused on social ecology (as did Olmsted), but lacked Olmsted’s interest in plants as components. Geddes brought his vision of urban system integration to the planning of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai. In his Mumbai work, one guiding principle called for supporting human life at all economic levels, not just beautifying elite urban districts. Like Geddes, Yu has criticized beautification for its own sake and has supported the idea that beauty stems from functionality. Yu’s “big foot” aesthetic provides a rhetorical resolution of the divide between urban and rural attitudes toward beauty, paralleling some of Geddes’s principles for Mumbai (at that time Bombay): conserving historic structures; using a design language rooted in local culture; implementing growth controls and reserving resources to meet future needs; supporting quality of life, not just appearances; and using a phased and orderly urban development plan.16
Yu was provided, through Steinitz and Forman, with both a source of cultural authority for a new science and a scientific frame of reference for the cultural art of feng shui. Yu has combined science with references to inherited cultural wisdom throughout his career. His first book, produced after his return to China from the United States, was about feng shui and the Chinese landscape, demonstrating his commitment to integrating his advanced planning knowledge with his homeland’s cultural traditions.13
Along these lines, but at a much larger scale, Yu’s firm accepted what is, at first impression, an enormous research task—to identify an “ecological security pattern” for all of China. Yu’s definition of a security pattern provides an opportunity to trace the impact of his education with Forman and Steinitz. The outrageous ambition of making a plan for all of China is exceptional in the international context of landscape architecture, in which project scales and ambitions were modest between World War II and the end of the twentieth century. A significant proposal in Yu’s national plan is to establish large areas of forest in the headwaters of China’s major rivers where people now grow crops. Doing so would establish a source for biodiversity and energy (in the form of leaf
A History of “Ecological Infrastructure” Ideas Yu’s practice model and ideas have a historical analog in the exemplary writings and practices of Frederick Law Olmsted. The ideas of Olmsted, and in turn Yu, are part of a complex English-language discourse since at least the eighteenth century, when William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was first to argue that parks are the “lungs” of cities.14 But it was Olmsted who successfully persuaded American politicians that parks could be organized into continuous multi-functional spatial systems— protecting water quality and allowing flood storage,
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litter) for downstream river ecosystems while limiting erosion along the small streams most likely to be seriously impaired by silt.17 This has been proposed for many United States river systems, but the idea of relocating many people to improve long-term landscape sustainability, which this strategy would require, has become all but untenable in an American or European sociopolitical context. Yet such relocations may be necessary over the next several decades as a result of climate and economic trends, particularly in regions that will see their water resources drastically reduced.18 Yu’s ambitious national maps are not unprecedented; they are similar in their overall strategy of linking corridors and resources to Warren Manning’s 1923 proposal for a National Plan for the United States. Manning recommended extensive corridors for recreation and transportation as well as suitable locations for greatly expanded urban regions. He noted that the value of a national plan would be “to secure the best possible use of all our material, human, and aesthetic resources… in order that we may pass them on in a productive state to the next generation.”19 Manning’s method of classifying land resources and systems established the capacity of the landscape to support urban development. It represented an important formalization of the more rhetorical and qualitative approach of Olmsted, and— since Steinitz used it as an example in his teaching— can fairly be seen as an antecedent of Yu’s work on very large-scale security patterns.
assumption that there is a single optimal spatial configuration for the most secure condition, since multiple versions of the spatial configuration—that might meet the same level of functional performance—are not presented in his method. Steinitz was always careful to generate multiple spatial proposals if there were multiple functional possibilities, while Forman tended to focus on identifying a spatial configuration that contained redundancies but not radically different spatial patterns. In a 1996 article about establishing security patterns, Yu argues for efficiency—to allow propagation through rule-based systems of landscape management and development without exceeding budget limitations— as well as adequacy.20
Turenscape’s Plan for Beijing’s Ecological Infrastructure
Second, Yu applies analytical and representational methods from “suitability analysis,” an important part of Steinitz’s professional methods, now commonplace in ecological and planning literature. Suitability analysis was initially developed in the early twentieth century to identify the most appropriate location for any given land use and was originally applied in a resource management context, such as in finding the best location for a tree plantation. The concept of suitability was subsequently expanded to every imaginable land use. The methods of suitability analysis that have evolved over the last one hundred years are highly varied, but it has been standard to include maps of abstracted variables such as “minimum cost distance,” which calculates the lowest cost (in energy, tolls, and so on) of movement through a network according to a defined set of rules. Yu uses these abstractions to make maps that identify the best corridors for wildlife and human recreation, among other variables.
In Yu’s plans for metropolitan Beijing’s ecological infrastructure, several patterns emerge directly from Yu’s exposure to the ideas of Steinitz and Forman. First, Yu seeks to identify underlying functional variables that make a human settlement sustainable (his term is “secure”). The variables he includes as fundamental to security are: water, both as a resource and a threat (in floods); geologic stability or resilience to geologic dynamics; biodiversity; cultural resources; recreational resources; and soil fertility. He appears to make the
Third, Yu’s methods emphasize decision-making strategy over scientific investigation. 21 The product of his analyses of Beijing’s landscape is not a new set of questions or an assessment of his level of certainty but rather three scenarios for the future of the city at “minimum, satisfactory, and ideal” levels. To state the value of each scenario, Yu assesses the amount of land that would be protected from development in each (as a percentage of all the land in Beijing). The assumption that protecting more land is better is presented without
Myths and Strategies of Ecological Planning
While there is no question that the effort to identify fundamental resources and conserve them in an urbanizing region is worthwhile, the level of ecological, sociological, and economic sophistication in Turenscape’s descriptions of its own methods could be greater. For instance, in their description of the Beijing ecological infrastructure study, Turenscape writes that their goal was protecting “critical native habitats and building an effective biological framework to maximally safeguard the biodiversity.” 22 The text states that their method follows the “focal species approach” of biological conservation, which requires an analysis of whether identified focal species are actually correlated with the occurrence of rare species. 23 It is not clear whether, how, or by whom such an analysis was conducted for the Beijing planning study. Turenscape states that they selected three focal species to represent the biodiversity of the Beijing region. In other published studies using this approach, the number of focal species used to represent either the flora or fauna of a region was much higher—thirty-six in one case, and sixteen in another. 24 It is unlikely that three species could adequately represent the biological diversity of the Beijing region; it may be that the choice of this small number is explained more by a desire for efficiency in conducting the study and reveals a less than ideal commitment to rigorous ecological analysis.
further argument or evidence. Similarly, he characterizes each scenario as providing a certain level of “stability” for Beijing—“stable for the time being,” “regenerated gradually,” and “ideal.” These terms have no scientific meaning, although they convey a strong common-sense message that a reasonable person should choose the middle-ranked scenario (“satisfactory” and “regenerated gradually,” not “ideal,” which is unlikely to be efficient because of its costs). This use of persuasive language instead of inferential statistics or experimental prototypes places Yu’s methods squarely in the rhetorical realm, where the ultimate goal is to persuade, rather than in the world of scientific research, where the goal might be to identify statistical patterns or to question hypotheses in search of novel insights. The work is more strategic than scientific, even if it relies on concepts from conservation biology and landscape ecology to develop its spatial analyses. Finally, Yu claims that his method “builds a bridge” between divergent areas of scientific theory and urban design theory, including ecology, landscape ecology, and ecosystem services on the science side and landscape urbanism on the design side. He adds to this two essentially economic concepts, natural capital and sustainable development (here in the sense of a longterm real estate development strategy), to link to other important rationales for policy-making (i.e., benefits and costs). This is a rhetorical claim and is not developed into an argument. It serves to assure clients and others that Yu’s methods include the most current ideas in ecological science, urban design, and environmental economics. But in fact, it is not clear how Turenscape’s approach would actually use ideas from these fields or whether it would do so in any practical way. The rhetoric serves the purpose of getting commissions, and, since the firm’s work is pointing the profession in good directions, this is not a petty motive. Conflicts or trade-offs among different security goals are also not apparent, although they must occur. Turenscape does not specify how the firm resolves conflicts between uses, such as the common conflict between recreation and biodiversity, in which humans often weaken an area for growing an unusual plant species as a result of trampling and other disturbances.
Perhaps the necessary effort to persuade elected officials requires this simplification, or the English-language descriptions available in Turenscape’s project documentation are more basic than their actual methods. It is striking, however, to see the same heuristic being applied repeatedly with no apparent methodological evolution beyond the type of work in which Steinitz was engaged in the 1980s (for example, in Steinitz’s study of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, which was completed in 1994 and used methods similar to the Turenscape ecological infrastructure approach). 25 Toward the end of his teaching career, Steinitz developed more sophisticated models of ecological processes by working side by side with discerning scientists. His study of alternative futures for the Upper San Pedro River Basin of Arizona and Sonora in Mexico is a case in point. 26 Completed in 2003, the project used a state-of-the-art hydrologic
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A typical instance of contemporary Chinese rapid urbanization: Changsha, Hunan Province, 2008.
model built by collaborating experts to predict changes in water systems in this arid valley. And while it used a six-species approach to representing biodiversity, this study combined that approach with two other methods (models that predicted suitability using only habitat characteristics for 389 animal species and a “gap analysis” 27 that mapped hot spots of species diversity and identified threats to their continued existence) to build up multiple lines of evidence for developing habitat conservation priorities. The models Steinitz and his team developed in the San Pedro study were good examples of what Western planners often refer to as the “best available science” in that they incorporated recent peer-reviewed research. Yu is certainly equally capable of using the most recent research to build sophisticated models. Turenscape’s methods seem ripe for reinvigoration and rigorous development with teams of scientists. The economics and feasibility of building such teams may have limited Turenscape in the past, but the current business success of this large firm should make bringing in expert collaborators feasible. At the very least, the maps of security patterns should be subjected to simple tests that could identify any flawed assumptions in their internal logic. Varying the ways in which map data are used to generate the patterns, for instance, could allow the firm and its clients to see whether the patterns
considered most important actually rely on a very narrow range of variables that could be problematic, even wrong. This process is often referred to as “sensitivity analysis,” and is frequently employed as a way of testing the rigor of other map-based conservation studies. 28 In the Beijing plan, Turenscape does not describe any use of sensitivity analyses to improve the meticulousness of their proposals. It may be useful to reconsider the story of Yu the Great. Yu was a hero because he created a new vision of an ordered world, divided by linear corridors and subordinated to a centralized geographic hierarchy. He led its implementation as both an act of service and an act of nation building. Why was it important to Kongjian Yu to build a large firm, and within it, to undertake projects that have a heroic quality by virtue of their scale and ambition to address the enormous need in today’s China for an alternative to landscape consumption and degradation? The centralized authority of Yu’s role in his firm, as well as at Peking University, is moderated by the roles others play—Dihua Li, for instance, who is noted as a prominent ecologist in Turenscape and is coauthor of several of Kongjian Yu’s publications. But Yu has recently pursued a number of high-profile design projects in the United States, such as the Seattle waterfront and a major downtown Chicago Park, in a way that highlights his role as the lead designer and spokesperson for
Myths and Strategies of Ecological Planning
a design approach that links art and culture to science. There is a heroic quality to this site-scale work as well, in which the proposals suggest more widely applicable models. As Yu’s access to decision makers increased, he began to develop iconic site designs in the international arena, putting less emphasis on building a database of resources for others or setting a policy-shaping goal within Chinese or international landscape planning. Yu the Great led by example, by taking personal action. Kongjian Yu seems to want to do the same.
2 When Kongjian Yu lectures, he often mentions Yu the Great as an example of a revered person who understood the land and was respected as an authority in his time. This illustrates how Yu constructs bridges between cultural narratives familiar to the average Chinese person, concepts from the science of landscape ecology, and strategic approaches from the field of operations research. It also suggests that the story of a heroic individual may play an important role in the way Yu has conceived of his practice. 3 There are several recent books on China’s environmental crisis, including Jonathan Watts, When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind—
20 Kongjian Yu, “Security Patterns and Surface Model in Landscape Planning,” Landscape and Urban Planning, 36:5 (1996), pp. 1–17.
10 Izaak S. Zonneveld and Richard T.T. Forman, eds., Changing Landscapes: An Ecological Perspective (New York: Springer Verlag, 1990).
21 A quite different field of professional investigation and practice is responsible for analyzing choices and making recommendations about the adequacy and efficiency of decisions. Since World War II, it has been widely known as “operations research,” “decision science,” or “decision theory.” See Saul I. Gass and Arjang A. Assad, An Annotated Timeline of Operations Research: An Informal History (New York: Springer, 2004).
11 Kongjian Yu, “Security Patterns in Landscape Planning: With a Case in South China,” doctoral thesis, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, May 1995. See also Yu, “Ecological Security Patterns in Landscapes and GIS Application,” Annals of GIS 1:2 (1995), pp. 88–102.
There is something appealing about the directness of this approach, although I wonder whether design at the site scale, particularly in the United States, is a promising path to achieve Yu’s ambitious hopes for China. Design in the United States is shaped by a culture of singular firms and individuals who repeatedly appear on the short lists of competitions. Kongjian Yu is emerging as one of those influential individuals. At this point, however, his firm’s regional- and national-scale work appears to be restricted to China and may also be difficult to export. Yet this is something to hope for, since it seems that the dialectic between these scales is the strongest opportunity for designers to regain a perspective about the landscape as a structuring logic rather than as a setting for objects.
1 Mark Edward Lewis, The Flood Myths of Early China (Albany: SUNY Press, 2006). This approach of emphasizing landscape structures as a way of resolving chaotic dynamics underlies Yu’s concept of ecological infrastructure as “security patterns,” p. 28 ff.
9 “Megalopolis: The City of the 21st Century,” World Policy Journal 27:4 (Winter 2010–2011), http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal.
12 Richard T. T. Forman, Concord’s Mill Brook: Flowing Through Time— A Guide to the Lower Mill Brook (Concord: Natural Resources Commission, 1997); Carl Steinitz, Biodiversity and Landscape Planning: Alternative Futures for the Region of Camp Pen dleton, California (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1996); Richard T. T. Forman, Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions (New York: Cambridge University Press,1995); Richard T. T. Forman, Historic Resources Master Plan of Concord, Massachusetts (Concord Historical Commission, 1995). 13 As quoted by Lord William Windham and recorded in Cobbett’s Parlia mentary Debates, Vol. 11, June 30, 1809, pp. 1, 124. 14 Kongjian Yu, The Origin of the Ideal Landscape: The Cultural Meanings of Feng Shui (Beijing: Shangwu Publishing House, 1998 and 2000). Published only in Chinese as 理想景观探源：风水 与理想景观的文化意义 . 15 Frederick Law Olmsted, Civilizing American Cities: A Selection of Fred erick Law Olmsted’s Writings on City Landscape, S.B. Sutton, ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971).
Or Destroy It (London: Faber, 2010), and Elizabeth C. Economy, The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).
16 William Haddon Jr., M.D., “On the Escape of Tigers: An Ecologic Note,” Technology Review, May 1, 1970, 1–7. www.technologyreview.com/ energy/20038/.
4 See Joel A. Tarr, Search for the Ulti mate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective (Akron: University of Akron Press, 1997), and others. 5 “China Leads the World in Urbanization: Blue Paper,” China Daily, July 7, 2010, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/ china/2010-07/30/content_11069784. htm.
17 R. L. Vannote, G. W. Minsall, K. W. Cummins, J. R. Sedell, C. E. Cushing, “The River Continuum Concept,” Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 37 (1980), pp. 130–137.
6 Jean-François Doulet, “Where Are China’s Cities Heading? Three Approaches to the Metropolis in Contemporary China,” China Perspectives 4 (2008), pp. 4–14.
18 Drought conditions in China in spring 2011 provide a case in point, suggesting that with climate change, agriculture may be unsustainable in some regions.
7 See list of awards at http://www. turenscape.com/English//awards.php.
19 Warren H. Manning, “A National Plan Study Brief,” Landscape Architec ture Quarterly 8:4 (July 1923), p. 2.
8 See http://decisionlab.harvard.edu.
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22 Turenscape, “Beijing Ecological Infrastructure,” http://www.turenscape. com/English/news/msg.php?id=1184. See the chapter “Let Landscape Lead Urbanism: Growth Planning for Beijing,” pp. 212–221 in this book, presenting the Beijing scheme. 23 Clinton W. Epps, Benezeth M. Mutayoba, Lauren Gwin, and Justin S. Brashares, “An empirical evaluation of the African elephant as a focal species for connectivity planning in East Africa,” Diversity and Distributions, July 2011 (17: 4), pp. 603–612. 24 Lowell H. Suring, William L. Gaines, Barbara C. Wales, Kim MellenMcLean, James S. Begley, and Shawne Mohoric, “Maintaining Populations of Terrestrial Wildlife Through Land Management Planning: A Case Study,” Journal of Wildlife Management, May 2011 (75:4), pp. 945–958; Julia A. Kintsch, Dean L. Urban, “Focal Species, Community Representation, and Physical Proxies as Conservation Strategies: A Case Study in the Amphibolite Mountains, North Carolina, U.S.A.,” Conservation Biology, August 2002 (16:4), pp. 936–947. 25 Carl Steinitz et al., Alternative Futures for Monroe County, Pennsyl vania (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 1994). 26 Carl Steinitz et al., Alternative Futures for Changing Landscapes: The Upper San Pedro River Basin in Arizona and Sonora (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2003). 27 Michael D. Jennings, “Gap Analysis: Concepts, Methods, and Recent Results,” Landscape Ecology, January 1, 2000 (15:1), pp. 5–20. 28 Sarah C. Sawyer, Clinton W. Epps, and Justin S. Brashares, “Placing Linkages Among Fragmented Habitats: Do Least-cost Models Reflect how Animals Use Landscapes?” Journal of Applied Ecology 48 (2011), pp. 668–678.
A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Storm Water Park qunli new town, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China, 2010
Contemporary cities are not water-resilient and inundations of surface water pose a substantial problem for them. Landscape architecture can play a key role in addressing this issue. Storm water parks, connected and integrated into an ecological infrastructure across various scales, can act as green sponges, cleansing and storing urban storm water. Due to China’s ever expanding urbanization, and, arguably, to climate change leading to unpredictable precipitation, urban flooding caused by storm water has become a global issue. In China, where most cities have monsoon climates, 70 to 80 percent of the annual precipitation falls in the summer, and in some extreme cases, 20 percent of the annual rainfall can happen in a single day. Beijing for example, has an average annual precipitation of only about 500 millim eters (20 inches), but it received 50 to 120 millimeters (2 to 5 inches) in rainfall in just one day in 2011. Serious urban floods have been hitting the major cities in China even in times of normal rainfall, mainly because of an increase in impermeable paved surfaces. Conventionally, people turn to engineering to solve urban flood problems, installing larger pipes, more powerful pumps, or stronger dykes. This single-minded approach is questionable for a number of reasons: 1. Economics: To construct an underground pipe system with sufficient capacity to drain away the extreme torrential rains is
wastefully costly. It will also impose a large management and maintenance burden on future generations. 2. Water Shortages: There is a shortage of fresh water in China. In the metropolitan areas, the drop of the underground water table is a serious issue. Out of more than 660 Chinese cities, 400 are experiencing water shortages. In northern China, for example, there is a drop of the underground water table of up to 2 meters (6 feet) each year. Beijing has seen its water table drop by 1.5 meters (4 feet), on average, every year for the past three decades, due to overuse of underground water with almost no aquifer recharge. All the storm water has been drained away through pipes or channeled into rivers. 3. Ecological Services: Engineered storm water drainage leads to the disappearance of surface water features including waterbased habitats, especially urban wetlands. In addition, much more irrigation is needed for parks and green space in the city when all this rainwater is drained away, and this worsens the water shortage problem. Using the landscape as a sponge is a good alternative solution for urban storm water management. An example of this approach is demonstrated in Turenscape’s storm water park in Harbin, which integrates largescale urban storm water management with
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the protection of native habitats, aquifer recharge, recreational use, and aesthetic experience, in all these ways fostering urban development. Beginning in 2006, a 2,733 hectare (6,753 acres) new urban district, Qunli New Town, was planned for the eastern outskirts of Harbin in northern China. Thirty-two million square meters (344 million square feet) of building floor area will be constructed in the next 13 to 15 years. More than one third of a million people are expected to live there. While about 16.4 percent of the developable land was zoned as permeable green space, the majority of the former flat plain will be covered with impermeable concrete. The annual rainfall there is 567 millimeters (22 inches), with the months of June, July, and August accounting for 60 to 70 percent of annual precipitation. Floods and waterlogging have occurred frequently in the past. In mid-2009, Turenscape was commissioned to design a park of 34.2 hectares (84.5 acres) right in the middle of this new town. The site is surrounded on four sides by roads and dense development. This wetland had thereby been severed from its water sources and was under threat. Going beyond the original task of preserving the wetland, Turenscape reconnected water networks and transformed the area into an urban storm water park that will provide multiple ecosystem services. It collects, cleanses, and stores
storm water and infiltrates it into the aquifer. The storm water park has not only become a popular urban amenity but has also been upgraded to a protected National Urban Wetland park because of its improvement to ecological and biological conditions. Several design strategies and elements have been employed: 1. The central part of the existing wetland is left alone to allow the natural habitats to continue to evolve. 2. Earth is excavated and used to build up an outer ring—a necklace of ponds and mounds. This ring acts as a storm waterfiltrating and -cleansing buffer zone for the core wetland, and a transition between nature and city. Storm water from the newly built urban area is collected into a pipe around the perimeter of the wetland and then released evenly into the wetland after having being filtered through the ponds. Native wetland grasses and meadows are grown next to ponds of various depths, and natural processes are initiated. Groves of native silver birch trees (Betula pendula) grow on mounds of various heights and create a dense woodland. A network of paths links the ring of ponds and mounds, allowing visitors to have a walking-through-forest experience. Platforms and seats are put near the ponds to enable people to have close contact with nature.
3. A skywalk links the scattered mounds, allowing visitors to have an above-the-wetland experience. Platforms, five pavilions (bamboo, wood, brick, stone, and metal), and two viewing towers (one made of steel and located at the east corner, the other one made of wood and looking like a tree at the north-west corner) are set on the mounds and connected by the skywalk, providing views into the distance and enabling the observation of nature in the center of the park. The completely transformed site performs many functions, including collecting, cleansing, and storing storm water, and recharging underground aquifers. The preexisting wetland habitat has been restored and native biodiversity preserved. Potentially flooding storm water now contributes to an environmental amenity in the city.
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1 Site plan. 1 East entrance Skywalk, pavilions, and towers
2 Tower 3 Ponds 4
Mound covered with birch trees
6 Skywalk 7 Pavilions
Ground level path netwok and platform
2 Design concept. 3
Bird’s eye view (toward the west)
of the storm water park in the winter. Ring of mounds
Bird’s eye view (toward the east)
of the storm water park in the summer.
Qunli Storm Water Park
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Qunli Storm Water Park
The periphery of the park acts as a border between
city and nature. View toward the east. 6 View toward the west. 7
The filtering ponds on the eastern edge of the park
created by excavations. 8
Paths and platforms integrated with filtering ponds on
the northern edge allow visitors to penetrate the wetland and experience nature. 9
Cross section of the wetland.
Wooden stakes to stabilize the soil
3 Boardwalk 4
Lamps and lanterns
5 Normal water level 6 Bottom 8
1 5 6
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10 The skywalk above the western filtering ponds leading to a viewing tower. 11 The mounds with the dirt from the excavations on the park’s western periphery create a valley experience and remind people of the regional natural landscape of rolling hills. 12 One of the five pavilions evenly distributed along the perimeter, the Bamboo Pavilion, above the wetland.
Qunli Storm Water Park
13 Plan of the Bamboo Pavilion.
14 Elevation of the Bamboo Pavilion.
L-shaped steel frame
Corten steel plate
3 Steel frame 4 Skywalk 5 Ground line
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Qunli Storm Water Park
15 Bamboo Pavilion. 16 The skywalk offers a place to linger and enjoy views over the wetland. 17 A tree-like viewing tower at the northwest corner offers visitors views of the entire park. 18 Stone Pavilion. 19 Cross section of the Bamboo Pavilion. 1
H-shaped steel beam
L-shaped steel profile frame
3 Ground line
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20 The Wood Pavilion, with a facade reminiscent 22
of regional vernacular buildings in the northeast of China. 21 Elevation of the Stone Pavilion.
22 Cross section of the Stone Pavilion.
1 Steel plate
1 Steel plate
2 Stone filler
H-shaped steel beam
3 Steel gabion
H-Shaped steel beam
L-shaped steel profile frame
5 Ground line
Qunli Storm Water Park
23 The ramp of the skywalk integrated with the service building for park manage-
ment at the edge of the wetland.
24 Elevation of the service building.
1 Stainless steel boards 2 Alnico window frame 3
Coated insulated glass
60 x 30 mm board
5 Lacquered stainless steel 6
25 Cross section of the service building. 1
1 Stainless steel boards
2 Alnico window frame
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Coated insulated glass
Wooden board, 40 mm
Landscape as a Living System: Houtan Park
Shanghai Expo Park, Shanghai, China, 2009
Water pollution and shortages pose bigger threats to humankind than do future oil shortages. More than thirty years of rapid urbanization and uninformed hydrological engineering for flood control in China have severely damaged China’s water system. For over a decade, Kongjian Yu has been trying to raise awareness of these problems among decision makers through his public lectures and talks to mayors.1 Some 75 percent of surface water (lakes, streams, rivers, etc.) in China is polluted, up to 60 percent of the ground water in metropolitan areas is polluted, and half of China’s coastal wetlands have disappeared in the last fifty years. 2 Some of the largest lakes in China (including Taihu, Dianchi, and Caohu) are so polluted by raw sewage, agricultural runoff, and industrial waste that they can hardly support aquatic animal life. All the major rivers in China—the Yangtze, Yellow, Heilong, Pearl, and more— are equally polluted. This situation has led Yu to call landscape architecture “the art of survival”—the profession best positioned to address water problems holistically. Yu criticizes water-cleansing processes that separate water from its living environment—particularly the concrete channelizing of rivers—and instead proposes an ecological approach to address surface water pollution in continuous and complete “natural” systems allowing integration with plant life and free flows between water bodies. Water, in his view, should be central to ecosystem services that are productive, regulating, lifecarrying, and culturally nourishing.3 Houtan Park gave Yu a perfect opportunity to demonstrate his holistic approach to designing landscapes as living systems that provide these services. This project has received more
attention and awards worldwide than any other by Turenscape and can be thought of as a prime model for landscape architecture to address water quality and supply as this century’s primary survival issue. Built on the brownfield of a former industrial site on Shanghai’s Huangpu riverfront, Houtan Park is a regenerative living landscape. The park’s constructed wetlands, flood control measures, reclaimed industrial structures and materials, and urban agriculture are integral components of an overall restorative design strategy to treat polluted river water and recover the degraded waterfront in an aesthetically pleasing way. The site is a narrow, linear 14 hectare (34.6 acre) band located along the waterfront. Previously owned by a steel factory and a shipyard, this brownfield had few industrial structures remaining, and the site was mainly used as a landfill and as a storage yard for industrial materials. Houtan Park was intended to be an innovative demonstration of ecological values and realities for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The park was designed to accommodate a large influx of visitors, create a unique space and an unforgettable event, and become a permanent public waterfront park after the Expo. The first challenge was to restore the degraded environment. The brownfield was littered with industrial and construction debris both above and underground. The water of the contiguous Huangpu River is highly polluted, with a water quality ranking of Lower Grade V (the lowest grade on a national scale of I to V), unsafe for swimming and recreation and devoid of aquatic life. The initial design challenge was to transform this landscape into a safe and pleasant public
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space; the second was to improve flood control. The preexisting concrete flood wall on the inland southeast side of the park was designed to protect against a one-thousandyear flood event with a height of 6.7 meters (22 feet). The 2.1 meter (6 feet) daily tidal fluctuation created a muddy and littered shoreline that was rendered inaccessible to the public by the flood wall. A conventional retaining wall would have continued to limit accessibility and would have prevented habitat creation along the water’s edge, so an alternative flood control proposal was necessary. The third challenge was the site itself: Long and narrow, it is locked between the Huangpu River and an urban expressway, and though it has a continuous 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) along the river, its width ranges between only 30 to 80 meters (100 to 265 feet). Regenerative design strategies used to transform the site into a living system offer comprehensive ecological services, including food production, flood management, water treatment, and habitat creation. A constructed wetland, 1.7 kilometers long (1 mile) and 5 to 30 meters (16.5 to 100 feet) wide, running the length of the site, was designed to create a reinvigorated waterfront as a living machine to treat some of the contaminated water from the Huangpu River. A cascade wall was used to oxygenate the nutrientrich water, and terraces were installed to create a treatment sequence to remove and retain nutrients, and reduce suspended sediments while offering pleasant experiences to visitors. Various species of wetland plants were selected to absorb various pollutants from the water. Field testing indicated that 2,400 cubic meters (634,000 gallons) of water per day could be improved from Lower
Grade V to Grade III. The treated water was used throughout the Shanghai Expo for nonpotable purposes and cost half a million US dollars less than conventional methods. The wetland also acts as a flood protection buffer between the preexisting twenty-year levee close to the river and the one-thousandyear flood control levee on the other side of Houtan Park. The meandering low-lying areas along the wetland form a series of thresholds, providing visual interest and refuge for Expo visitors, with opportunities for recreation, education, and research. The terraced design of the wetland negotiates the elevation difference between the city and the river, safely reconnecting people to the water’s edge. The existing concrete flood wall was replaced by more habitat-friendly rip-rap that allows native species to grow along the riverbank while protecting the shoreline from erosion. Overlapped in the matrix of ecologically regenerated landscape are layers of the agricultural and industrial past of the site and the future of the post-industrial eco-civilization. Inspired by Chinese agricultural landscapes, the designers created terraces to segment the 3 to 5 meter (15 to 18 feet) elevation change from the water’s edge to the road and to slow the runoff directed to the channel in the constructed wetland. Crops such as corn, rice, sunflowers, and buckwheat and wetland plants were selected to create an urban farm that allows people to learn about urban agriculture and to witness seasonal changes: golden blossoms in the spring, sunflowers in the summer, the fragrance of ripened rice in the fall, and green clover in the winter. The terraces enrich the landscape along the wetland by creating spaces that encourage visitors to enter the living system through
the field’s corridors and experience the agricultural landscape and wetland firsthand. The paths, like capillaries of a sponge, absorb and pull people to circulate through the park. The industrial heritage of the site is celebrated through the reclamation of industrial structures and materials. Shanghai is the birthplace of China’s modern industry, and the iconic structures that remained on the site were transformed into hanging gardens and overlook platforms. Reclaimed steel panels reference the site’s former industrial spirit. Situated throughout the wetland valley, folded steel-panel structures were used to frame views of Shanghai’s skyline and to create artful forms, new paving material for the boardwalk, and shelters from sun and rain. The pedestrian network is composed of a main loop, a series of perpendicular paths bisecting the wetland, and many smaller footpaths leading through the terraces. This network ensured seamless connections between the park and its surroundings and encouraged access within the site to accommodate the large pedestrian flows during the Expo, and it ensures a pleasant and accessible public park at human scale after the Expo. Several platforms and former industrial structures were designed as the nodes in the pedestrian network, including a Hanging Garden created from the steel structure of a factory and the landscaped dock. Groves of bamboo and Chinese redwood trees act as screens along the paths to break up the linearity; the enclosures surrounded by trees are used as “containers” to exhibit modern art and industrial structures found on the site. These platforms and containers are integrated into the pedestrian network to create larger spaces where groups can gather.
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Houtan Park demonstrates that ecological infrastructure can provide multiple services for society and nature and new water treatment and flood control methods. The postindustrial design presents a productive landscape, paying homage to a new aesthetic grounded in principles of low maintenance and high performance.
1 See Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 . 2 Chen Kelin, Lü Yong, and Zhang Xiaohong, “No Water Without Wetland,” China Environment and Development Review (2004), pp. 296–309. See also John McAlister, “China’s Water Crisis,” Deutsche Bank China Expert Series, March 22, 2005. 3 Kongjian Yu, “Elegy to Water,” editorial, LA China 12, October 4, 2010, pp. 20–24.
Contaminated water inlet. A sediment
pond is located to the right (not visible in image).
Hanging Garden (reused
Enclosures surrounded with
steel structure from a factory)
trees for exhibitions of old
reused as a land-
scaped platform for recreation
Master plan with images of
primary spaces. 1
3 Scenic waterfront reeds 4
“Bubble” of vegetation
5 Industrial relic transformed into
the Hanging Garden
7 Reed platforms 8 Inner river wetland 9 Red ribbon benches 10 Square next to boat transfer to
the Shanghai Expo
11 Docklands for boat transfer
to the Shanghai Expo
12 Houtan rainwater pumping station 13 Waste water pumping station 14 Original ventilation structure for
underground tunnel across the river
Band of filtering
Rusting folded steel pergola and steel
pathway in the wood boardwalk
Sand for filtering water
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Pond of cleansed water
Water intake and screening
Add precipitator when necessary Water settling and precipitation
Natural aeration Biological purification
Terraces for aeration and biological purification
Soil filtration Biological purification Subsurface filtration
Natural aeration Biological purification
Heavy metal removal and biological purification
Natural aeration Biological purification Pathogen removal and biological purification
Natural aeration Biological purification Nutrient removal
Natural aeration Biological purification Aeration and biological purification
Natural Aeration Biological Purification Water quality stabilization and control
Natural Filtration To World Biological Purification Expo Park Sand filter for final polishing
Clean water impoundment
Water intake and screening
Water settling and precipitation
Terraces for aeration and biological purification
Heavy metal removal and biological purification
Pathogen removal and biological purification
2 Site plan showing water treatment sequence. 3 The section along the linear man-made wetland showing the water-cleansing mechanism. The bottom part of the section illustrates how the cleansing mechanism was inspired by the terraces of rice paddies in traditional Chinese agriculture, in which organic fertilizers are absorbed by plants from water that runs from mountains through the villages and to the paddies before going into ponds and rivers down the hills.
Aeration and biological purification
Water quality stabilization and control
Sand filter for final polishing
Clean water impoundment
4, 5 The cascade aerates and cleanses the water from the Huangpu River. 6
Construction section drawing of the
1 2 7.000
cascade wall. 1
Slate gray granite top, 250 x 500 mm
2 Planter 3 Non-clay brick, 120 mm 4
1:3 cement mortar for 120–150 mm
wide bonded slate-gray schist
1:3 cement mortar (including 5 %
water-repellent), 20 mm
Waterproof mortar-bonded rubble
Slate-gray schist, 10 mm
1:3 cement mortar (including 5 %
water-repellent), 20 mm
C30S6 reinforced concrete, 120 mm
14 15 16 17 18
4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13
10 C20 reinforced concrete cushion,
11 Gravel, 300 mm 12 Compacted prime soil
13 C15 reinforced concrete base,
14 Sediment planting soil, 400 mm 15 Rough sand, 400 mm 16 Gravel, 300 mm 17 Clay compacted in layers, 600 mm 18 Compacted prime soil 7 The aqueduct on top of the cascade wall conducts the river water.
01. slate gray granite top, 250X500mm(50mm thick) 02. planter 03. non-clay brick, 120mm 04. 1:3 cement mortar 120-150 wide bonded slate gray schist 05. 1:3 cement mortar (including 5% water repellent), 20mm 06. waterproof mortar bonded rubble retaining wall, lay1:0.1 tilted 07. slate gray schist, 10mm 08. 1:3 cement mortar (including 5% water repellent), 20mm 09. C30S6 reinforced concrete, 120mm 10. C20 reinforced concrete cushion, 100mm 11. gravel, 300mm 12. prime soil compaction 13. C15 reinforced concrete basis, 150mm 14. sediment planting soil, 400mm 15. rough sand, 400mm 16. gravel, 300mm 17. clay compacted in layers, 600mm
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Plan of the terraces for water cleansing,
the first section of the remediation sequence.
Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) forest
Platform above the wetland with rusted steel pergola
01. dawn redwood forest 02. industrial relic 03. wooden pathway
14 15 16 17 18 19
9 10 11 12 13
1 2 3
25 5 6 7 8
01. back fill planting soil layer (minimum thickness 300mm) 02. clay compaction, 250mm (slope ratio≦1:2 )
Cross section of the pond holding 03. prime soil compaction 04. full with mound
08. prime soil compaction 09. sand, 150mm (zeolite stone 3-5/m2, each piece 80mm-120mm wide)
15. sand 16. gravel, 50mm
11. sand, 40mm
18. clay compaction, 250mm
11 Sand, 40 40mm mm 17. sand,
5 Reinforced 10. gravel, 50mm concrete top
12 Compacted 250 mm 19. prime soil clay, compaction
6 Rubble, 400250mm mm 12. clay compaction,
polluted river water. 05. reinforced concrete top
20 21 22
prime soil compaction 7 13. Graded gravel, 200 14. wetland plantation
20. rubble, 400mm 13 Compacted prime soil 21. graded gravel, 200mm
22. prime soil compaction 23. origami ribbon 19 pillar Compacted prime soil 24. reinforced concrete and plate 25. back fill planting soil layer (minimum thickness 300mm) 400 mm 26. clay compaction,20 Rubble, 250mm (slope ratio≦1:2 ) 27. prime soil compaction 21 Graded gravel, 200 mm 28. waterproof mortar bonded rubble retaining wall, 400mm
06. rubble, 400mm Backfill soil layer for 07. graded gravel, 200mm
(minimum thickness 300 mm)
Compacted prime soil
14 Wetland plantation
22 Compacted prime soil
Compacted clay, 250 mm
Sand, 150 mm (zeolite stone
23 Rusted steel pergola
(slope ratio ≤1:2 )
3–5 pieces/m2, each
16 Gravel, 50 mm
24 Reinforced concrete pillar and plate
Compacted prime soil
80–120 mm wide)
17 Sand, 40 mm
25 Waterproof mortar-bonded rubble
Mound of soil
10 Gravel, 50 mm
18 Compacted clay, 250 mm
2 3 4 5 6
9 10 11 4.150
12 13 14
15 16 17
retaining wall, 400 mm
18 19 20
10 01. seepage control 02. sand, 400mm 03. rough sand,of 400mm 10 Section drawing the constructed 04. gravel, 300mm wetland.05. clay compacted in layers, 600mm 06. existing prime soil
07. overflow port 08. mortar bonded rubble retaining wall, 400mm 09. bamboo paving, 45mm 6 Existing prime soil 10. antisepsis keel, 50mmX50mm 7 Overflow 11. reinforced concrete port beam 12. mortar bonded rubble retaining wall, 400mm
18. rubble, 400mm 13. clay compacted in layers, 600mm 19. C15 reinforced concrete,100mm 14. existing prime soil 20. prime soil compaction 15. sand, 400mm (zeolite stone 3-5 pieces 11 Reinforced concrete beam 16 Clay compacted in 21. rubble, 800mm /m2 , each 80-120mm wide) 12 Mortar-bonded rubble retaining wall, 17 Existing prime soil 16. clay compacted in layers, 600mm 22. rough sand, 100mm 17. existing prime soil 23. prime soil compaction
Mortar-bonded rubble retaining wall,
13 Clay compacted in layers, 600 mm
19 C15 reinforced concrete, 100 mm
3 Rough sand, 400 mm
Bamboo boardwalk, 45 mm;
14 Existing prime soil
20 Compacted prime soil
Gravel, 300 mm
10 Pressure-treated support beams
15 Sand, 400 mm (zeolite stone 3–5
Clay compacted in layers, 600 mm
pieces/m2, each 80–120 mm wide)
Sand, 400 mm
50 x 50 mm
layers, 600 mm
18 Rubble, 400 mm
11 Visitors can access the wetland freely. 12 The man-made terraced wetland under construction (view from the southwest corner toward the north). 13, 14 Construction photographs of banded wetland.
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15 The boardwalk is enlivened by a steel pergola. 16, 17 Chinese redwoods and the terraces that filter contaminated water, shown above the cascade wall. 18 To educate visitors about the filtering process of the wetland and for visual pleasure, wetland plants are placed in bands right at the entrance to the park. 19 Area around basin, intended to celebrate the cleansed water with a filigreed metal canopy, symbolizing the lotus flower, which grows from fetid mud uncontaminated and fragrant. 16
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20 The constructed wetland (view from the northeast toward the southwest end of the park). 1
21 Boardwalk above the terraced wetland. 22 Fountains with round stones aerate water and create
a playful setting for visitors.
23 Planting plan specifying water-filtering plants.
2 Thalia 3 River club-rush 4 Bulrush 5
7 Aquatic canna 8 Foxnut 9 Iris
10 Dasheen 11 Pickerel weed 12 Arrowhead 13 Manchurian wild rice 14 Roof iris/wall iris 15 Planting of％umbrella papyri in the reeds 16 Small reedmace
0 01. mount 02. thalia 03. river club-rush 04. bulrush 05. river club-rush 06. soft rush
07. river club-rush 08. papyrus rush 09. river club-rush 10. aquatic canna 11. river club-rush 12. foxnut
17 Common reed 18 Maiden grass
– 175 –
13. river club-rush 14. iris 15. river club-rush 16. dasheen 17. river club-rush 18. pickerel weed
19. river club-rush 20. arrow head 21. river club-rush 22. manchurian wild rice 23. river club-rush 24. roof iris/wall iris
25. river club-rush 26. planting 30％umbrella papyrus in the reed 27. small reed mace 28. common reed 29. maiden grass 30. mount
24 Schematic plan of the cleansed water basin area. 1 Thick clinoptilolite 2 Pergola 0 2.5 5
5 Tree basin 6 1 5
Steel retaining wall
9 Rubble retaining wall
10 Pumping station
25 Construction section of the cleansed water basin, platforms, and canopy. 1
Blue slate, 30 mm
1:3 cement mortar, 20 mm
3 Reinforced concrete beam 4
Dark gray volcanic rock, 30 mm
Bamboo boarding, 145 x 45 mm
Wooden support beams, 50 x 50 mm
7 Thick wood cushion 20 mm, at 500 mm centers 8 Reinforced concrete slab 9 Pergola
01. thick clinoptilolite 02. pergola 03. white gravel 04. blue slate 05. tree basin 06. bamboo paving 07. bench 08. steel retaining wall 09. rubble retaining wall 10. pumping station
10 Waterproof mortar, 3 mm 11 Cement mortar-bonded rubble
26 Construction section of the final filtering gravel band. 1
2 5 10 20m Sand, 400 mm (zeolite stone 3–5 pieces/m ,
each piece 80–120 mm wide)
Compacted clay layer, 600 mm
Compacted prime soil
Gabion wall, 400 mm
C20 fine stone concrete slab, 60 mm
Zeolite, 500 mm thick, 80–120 mm wide
Compacted clay layer, 850 mm
Compacted prime soil
Sand, 400 mm (zeolite stone 3–5 pieces/m2,
each piece 80–120 mm wide)
1 2 3 ±
5 6 7 8
10 Compacted clay layer, 600 mm
11 Compacted prime soil
4 10 11 Low water level 1.000 0.600 (clay surface)
Lowest water height from the bottom of the pond 2.000 (±0.000)
1 2 3
01. blue slate, 30mm 02. 1:3 cement mortar, 20mm 03. reinforced concrete beam 04. dark gray volcanic rock, 30mm 05. bamboo paving, 145X45mm, 3.500 06. thick wood keel@500, 50X50mm 07. thick wood cushion@500, 20mm 08. reinforced concrete slab 09. pergola 10. waterproof mortar, 3mm 11. cement mortar bonding rubbles
9 10 11
6 7 8 (±0.000)
01. sand, 400mm (zeolite stone 3-5 pieces /m2, each piece 80-120mm wide) 02. clay layer compaction, 600mm 03. prime soil compaction Houtan Park 04. gabion wall, 400mm 05. C20 fine stone concrete slab, 60mm 06. zeolite, 500mm thick, 80-120mm wide 07. clay layer compaction, 850mm 08. prime soil compaction
Average high tide 3.140
Average low tide 2.200
27 The rip-rap reinforced bank replaced the flood wall to
7 Rough sand, 200 mm thick (preexisting)
create a more resilient and accessible waterfront.
Gabion (infill with 30–50 mm gravel)
28 Construction section drawing of eco-friendly rip-rap design for the riverbank. 1
Central line of support base structure
Mud surface line
Base of rip-rap (preexisting)
4 Rip-rap (400–800 mm wide) 29
Stone laid dry, 400 mm thick (preexisting)
Gravel, 200 mm thick (preexisting)
– 177 –
10 Stone laid dry, 400 mm thick (preexisting) 11 Gravel, 200 mm thick (preexisting) VWDNLQJD[LV 12 Rough sand, 200 mm thick (preexisting) PXGVXUIDFHOLQH 13 Parts of the flood control structure demolished EDVHRIULSUDSH[LVWLQJ 14 Parts of the flood control structure preserved ULSUDSPPPPZLGH VWRQHODLGGU\WKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ 29 The preexisting flood control wall and degraded JUDYHOWKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ water edge. URXJKVDQGWKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ JDELRQLQILOOZLWKPPaPPJUDYHO SODQWLQJVRLO VWRQHODLGGU\WKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ JUDYHOWKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ URXJKVDQGWKLFNPPH[LVWLQJ
30 Crops are grown in the terraces every season to
33 Winter: buckwheat.
absorb nutrients from the Huangpu River, to make the landscape productive and educational. View in spring
34, 35 Biodiversity of flora and fauna. Various mainly
time with rapeseed flowers.
native plant species are planted, and spontaneous vegetation is welcomed. Seventeen new bird species inhabited
31 Summer: first crop of sunflowers and rice.
the park during its first year.
32 Fall: second crop of sunflowers and rice.
36 The Hanging Garden, a recreational center for the park, was designed to repurpose the existing industrial factory structure, with suspended planters above and tea houses below. 37 Diagram detailing the structural elements of the Hanging Garden, including the industrial buildings.
– 179 –
38 Schematic section of the viewing deck. 1 Pergola 2
C30 reinforced concrete, 100 mm
4 Railing 5
Fiberglass reinforced plastic seats
39, 40 The Floating Garden designed around the preexisting cargo pier, with new shade-casting structures, fences, seats, screen walls, and planters, creating an
overlook above the Huangpu River.
41 The preexisting cargo pier, ready for transformation into a viewing deck. 01. pergola 02. wooden paving 03. C30 reinforced concrete, 100mm 04. railing 05. glass fiber reinforced plastic seats 06. planting basin 07. protection bricks 08. wooden bench
42, 43 A steel panel installation in the middle of the
wetland made of metal recycled from the site and provid2
ing shade, a view frame, and spatial definition.
44 Schematic plan of the Rust Band—recycled steel inlaid into the wooden boardwalks for aesthetic pleasure. 1
Dawn redwood forest
2 Rust Band structure
3 Old industrial machinery 4
Fiberglass reinforced plastic seats
45 Schematic drawing of the contiguous Rust Band structure. 2
GDZQUHGZRRGIRUHVW LQGXVWULDOUHOLF LQGXVWULDOUHOLF JODVVILEHUUHLQIRUFHGSODVWLFVHDWV LQGXVWULDOUHOLF JODVVILEHUUHLQIRUFHGSODVWLFVHDWV
– 181 –
01. bench 02. steel paving 03. industrial relic 04. steel paving 05. bench
46 The terraced wetland in the middle of the central water channel creates a quiet valley, allowing people to access the water, enriching the views—seen here from southwest to northeast with the Huangpu River and tall buildings in the background. 47 On the slope of the outer flood control level, which is made of dirt, is a path that allows visitors to penetrate into the landscape and experience the native vegetation (maiden grass) that can grow in poor soil and requires little maintenance. 48 Construction photograph of the central wetland area.
49, 50 Planting beds edged with Chinese redwood create open spaces and green volumes at a human scale. 51 Visitors can engage directly with the wetland. 52–54 Human touch: Paths, boardwalks, and platforms (all made of bamboo, all accessible to wheelchairs, and all surrounded by abundant vegetation) allow people a sensual experience with plants and water.
– 183 –
Peter G. Rowe
China’s Water Resources and Houtan Park For some time, large Chinese cities like Beijing have been increasingly dependent on ground water supplies, which are now about 65 percent of the total supply. Dramatic drops in the water table have raised supply costs substantially and increased the risk of contamination.4 Shanghai, by comparison, has long since largely suspended ground water extraction, except for selective and controlled industrial uses, owing to adverse and costly side effects, such as land subsidence. In addition to the specter of aggregate water shortages, unbalanced geographic distribution makes shortages particularly severe in certain areas, like northern China. 5 At about 10 percent, urban residential and related water use is a relatively small proportion of the total consumption, with agriculture accounting for about 70 percent and industry amounting to the remaining 20 percent. Water loss through pipe leakage, a lack of recycling, and a lack of more frugal end uses remains high— between 50 or 60 percent more than that experienced in developed countries.6
A conspicuous aspect of China’s recent modernization, including its burgeoning industrialization and urbanization, is deferment of environmental remediation, resulting in indiscriminate resource use and pollution. For some time now, according to both official and unofficial estimates, the annual cost of remediation has stood at roughly 30 to 40 percent of annual increases in gross domestic product. Put another way, China’s development is now only weakly sustainable, with a 0.3 to 0.4 percent downturn in environmental quality for every 1 percent increase in economic growth.1 Air pollution remains egregiously high in many areas. The consumption of arable land for other purposes continues to undermine anything close to self-sufficiency in food production, and overall national energy use has become the highest on the planet. In addition, the vulnerability of the nation’s water resources remains disturbingly high, making sustainable water management one of China’s most pressing long-term environmental issues. This extends to the adequacy of available water supplies, in addition to the problem of water pollution from a variety of sources. Moreover, the risk of flooding remains high in many urban areas. The volume of water resources among China’s nine large watersheds is said to be about 2,150 cubic meters (568,000 gallons) per capita, although it is likely to shrink to the scarcity threshold—reckoned by experts at 1,700 cubic meters (449,000 gallons) per capita—by 2030.2 This volume is around one third the world average and compares with the United States’s stock of around 7,000 cubic meters (1.85 million gallons) per capita. 3
Residents make their way forward on a piece of slab in a street submerged by flood in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, after heavy rainstorms, 2010.
– 184 –
Chinese agriculture for centuries has been an ensemble of fields, canals, locks, and more. Rice paddies in Yunnan, 2006.
reaches of the walled capital of Dadu in the fourteenth century forced the Ming emperor to abandon the area, moving the city’s wall south by 2 kilometers (1.3 miles). Kaifeng, another walled redoubt beside the Yellow River, was subject to massive destructive flooding on more than one occasion. Garbage near fishing boats in draught-stricken Xiangjiang River area in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, 2009.
Approaches to Resource Conservation
Although water pollution impedes more sustainable development, some dramatic recent improvements can be seen. Since 1995, for instance, the number of sewage treatment plants has increased by more than 60 percent, and the proportion of water in watersheds classified as Grade I to Grade III—at or near drinking water standards—has doubled in the last eight years. Nevertheless, water classified as unsuitable for drinking is as high as 45 percent of the given water supply, and nearly 45 percent of sewage remains untreated in urban areas.7 In total, some 400 of China’s 650 or more cities, by official definition, experience inadequate water supply due to shortages, pollution, or both, with around one hundred cities experiencing severe inadequacies.8 Finally, flooding continues to be a threat in many cities, especially in the southern and central regions, aggravated by urbanization and the destruction of protective ground cover, which augments overland flows during storms. This was tragically in evidence during the devastating floods in Sichuan, Guangdong, and Jiangsu Provinces in the summer of 2010. Parenthetically, issues of water management date back centuries in China. For example, the pollution of water in the northern
Broadly speaking, there are at least two approaches to improved water conservation and better water management in contemporary China. Both can serve the multiple purposes of flood protection, water quality improvement, provision of recreational amenities, and wildlife conservation. The first approach might be called “structural solutions.” This involves engineering and infrastructure—diversion canals, large piped conveyances, surface treatment plants, lock and gate systems of water detention/retention, as well as “new water” technologies, including reverse osmosis and other membrane treatment techniques. Among large-scale structural approaches to water management, relatively successful examples include the Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Project extending through parts of Shanghai. Begun in 1999 with a sizable loan from the Asian Development Bank, the first phase was completed in 2003 and comprises an extensive addition of wastewater treatment facilities, interception of existing sewers, sediment dredging and re-aeration, garbage removal, and policing of municipal and industrial wastewater dumping. Lock and gate installations, pumping stations,
– 185 –
and embankment rehabilitation also safeguard against flooding. 9 A second phase, conducted between 2003 and 2005, largely under the aegis of the Shanghai Municipal Government, added landscaped public recreational spaces along the stream right of way and Meng Qing Yuan—one of the larger riverbank green parks in Shanghai—with its waste water treatment facilities, storm water detention basins, wetland contaminant removal areas, and well-organized recreational venues.10 Elsewhere in Shanghai, more than thirty sewage treatment plants have added significantly to waste water handling capacity, with some twenty-five more to follow shortly.11 Similar extensive programs of water conservation, environmental remediation, and recreational provision are also to be found in the Funan River and Sha River urban watersheds of Chengdu, dating from the mid-1990s.12 Recent developments in membrane treatment technologies were applied in the Minhang District of Shanghai with encouraging results, as well as more prominently at the Olympic Green in Beijing by Sasaki Associates and Jie Hu, in which treated waste water from two nearby industrial plants was used for irrigation.13 Worldwide, two of the most successful municipal approaches are the divided sewage and storm water reticulation systems with tertiary levels of sewage treatment in Boston and New York. Boston’s system was significantly enlarged and improved during its harbor cleanup, beginning in the 1980s.14 The second approach involves largely “non-structural,” environmentally responsive ecological approaches that rely on and mimic natural processes, especially in water flow and treatment. These include use of manmade wetlands, naturalistic aeration devices, non-hard surface embankment techniques, storm water retention/detention swales and ponds, and the like. As mentioned, non-structural approaches can now be found at Meng Qing Yuan and in the upper reaches of the Sha River’s rehabilitation with constructed wetlands, as well as at the Living Water Garden (begun in 1992 by Margie Ruddick and Betsy Damon alongside the Funan River), illustrating an important combination of basic approaches.15 Extensive agricultural and wetland areas among China’s riverine environments are also the sites
of innovative projects. One example is the man-made wetland water purification engineering of Jinqiu Lake at Huantai County by Ling Wangfeng, which produces an impressive 30,000 cubic meters (8 million gallons) of treated water per day.16 Water harvesting applications with recycling are also finding their way into large urban block residential and mixed-use developments, like Vanke’s Headquarters and its Chengshi Huayuan residential development toward the western outskirts of Shanghai.17 Given the prevalence of these large or “super” block configurations, with relatively extensive open space areas, there appears to be ample potential for further applications elsewhere in urban China. Also in the non-structural column of water management techniques are water-saving end uses, like Shanghai’s adoption in 2003 of a plan to change all 600,000 or so residential toilets from 13 to 9 liter flushes (3.4 to 2.4 gallons), saving around 2.1 million US dollars in water treatment costs. Also in Shanghai, shifts in economic activity beginning in 2001 from industry to services have accounted for a savings of 300 million cubic meters (79 billion gallons) in water consumption.18
Central swale, Houtan Park, Shanghai, 2010, with strikingly colored plant groups and a water aeration device.
Seating area in red fiberglass along the stepped central swale of Houtan Park, Shanghai, 2010.
China’s Water Resources and Houtan Park
Houtan Park on the Huangpu Houtan Park is one of Turenscape’s and Kongjian Yu’s most notable projects, and like much of the firm’s water management work it emphasizes non-structural, overtly ecological approaches to surface water treatment, flood control, and plant and wildlife conservation.19 Although certainly not without precedents in the Chinese context, as the earlier discussion shows, Houtan Park is a timely, useful, and poetic example of how particular sites and components of China’s larger water management problems can be handled. The park, constructed as part of Shanghai’s World Expo 2010 installation along the eastern edge of the Huangpu River, is long and narrow, extending for 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) upstream from near the Lupu Bridge, with a width that varies from 30 to 80 meters (33 to 87 yards). 20 The commission came about in 2007 through a direct approach from the Expo Bureau, which was charged with organizing the exposition and overseeing the construction of its facilities. This was essentially after the master plan had been completed by Wu Zhiqiang and his colleagues from the Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning and Design Research Institute, with only nominal consideration of the Expo’s eventual landscape architecture. Yu was teaching landscape architecture at Peking University and entered a research project in an Expo Bureau competition. His Turenscape design firm won. In scope, the research extended consideration well beyond the Houtan Park location into a landscape plan for the entire Expo site, much of which was rejected by the Expo Bureau. Instead, apparently in a risk-averse mood, the Bureau opted for a relatively out-of-the-way area for Houtan Park—a brownfield site formerly housing a shipyard and steelworks. 21 The project, including a dock for the ferries plying between the two Expo sites on either side of the river, took two years to complete.
Plants selected for their pleasing colors and textures, Houtan Park, Shanghai, 2010.
Like the ancient water management problems mentioned earlier, both structural and non-structural approaches have ample precedents in Chinese tradition. Certainly the Grand Canal, running 1,776 kilometers (1,103 miles) between Hangzhou and Beijing primarily for transportation purposes, ranks historically as a major engineering achievement. In the realm of water supply, unfortunately, far less might be said of the large diversion channels being constructed north from the Chang Jiang to serve Beijing’s contemporary needs, which so far have appeared to rob those along the way of needed water supplies. Technically as ingenious if not as famous as the Grand Canal are ancient large-scale stream diversion, dam, and irrigation works serving what now is the fertile agricultural plain centered on Chengdu in western China. Built in 256 B.C. largely under the direction of Li Bing, this extensive system not only provided water for farming and urbanization, it also offered storm water management and flood protection. On the non-structural side, the perimeter edges and productive fish nurseries of the exquisite West and East Lakes in Hangzhou and Wuhan, respectively, were maintained through actively developed wetlands, as were the shoreline margins of the now highly polluted Lake Dian in Kunming. More intensively developed, although clearly in emulation of natural processes, the Ming Dynasty’s artificial islands and wetlands in the lake environment adjacent to Wenzhou in southern coastal China still play host to the unique Ou orange orchards and fish farms. More broadly, agriculture, especially in China’s riverine and delta areas, has for centuries been an extensive ensemble of fields, canals, weirs, gravity-flow and water-pumping devices, and filtration areas, all seamlessly combining structural and non-structural approaches to water management.
Exploiting the best potential of the narrow site, a naturalistic channel about 30 meters (33 yards) in width was created down its center, parallel with the Huangpu, lined in sequence with a constructed wetland, settling ponds, and aeration devices. The existing concrete flood wall, which could contain up to a one-thousand-year flood, was replaced by an undulating soft edge. The new design
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extends across the site from habitat-friendly rip-rap siding along the river’s edge via a well-planted earthen embankment—one capable of retaining a twenty-fiveyear storm event—further inland to the eventual interior boundary of the site, raised still higher in elevation as the flood limit. 22 Overall, there was no diminution of flood protection from a one-thousand-year event, which, although it may seem high by US riverine protection standards, is assisted by the high degree of control of water flow and water levels in the Huangpu River. Water treatment begins with a large concrete holding tank containing water pumped from the Huangpu, then proceeds through a series of cascades and terraces, dropping into the base of the constructed wetland. The rocky cascades and selectively planted terraces effectively oxygenate the water, remove contaminants, and begin to reduce suspended sediments. Within this environment, different species of plants are artfully organized, with each selected for its absorption of particular pollutants. Water then flows parallel to the Huangpu River inside the central channel of the park, crisscrossed at points by paths and wooden decks, the width of which can be altered to accommodate the varying amounts of foot traffic experienced during and after the Expo event. Agricultural crop planting appears prominently in the lower reaches of the central water channel, along with marsh grasses. The entire landscape ensemble culminates in a pond of purified water surrounded by celebratory perforated metal canopies. Some 2,400 cubic meters (634,000 gallons) of water are treated per day, and water quality is enhanced from a highly polluted Grade V to Grade III, which allowed its further use within the Expo site as a source of non-potable water. 23 The dense and varied plantings throughout the project also provide an improved habitat for birds and other wildlife, as well as for aquatic life. From a recreational perspective, the park offers ample opportunities for observing “nature” at work in various stages of water treatment and habitat creation. The presence of agriculture recalls the historical past of the site in Pudong and, more generally, a prevalent condition of today’s China, which remains a predominantly nonurban country. Retention and retrofitting of the skeleton
of a former factory with hanging gardens and the use of steel sculptural installations along riverfront seating areas and within pedestrian decks connects to recently dismantled industry in a more benign, environmentally friendly way. Seating along terraced areas of the park also provides respite for visitors, while the lengthy bright red fiberglass bench adds a continuous tracery visible from several vantage points. Spatially, the central channel and the sense of enclosure it creates within the park perceptually expand its width by effectively blurring, along with dense planting, the location of the park’s boundaries. Indeed, phenomenally speaking, at the entrance of the project from the landward side, another world palpably opens up. The ferry landing is clearly the most heavily used zone in the park and seems likely to remain so. There, several small pavilions with novel water- and rock-filled glass walls that serve as thermal stabilizers for the concession structures for visitors. What might be called “ecological precision” is functioning at a high level in this project, alongside a poetic imagining of how that precision might be expressively rendered. This comes through in the choice of materials, the quality of construction, and the selection of plants, all of which were incorporated for their physical properties and color palettes, textures, and other eyepleasing and sometimes visually arresting characteristics. Plant species and agricultural crops are indigenous, as are the planting and cropping techniques involved. This approach to landscape architecture is fundamental to Yu’s vision, eschewing what for him would otherwise be artificial and therefore superfluous to the parsimonious ecological aim of the project. Clearly, his botanical background gained from forestry school comes into play, as does his early life in rural Zhejiang Province, although his rural experiences are hardly surprising given a population at the time that was less than 20 percent urban. A somewhat wild and unkempt look to the park emerges from the ecological processes allowed to remain in play, but it is also a preferred aesthetic outcome. Certainly for Yu, there is an overt rejection in this project, in his other work and in his writing, of the “City Beautiful Movement” in China and what he calls “monumentalism,” or “ornamental landscapes.” 24 Instead, messier naturalistic circum-
China’s Water Resources and Houtan Park
Ningbo Historic Museum by Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio, Ningbo, China.
stances are favored, with commonplace references to agriculture and uses of it and the presence of maintenance-free environments. Yu’s approach to landscape has a vernacular appeal by virtue of its immediacy, lack of preciousness, and suitability to specific and local environmental circumstances. Also, given remnants of industrial relics in Houtan Park, let alone in Zhongshan Shipyard Park, references might also be made to work like that of Latz + Partner at Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Germany.
in some of his writings, the conflation of movements like “City Beautiful” in the United States with early communist and even fascist styles of urban-architectural expressions is rather confused and simplistic at best. 25 So, too, perhaps, are allusions to “bound” and “unbound,” as well as to “little” and “big” feet, “big foot” used in the sense of an alternative world of wilderness and an almost Thoreauesque contemplation of nature and the declared underlying concept for Houtan Park. 26 On the conservative side, by contrast, there is a clear understanding of the necessity to use resources frugally and wisely. There is also recognition that China is still a poor country and one in which an aesthetic concerned with and emerging from an appreciation of locally available materials, traditional craftsmanship, and manners of building, as well as from non-superfluous programs, is as fitting to the nation’s time and place as, say, sleek hypermodernism. In this last regard, Yu can be placed alongside many of the generation of emerging architects, like Liu Jiakun, Wang Shu, and Wu Yue, who exhibit a similar sensibility in their work.
There seem to lurk both radical and conservative leanings, if not predilections, under Yu’s approach. For one thing, there appears to be a dislike for expressions of power, especially those that might be called wasteful of resources or turning back in the direction of monumentalism and ornamentation. The state also seems to occupy a potentially ambiguous position in Yu’s lexicon, which clearly emanates directly from notions of “man and nature” while recoiling from what he sees as overbuilding and overspending on projects. Unfortunately,
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Beyond Houtan Park Certainly in the context of Shanghai Expo’s disappointing on-site demonstration of the environmental ramifications of “Better City, Better Life,” Houtan Park stands out as a welcome exception. More generally, however, it is not without limitations. As a recipe for lining the banks of the Huangpu River, for instance, it would make a poor choice, effectively denying the sort of delightful visual engagement and appropriately urban promenade provided, for instance, by the environmentally friendly Hudson River Park in analogous circumstances in New York. The spatial occlusion described earlier, while providing a coherent internally oriented environment at Houtan, does not lend itself to outward orientation, shoreline seating areas and docks notwithstanding, resulting in a thick, heavily planted edge. In addition, the park’s water treatment performance measures only 2,400 cubic meters (634,000 gallons) per day, minuscule in comparison with the Huangpu’s volume of flow; even if the approach was more broadly applied, it is probably unlikely to serve the overland flow toward the banks of the Huangpu during larger storm events. Further, it was not universally appealing as a recreational venue and, during the Expo, was often quite sparsely populated. Some visitors could be seen venturing in partway before returning outside. Experientially, there is something protective, almost otherworldly about the setting. This can be intriguing and exciting. However, such an effect can also be limiting, especially when associated with riverfront public spaces.
environmental circumstances and issues. Indeed, there are at least two broad kinds of approaches that are potentially viable, as outlined earlier, and with many innovative combinations in between. Also, aesthetically, the dangers associated with closely ascribing both meanings and functions to particular forms or formal ensembles is well-known, at least in architecture. There are certainly times when it is prudent and responsible to eschew material excesses, look to future obligations, and carefully assess the costs of all courses of action. Nevertheless, there are also moments, events, and even periods of time when more buoyant and carefree celebrations, commemorations, and spectacles appropriately are etched into built environments, along with a certain grandeur and monument-making.
Given both the strengths and the limitations of the project, and returning to the broader topic of China’s water resource management, it is clear that both innovative structural and non-structural approaches will be needed to reach anything like sustainable future circumstances. This means that Houtan Park and similar projects will have a place in China, but one alongside larger infrastructural and even conventional systems and components. Ecological approaches closely emulating presumed natural processes, even in principle, are not necessarily the only or the least costly or most effective ways forward. This is particularly the case in response to non-natural, highly artificially infused
China’s Water Resources and Houtan Park
1 This compares with the United States at -0.13 percent and the Netherlands at 0.04 percent. See also Peter D. Rogers, Kazi F. Jalal, Bindu N. Lohani, et al., Measuring Environmental Quality in Asia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 76–82; and The Cost of Pollution in China: Estimates of Economic and Physical Damage (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, February 2007), p. 16, available at http:// siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEAPREGTOPENVIRONMENT/Resources/ China_Cost_of_Pollution.pdf. 2 China Environmental Statistical Yearbook 2006 (Beijing: Ministry of Environmental Protection, 2006), p. 25. 3 Water Resources and Freshwater Ecosystems—United States (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2003), available at http://earthtrends. wri.org/pdf_library/country_profiles/ wat_cou_840.pdf. 4 Christoph Peisert and Eva Sternfeld, “Quenching Beijing’s Thirst: The Need for Integrated Management for the Endangered Miyun River,” China Environment Series 7 (2005), p.34, available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/ topics/pubs/feature32.pdf. 5 Baoxing Qiu, “Recent Water Issues in China,” China City Planning Review 19:3 (2010), p. 22. 6 Jian Xie et al., Addressing China’s Water Scarcity: Recommendations for Selected Water Resource Management Issues (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2009), p. 25. 7 Qiu, “Recent Water Issues in China,” p. 23. 8 Elspeth Thomson, China’s Water Shortages: A Potential Crisis (Singapore: East Asia Institute, Brief No. 140, January 2002), p. 1; and Jianguo Lin and Jared Diamond, “China’s Environment in a Globalizing World,” Nature 435:30 (June 2005), p. 1182. 9 Suzhou Creek Rehabilitation Project (Loan 1692-PRC) in the People’s Republic of China (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2005), available at http:// www.adb.org/Documents/PCRs/PRC/ pcr-prc-32121.pdf. 10 Yujia Song, “Report on Shanghai Water Projects,” Shanghai Flash 4 (July 2003), pp. 3–6, available at http://www.sinoptic.ch/shanghaiflash/2003/200304.htm; and “Transforming an Urban Waterway, Shanghai, China” (Zurich: Green Cross Switzerland, 2009), available at http:// www.greencross.ch/en/news-info-en/ environmental-reports/ten-best-pollution-solutions/2009/transforming-anurban-waterway.html.
12 “River Heroes: Lessons from Thiess River Prize Winners and Finalists, 1999–2006,” in International River Foundation Report (September 2007), pp. 7–10. 13 Qiu, “Recent Water Issues in China,” p. 25. 14 Anthony N. Penna and Conrad Edick Wright, Remaking Boston (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), pp. 56–74. 15 Todd W. Bressi, “Living Water Park,” Places (Winter 2001), pp. 1–2. 16 Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning and Design Institute, Selected Works of the Urban Planning and Design Institute, Tsinghua University 1 (2006), pp. 170–178. 17 Personal observation, March 2008. 18 Song, “Report on Shanghai Water Projects,” p. 5. 19 “The Turenscape Concept: Nature, Man and Spirits as One,” http://www. turenscape.com/english/concept.php. 20 Kongjian Yu/Turenscape, 2010 Shanghai Expo—The Houtan Park (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2010), p. 9–13. 21 Conversation with Kongjian Yu at the Houtan Park, Shanghai, September 18, 2010. 22 Kongjian Yu/Turenscape, 2010 Shanghai Expo—The Houtan Park, pp. 80–84. 23 “Shanghai Houtan Park,” http:// www.turenscape.com/English/projects/ project.php?id=443. 24 Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, The Road to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2003). Published only in Chinese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们 交流 . 25 Ibid. 26 Kongjian Yu, “The Big Foot Revolution,” in Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty, eds. Ecological Urbanism (Cambridge: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2010), pp. 282–291.
11 Song, “Report on Shanghai Water Projects,” p. 1.
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Reinvent the Good Earth: National Ecological Security Pattern Plan China, 2008
This planning research project, the National Ecological Security Pattern Plan, was commissioned by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and was carried out by the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture (now the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) at Peking University in association with Turenscape. It identifies critical strategic landscape structures for safeguarding natural, biological, cultural, and recreational processes, thus securing the wide range of ecosystem functions essential for sustaining human society. In China during the pre-scientific period, critical landscape patterns such as “dragon hills” (sacred hills) or “feng shui forests” were protected. In the last three decades, as population, economic development, and urbanization have significantly increased, people have altered the landscape to an unprecedented extent. This, along with global climate change, has profoundly disrupted the structure and function of ecosystems, resulting in increased ecological and environmental problems such as the melting of glaciers and permafrost, wetland degradation, soil erosion, desertification, flood intensification, loss of biodiversity, and degradation of water conservation capacity. Establishing the capacity for sustainable development is the challenge of China. Its population grew from 542 million in 1949 to 1.3 billion in 2008. The total population will reach 1.4 billion by 2050, and 70 percent will live in urban areas.1 The ecological environment will continue to face tremendous pressure. Regional land-use and urban planning (an extension of social and economic development planning in China) has seldom recognized the interrelationship of the natural environment to regional development. Instead
population projections drive urban land use, resource allocation, functional zoning, and built infrastructure plans. Heritage protection planning, green space system planning, and even flood control planning have been subordinate to a development master plan. Now ecological security has become a key area of scientific research for a strategy of sustainable development. Chinese researchers have done a great deal of work in this field and have succeeded especially in the theory and methods of ecological security evaluation. Yet research in the optimization and control of regional landscape patterns is still in an exploratory stage. The theory and practice of establishing landscape security patterns and regional ecological security patterns carried out in recent years has created a communication framework uniting the abstract concept of ecosystem services with implementable spatial planning. Based on natural zoning and agricultural zoning research, the Chinese scientific community has developed spatial zoning research in recent years, including that for ecological zoning,2 and national major function zoning,3 and these are playing a positive role in promoting nature conservation regulations. Ecological protection is the central part of the newly constituted “Urban and Rural Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China”4 and the newly promoted “Notice of the State Council on Issuing the Outline of the National Overall Planning on Land Use, 2006–2020.” But under the present administrative system in which each ecological factor is managed by an individual department, how to build a comprehensive framework, and develop tools to serve as guidelines for major function-oriented zoning, land use planning and
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urban planning, has become an urgent problem for scientific research and practice. Worldwide, research in the protection of critical natural landscape started at least a century ago. American landscape planner W. H. Manning published a National Plan in 1923, the aim of which was to establish strategies for the protection and use of natural resources. He introduced land classification on the basis of natural resources and natural systems. 5 Ecological network planning and construction, which started in the United States in 1950 and was represented by the Greenway Movement, gradually became a rallying point for protecting natural resources.6 The American Greenway system promised to provide 220,000 kilometers (137,000 miles) of greenways and 5 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) of protected green space.7 Conceptions of greenway, ecological network, habitat network, and flood buffer zone also appeared in Europe. In Asia, recently Singapore and other countries have begun research on greenway planning.8 And in China, the planting of protective forests can be seen as the first step in the establishment of a greenway network in national planning.9 Since the 1990s, the concept of green ecological infrastructure 10 has gradually increased worldwide and has been developed into a widely recognized planning tool for natural conservation and regional and city development. In the United States, green infrastructure planning has been carried out gradually in Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.11 In China, exploratory research on ecological infrastructure planning is also in process at
Taizhou in Zhejiang Province12 and at Weihai 13 and Heze 14 in Shandong Province. The case studies on these areas have provided guidelines for developing ecological security pattern planning at various scales. The aim of Peking University and Turenscape’s research here is to establish a national ecological security pattern plan based on addressing the main ecological problems in China through headwater conservation, storm water management and flood control, remediation of desertification, soil erosion prevention, and biodiversity conservation. Using each individual ecological process analysis and evaluation, Yu’s team integrated all the individual ecological security patterns into an overall national ecological security pattern that could help establish a healthy and secure life-supporting system.
1 United Nations, State of World
10 Mark A. Benedict and Edward
15 See http://factsanddetails.com/
Population 2008, http://www.unfpa.
T. McMahon, Green Infrastructure:
Smart Conservation for the 21st
Century (Washington, D.C.: Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse, 2002), avail-
16 See http://factsanddetails.com/
2 B. Fu, G. Liu, L. Chen, K. Ma, and
able at http://www.sprawlwatch.org/
J. Li, “Scheme of Ecological Region-
alization in China,” Acta Ecologica
Yu, Dihua Li, and Liu Hailong,
Sinica, 21:1 (2001), 1–6.
The Negative Approach (Beijing:
17 See http://monkey.ioz.ac.cn/
China Building Industry Press, 2005),
division/endan1e.html; The State
3 J., Fan “The Scientific Foundation
pp. 11–26. Published only in Chinese
Council, People’s Republic of China,
of Major Function Oriented Zoning
as 反规划 .
List of Wild Plants Under State Protection, 1999, pp. 4–11. Published
in China,” Acta Geographica Sinica 62:4 (2007), pp. 339–350. Published
11 Mark A. Benedict and Edward
only in Chinese as 國家重點保護
only in Chinese as 我国主体功能区划
T. McMahon, Green Infrastructure:
野生植物名錄 and IUCN Species
的科学基础 with English abstract.
Linking Landscapes and Communi-
Survival Commission, IUCN Red List
ties (Washington, D.C.: Island Press,
Categories and Criteria Version 3.1
2006), pp. 10–12.
(Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge,
and Rural Planning Law of the
12 Kongjian Yu, Dihua Li,
People’s Republic of China,” 2008.
Li Hailong, and Han Xili, “Growth
Published only in Chinese as 中华人
Pattern of Taizhou City Based on
4 The Standing Committee of the
UK: IUCN Publications Services Unit,
National People’s Congress, “Urban
Ecological Infrastructure: A Negative
Approach to Physical Urban Plan5 Warren H. Manning, “A National
ning,” City Planning Review 9 (2005),
Plan Study Brief,” Landscape Archi-
pp. 76–80. Published only in Chinese
tecture Quarterly 8:4 (July 1923).
as 基于生态基础设施的城市空间发 展格局 —“ 反规划 ” 之台州案例 with
6 J. Ahern, “Greenways as a Plan-
ning Strategy,” Landscape and Urban Planning 33 (1999), pp. 131–155.
13 Kongjian Yu, Xi Xuesong, and
7 J. G. Fábos, “Greenway Planning
Based on Ecological Infrastructure:
Wang Sisi, “Townscape Planning in the United States: Its Origins and
The Case Study of Weihai,” City Plan-
Recent Case Studies,” Landscape
ning Review 32:3 (2008), pp. 87–92.
and Urban Planning 68 (2004),
Published only in Chinese as 基于生
pp. 321–342, here p. 339.
态基础设施的城市风貌规划 — 以山东 省威海市为例 with English abstract.
8 Kiat W. Tan, “A Greenway Network for Singapore,” Landscape and Urban
14 Kongjian Yu and Zhang Lei,
Planning 76 (2006), pp. 45–66.
“Ecological Infrastructure as Unbuildable Zone and Urban Green Space
9 Kongjian Yu, Dihua Li, and Li
System: The Heze City Case,” City
Nuyu, “The Evolution of Greenways
Planning Review 31:12 (2007),
in China,” Landscape and Urban
pp. 89–92. Published only in Chinese
Planning 76 (2006), pp. 223–239.
as 基于生态基础设施的禁建区及绿地 系统 — 以山东菏泽为例 with English abstract.
– 193 –
Topography of China
River Elevation (m) 5,000 km2
The “scrambled egg” pattern: urban expansion simulation based on a conventional urban sprawl model
The increase of built-up area
2. Problems caused by uncontrolled urban sprawl in Beijing 2,500,000
Number of civilian motor vehicles
1 A water crisis: More than 281 million cubic meters (74 billion gallons) of storm water are unutilized and drained each year. River channelizing and damming have dramatically
degraded the ecosystem services of water systems. The city is more likely to have water logging even during regular rainfall events. The underground water table drops 1 meter
(3 feet) each year. 1,000,000
2 Increased vulnerability to geological disasters 3 Loss of habitats and biodiversity
4 Loss of integrity and authenticity of cultural landscape: Beijing was inhabited by 02
5 Decrease of landscape accessibility for recreational use: The ever expanding road infra-
500 years ago. The city is rich in cultural heritage.
Homo sapiens half a million years ago, and became the nation’s capital more than
structure has dramatically increased the accessibility of the regional landscapes for cars Increase of motorization
but but has reduced it for pedestrians. 6 Dramatic loss of Beijing’s fertile land: China has about 20 percent of the world’s population, but only about 10 percent of its arable land. The conflict between the land use for
urban development versus agriculture is at a peak in Beijing.
Cropland area in km2
2,000 1978 1979 1980 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
-18 -22 m
The underground water table drops 1 meter each year.
Disappearance of farmland
– 215 –
3. Urban growth planning based on ecological infrastructure (EI)
Geological disaster SPs
Cultural heritage SPs
EI at a high security level
EI at a low security level
Used to guide and frame urban growth
Varying amounts of ecological infrastructure (EI) 4. Landscape security patterns for water management: retain storm water and pre vent floods The SPs for water management include: existing surface water features and buffer zones around them, areas most suitable for retaining storm water and recharging the aquifer. Both historical flood data and the simulated flood risk ratings are used to calculate the floodable area. Three level of security are classified.
Area at low
Area at medium
Area at high
River and water
Growth Planning for Beijing
5. Landscape security patterns to avoid geological disasters The SPs to avoid geological disasters focus on the areas and phenomena of these disasters such as debris flow, landslide, collapse, mining subsidence, land subsidence, ground fissure and soil erosion, along with the buffer zones around them. Three security levels—low, medium, and high—are classified.
Area at low
Area at medium
Area at high
River and water
6. Landscape security patterns for one of the focal species (great egret) Following the focal species approach in biodiversity conservation, three focal species are selected to represent the biodiversity in Beijing area, they are great egret (Egretta alba), mallard (Anas platyrhynhos), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). Existing and potential habitats (based on suitability analysis) for focal species were identified using land cover data. In addition, spatial relationships between habitats were simulated using GIS model and landscape ecological analysis. SPs for each of the focal species are defined by integrating both suitability analysis and spatial analysis.
Area at low
Area at medium
Area at high
– 217 –
7. Landscape security patterns for biodiversity conservation based on three focal species The overall SPs for biodiversity conservation is developed by combining SPs for each of the focal species. The combined SPs are composed of habitat patches, corridors, and key points that are strategic for keeping the integrity of the biological network.
Area at low
Area at medium
Area at high
River and water
8. Landscape security patterns for cultural heritage preservation Both designated heritage sites and vernacular landscapes that give identity to Beijing are identified as the areas for protection. Historical paths are identified based on written and graphic data. In addition, potential linkages among heritage sites are planned based on spatial analysis. A network of Heritage Corridors is defined for preservation, education, and recreation purposes.
Important cultural heritage Area at low security level Area at medium security level Area at high security level
Primary heritage corridor
Secondary heritage corridor
River and water
Growth Planning for Beijing
9. Landscape security patterns for recreation Urban parks, national and regional parks, cultural heritage sites, vernacular landscapes, and potential natural and cultural sites are identified as the source of recreation processes. The categories of SPs for recreation are classified according to the recreational value of these sites, their accessibility, and potential linkages. A regional network for recreation is planned based on the identified SPs.
Area at low security level Area at medium security level Area at high security level
Primary heritage corridor
Secondary heritage corridor
River and water
10. Regional ecological infrastructure Landscape security patterns (SPs) that safeguard the individual processes are integrated into the overall comprehensive ecological infrastructure (EI). Using overlaying technique to integrate the SPs for individual processes, alternatives of regional EI are developed at various quality levels: low (minimum), medium (satisfactory) and high (ideal). They will be used to guide and frame regional urban growth.
Area at low (minimum)
Area at medium (satis
factory) security level
Area at high (ideal)
Level of EI Minimum (low) Satisfactory (medium) Ideal (high)
Area of EI (km2) 7,729 11,508 13,902
Percentage of EI in total area 47.32% 70.45% 85.11%
Area of EI per capita (m2)
River and water
386 575 695
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11. Urban growth scenario based on minimum ecological infrastructure
The diagram: ecological infrastructure within the city
The mountain area to the north and west forms a green matrix. A barely connected, small network of green corridors penetrates into the urban fabric. At a low security level, the minimum ecological infrastructure will allow the city an urban surface growth in an area
EI at the minimum
of 8,605 square kilometers (3,322 square miles), instead
of the land use limit of 3,800 square kilometers (1,467
Existing built-up area
square miles) approved by the central government for
security level Buildable area 3,800
km2 (approved urban
20 million people by the year 2020.
land use limit by 2020)
The integrity of the critical ecological processes will be
protected at the minimum level; this can provide essential
ecosystem services for a maximum population of 40 mil-
lion. Within a green framework, clusters and the current
River and water bodies
downtown area grow to merge into one metropolitan area. 0
The suburban satellite new towns will also grow rapidly.
12. Urban growth scenario based on satisfactory ecological infrastructure
City with an ecological infrastructure The mountain area to the north and west form a green matrix. A network of green corridors and large patches penetrates the urban fabric to make a well-connected green infrastructure that links urban sectors. In addition, finer green linkages and patches are built into the urban areas. EI at low security At a medium security level, the satisfactory ecological
EI at minimum security
infrastructure will allow the city to grow in a total area
Existing built-up area
of 4,826 square kilometers (1,863 square miles), more
than the land use limit of 3,800 square kilometers (1,467
Buildable area 3,800 km2
(approved urban land
square miles) for 20 million people by 2020, as approved
by the central government.
Additional buildable area
The integrity and continuity of the critical ecological pro-
use limit by 2020) River and water bodies
cesses will be protected at the satisfactory level, providing good enough and sustainable ecosystem services for a
maximum population of 23 million. The green network forms an infrastructure that links central cities and surrounding clusters. The suburban new towns will be encouraged to grow rapidly. Growth Planning for Beijing
13. Urban growth scenario based on ideal ecological infrastructure
Green city Green matrix dominates the metropolitan area, and urban parts become scattered patches around the central city, connected through a network of engineering infrastructure.
EI at low security
At a high security level, the ideal ecological infrastructure
EI at high security
EI at minimum security Existing built-up area
allows the city to grow in a total area of 2,431 square kilo-
metres (938 square miles), not enough to accommodate
Buildable area 3,800 km2
(approved urban land use
the 20 million people projected for 2020. The existing
built-up area of Beijing is 3,100 square kilometers (1,197
limit by 2020)
Additional buildable area
square miles). This would require a dramatic reduction of
the population to 12 million.
River and water bodies
The integrity of the critical ecological processes will be 0
protected at the ideal level, providing very good ecosystem
services. The regional environment will be regenerated dramatically.
Selecting a smarter solution and a better alternative Scenario 1: “scrambled egg” pattern: Urban growth without ecological infrastructure
Scenario 2: some green infrastructure within the city: Urban growth based on minimum ecological infrastructure
Scenario 3: city with a green infrastructure: Urban growth based on satisfactory ecological infrastructure
Scenario 4: green city: Growth based on ideal ecological infrastructure.
7,729 km2, 47 % of the total area, including 24 % of the most fertile soil, is protected for organic agriculture.
11,508 km2, 70 % of the total area, including 45 % of the most fertile soil, is protected for organic agriculture.
13,902 km 2, 85 % of the total area, including 100 % of the most fertile soil, is protected for organic agriculture.
Available space for construction
3,800 km 2 or more
Maximum potential population
20 million or more
Urban growth pattern
The city wilI grow according to the established pattern spreading along the main roads, restraining the development of satellite towns.
Green infrastructure in the city: City grows within a green framework, clusters and downtown area will merge as a whole along the gray infrastructure, development in satellite towns will be promoted.
The green infrastructure links the central city with surrounding clusters. The satellite towns will grow rapidly.
The urban area will be fragmented by green infrastructure. City will be in a scattered pattern within abundant green landscape.
The integrity of the critical ecological processes is not protected at the minimum level; no sustainable ecosystem services are provided. The regional environment will keep declining.
The integrity of the critical ecological processes will be protected at the minimum level, providing the essential ecosystem services. The regional environment will be stable for the time being.
The integrity of the critical ecological processes will be protected at the satisfactory level, providing good enough and sustainable ecosystem services. The regional environment will be regenerated gradually.
The integrity of the critical ecological processes will be protected at the ideal level, providing very good ecosystem services. The regional environment will be regenerated dramatically.
Cultural and social impact
Only officially designated heritage sites are protected in isolation. Recreational resources are fragmented and have low accessibility.
Both officially designated and important vernacular landscapes are protected but scarcely connected. Recreational resources are connected and have good accessibility. Arable land is protected at the minimum level and the competing demands of different land uses are barely fulfilled.
Both officially designated and important vernacular landscapes are protected and integrated into a connected network of heritage corridors. Recreational resources are connected and have good accessibility. Arable land is protected at a moderate level and the competing demands of different land uses can be mostly fulfilled.
Cultural heritage sites of all kinds are well-protected and integrated into a connected network of heritage corridors. Recreational resources are very wellconnected and most accessible. Arable land is protected at the maximum level but the demand for construction land will not be fulfilled unless the population drops dramatically.
Most efficient in short term but totally unsustainable
Most efficient in urban land and infrastructure use, providing most land for development
Highly efficient in urban land and infrastructure use, providing sufficient land for development
Less efficient use of land and infrastructure due to the scattered development pattern, providing insufficient land for development
A better and smarter sdution
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Begin with Ecological Infrastructure: Wulijie Eco-City
Wulijie, Jianxia District of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 2010
In the past decade, hundreds of new towns have been built in China. Many have been called eco-cities, but in truth most are poorly planned and designed, with little considera tion of their environmental and ecological impacts. The work of Turenscape is oriented towards an alternative urbanism, ecologi cally sound and culturally sensitive. The heart of this approach to urbanism is the planning and design of an ecological infrastructure that provides key services for the city, includ ing storm water management, food produc tion, habitats for biodiversity, cultural and spiritual experiences, and mobility across the landscape. Yu has stated, “What would an alterna tive city look like if its natural forces are respectfully used and not controlled? Veg etables and food would be produced on the streets and in parks; floods would come and go to the benefit of the city; waste would be absorbed and cleansed by natural processes; birds and native species would cohabit the city with human beings; and the beauty of nature would be appreciated, neither tamed nor heavily maintained. This alternative prac tice has many names—agricultural urban ism, landscape urbanism, water urbanism, sustainable urbanism, green urbanism, and certainly ecological urbanism.”1 The new town of Wulijie is a peg-marked 10 square kilometers (6.2 square miles) in the eastern part of Wuhan. To its west is a high-tech area called Optics Valley, and to its south and east is the protected, high water quality Liang Zhi Hu Lake, to which the water from Wulijie will drain. The climate is hot and rainy in the summer and cold in the winter. Precipitation is around 1,200 millimeters (47 inches) per year; high temperatures in the summer can exceed 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit), and the average low tem perature in the winter is just above freezing.
Site elevations vary between 15 and 100 meters (50 to 320 feet), with a landform of rolling hills, small basins, and ponds that catch storm water and help to alleviate both floods and droughts. Wulijie will have 100,000 residents, of which 10 percent will be current locals and 90 percent immigrants who will work in Optics Valley and the new town itself. The main urban design concept for the town is to use landscape as ecological infrastructure to inte grate natural and cultural processes to frame the city, and provide ecosystem services for the residents. The integration and connec tivity of natural, biological, and cultural pro cesses are central to the project. Urban design strategies adopted for the town: › A water-based ecological infrastructure (EI) will structure the town. The EI is designed around the existing water systems and land forms. The key functions are to retain and cleanse storm water. Different rainfalls were simulated to determine the area and pat tern of the pond/wetland system so that all storm water will be retained on site and the new development has little impact on the regional water system. This will also reduce the construction costs for underground drain age pipes and preserve and create habitat for native wildlife and wetland vegetation such as lotus, wild rice stem, water chest nut, water caltrop, and Chinese arrowhead. Public spaces are integrated with the EI. Three types of green and water corridors are designed to accommodate various functions. The main corridors are 120 to 150 meters (400 to 500 feet) wide and will catch runoff from the whole area during the most severe storms. Secondary corridors are 60 to 90 meters (200 to 300 feet) wide, and these will catch runoff from the subdivisions of the watershed during medium rainstorms.
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The third level corridors are 20 to 30 meters (50 to 100 feet) wide and will catch the water of small storms. A network of pedestrian trails and bicycle paths will make the town completely walk able and allow residents to commute and enjoy the green space. While the regional mobility of the city is still serviced by a tran sit system and roads, the town will use the EI to help people move around. The maximum walking distance in the town to a bus station will be 600 meters (2,000 feet), and all resi dents will be able to reach the green network within five minutes. › Urban land is valued according to its rela tionship with EI. The land overlooking the ecological infrastructure will be given priority for residential development. The overall city form is defined by the EI. › The eco-friendly, environmentally sensi tive, and low-carbon landscape and architec ture create a new aesthetic environment and a new lifestyle. Native biodiversity, low main tenance, and productivity are the main traits of the green space around the EI. Buildings have roof gardens and living green facades. Retired people can spend their time fishing in the ponds; workers go along the EI to their workplaces; and children play in the produc tive agricultural fields where parents are growing vegetables.
1 Kongjian Yu, “Reinventing the Good Earth,” Keynote speech, International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress, June 26 to 29, 2011, Zurich, Switzerland.
0 50 100
1 The master plan of the new town: Landscape leads the way, an alternative approach to urbanism. 1 Water body 2 Green corridor 3 Commercial corridor 4
5 High-speed rail
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Low security level
(50 mm storm water)
Medium security level
(100 mm storm water )
High security level
(150 mm storm water)
Low security level 3
2 The subtle elevation change on the rolling terrain gives
4 Other elements, including vegetation, cultural herit-
character to the existing water system, which is made of a
age sites, recreational resources, and habitats for native
series of ponds that catch storm water in the rainy season
species, are integrated with the hydrological pattern to
and provide water for irrigation and daily use in the dry
develop the overall landscape security pattern.
Medium security level High security level
season. The new town will respect this unique hydrological feature, and it will become the basis for the watercentered ecological infrastructure.
5 The storm water collecting and filtering system is the core for the ecological infrastructure of the new town. Three types of green corridors were developed that make up an
3 The landscape security patterns for storm water
interconnected ecological infrastructure for storm water
management are developed using three levels of storm
management (including retention and cleansing); biological
water retention capacity, calculated using GIS (Geographic
production using wetland plants (such as lotus and rice),
Information Systems), at 50 mm, 100 mm, and 150 mm
and fish, birds, and wildlife species; plus recreational uses.
per day. This map will become one of the bases for the development of ecological infrastructure.
Green corridor Water system Commercial pedestrian corridor Drain direction 5
Main water course
6 A computer rendering of the first type green corridor, with housing development along both sides. The greenways have the function of storm water retention and filtration, biological production, recreation, and pedestrian paths. 7 Sections of the three types of green corridors that have different functions: storm water management, biological production, habitat creation, recreation, and transportation. Here: First type green corridor. Swale
Storm water catchment
8 Second type green corridor. 9 Third type green corridor. 9
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Recover the Mother River: Sanlihe Greenway Qian’an, Hebei Province, China, 2010
Kongjian Yu promotes the idea that land scape should lead urban development. The green and unbuilt infrastructure that provides ecosystem services should be the framework shaping urban growth and forms at all scales. The key is to plan and design landscape to integrate nature’s services (such as storing storm water) with social and cultural services that will also give vitality to the urban fabric and bond communities together. In his essay “Landscape as Ecological Infrastructure for an Alternative Urbanity,” Yu writes: “Civilization, over the course of centu ries, has been defined partly as the control of nature. Those successful in exploiting natural resources and transforming natural patterns through technological advancements have been considered highly civilized, while those who adapted to natural forces were consid ered primitive and uncivilized. Cities are by far the largest and most complicated arti ficial devices that human beings have con structed and are considered by many to be the very apex of civilization. … The quality of urbanity becomes measured by how quickly rainwater drains off our streets, how stable temperature and humidity are maintained in our rooms, how garden trees and shrubs are grown to be attractive but not productive. “Over time, we have drifted away from nature and become disconnected from our roots as farmers and herdsmen. This stand ard of civilization is built heavily on engi neered gray infrastructure: transportation systems to deliver goods and services; huge underground pipe networks to drain storm water; rivers held by concrete walls to con trol floods; large sewage plants; power lines to carry the energy necessary to run all our
machines and appliances; and so on. On this gray infrastructure we now build fashion able showy buildings with deformed heads and twisted bodies that try to escape natural structural forces. “Such a model of urbanity, used by West ern cities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has unfortunately been adopted by developing countries. Landscape is largely limited to tame gardens and parks where lawns and flowers are irrigated with tap water, and storm water is drained by under ground pipes. Landscape is just like other components of an artificial city—a sink rather than a source of energy and services. Land scape as a natural ecosystem in and around cities is largely neglected, natural processes have disintegrated, and natural patterns are fragmented. The landscape loses its capacity to provide what would have been free goods and services. “Looking at the history of city planning and building, we find that traditional vernacular designs treat landscape as a single physical and organizational entity, rather than as iso lated decorative pieces. Most cultures have a pre-scientific tradition of using geomancy to organize settlements based on the idea that a sacred landscape synthesizes the spiritual and the physical. Since the late nineteenth century, many US cities have used parks and green spaces as fundamental infrastructures to resolve urban problems such as conges tion and sanitation. More recently, the con cept of greenways was developed into a more comprehensive and interconnected frame work called ‘green infrastructure, 1 consid ered as the basis for urban form within devel oping metropolitan regions. …
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“Building better cities…is only possible if the alternative urbanism approach replaces the t wentieth - centur y Nor th American model. The key is that planning and design of ecological infrastructure need to happen before urban development. … The conven tional approach to urban development plan ning, based on population projection, built infrastructure, and architectural objects, is unable to meet the challenges and needs of sustainable development.”2 Transformed from a garbage dump and sewage ditch, the Sanlihe Greenway shows how an urban landscape with a restored eco system gains the capacity to provide multiple services: mediating flood and drought, pro ducing clean water, providing habitat for bio diversity, integrating pedestrian and bicycle paths for commuting and recreation, creat ing spiritual and aesthetic experiences, and catalyzing urban development. Covering approximately 135 hectares (334 acres), this urban greenway stretches 13.4 kilometers (8.3 miles) and varies in width from 100 to 300 meters (109 to 328 yards) across Qian’an (population 700,000). The city is at the south foot of the Yanshan Mountains on the bank of Luan River in north east Hebei Province. Although the main city lies near the river, residents cannot see its water, since high embankments were built to prevent flooding. As the life source of Qian’an, the small Sanlihe River mirrored the long history of the city and carried the memo ries of its common people. Before pollution set in around 1973, it had clear water from the ground water recharge of the Luan River, which ensured that it stayed cool in summer and warm enough to never freeze in winter.
Although visited by storms and heavy rain, Sanlihe River never had droughts or floods and provided abundant water resources for nearby industries and agriculture. As a local saying put it, “Reeds flourished, trees shaded, and birds sang.” For three decades after the 1970s, the San lihe was badly polluted by sewage and waste products from continuous industrial devel opment and urban population growth. With the depletion of its regional water sources, the Luan River’s water quality declined dras tically, and the Sanlihe River dried up and its channel was blocked by waste. The landscape architect was commis sioned to recover this “mother” (that is, nurtur ing) river, the Sanlihe. The job scope included ecological restoration and urban develop ment design along the greenway, although this chapter focuses only on the greenway itself. The design strategies were comprehensive and had several objectives: › Clean the site: A system was planned to sep arate sewage from urban storm water run off. A passive natural filtration system for sewage previously discharged into the river was installed. The organic garbage from city households was used as material to shape landforms, and industrial waste on the site was cleaned up. › Create a scenic water byway: The design for the greenway took advantage of the existing natural elevation change between the bed of the Luan River and the city. An inlet was dug out to provide water for the new Sanlihe River, supplied by a pipe that goes under the high embankment, so that a constantly con trolled amount of water would make its way
through the city before running back to the Luan in its lower reaches. This strategy rein forced the Sanlihe as a “scenic byway” of the Luan River and transformed the dangerous natural force into a pleasant amenity. › Enact a resilient green river strategy: The existing concrete channel of the river was removed, and a multiple water course ripar ian wetland system was created, including wetland chains at the edge of the main water course. These wetlands absorb floods and collect, purify, and disseminate storm water runoff. When the river’s water level drops to its lowest point, pools of water remain in the wetlands, creating an “emerald necklace.” The meandering natural waterways at vari ous surface levels become diverse habitats for wildlife. › Create tree islands: The existing trees on the site were saved and the riverbanks were transformed into several tree islands con nected by boardwalks, creating a place for the daily activities of nearby residents. › Form pedestrian and cycling paths: Along the greenway are pedestrian and bicycle routes fully accessible to communities along the channel. › Initiate urban development: The greenway was used as catalyst for urban development. After the greenway was built, it attracted large amounts of new housing investment, and high - densit y residential building s appeared on both sides of the greenway, transforming the urban form of the city. › Minimize maintenance: The project used low-maintenance native vegetation, lush wet land species, and self-reproductive wildflow ers. The resilient green river strategy allows the water table to fluctuate over seasons.
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The combination of “messy” nature with the minimum design of the boardwalk and water front platform turns the big greenway project into an unpretentious and popular landscape. After three years, this project has trans formed a polluted landscape into a scenic cor ridor. The mother river has been reinvented as ecological infrastructure for the city.
1 See www.greeninfrastructure.net/, the related website of the Conservation Fund. 2 Kongjian Yu, “Landscape as Ecological Infrastructure for an Alternative Urbanity,” in Implicate and Explicate 2010: Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Mohsen Mostafavi, ed. (Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2010), pp. 282–283. The excerpt was slightly modified for the purposes of this chapter.
Water source Luan River
Urban development along greenway Natural river (historical course) Sanlihe Greenway
Outlet Channelized river
River after ecological restoration
1 Site plan. 1 Fountain (water inlet) 2
3 Forest 4 Square at the bridge 5 Community garden 6 Children playground 7 Art work 8 View tower 9 Bio-swale 10 Wetland 2 The planning and design of the greenway makes use of the natural elevation difference between the Luan riverbed and the city, and creates the Sanlihe Greenway as a water-centered public space that integrates storm water management, habitat restoration, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and everyday recreational spaces, and serves as a catalyst for urban development. 3 The headwaters of the recovered Sanlihe River with water coming from the larger Luan River, which has been kept out of the city by a high flood control wall.
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4 The recovered stream borders planted with native species and ground cover requiring little maintenance (oriental cattail, polygonum, purple lythrum, old-fashioned weigela, peppermint, Indian daisy, and reeds). 5 Residents (mostly farmers recently become urban residents) use the green corridor in daily life activities. 6 Bridges and boardwalks are designed into the riverbank to give access to tree islands that preserve older trees on the site. 7 The bird’s eye views of the greenway penetrating the middle of the city, catalyzing urban development on the riverbanks. The boardwalk runs parallel to the recovered river. Bicycle paths were built along both sides and that turns the greenway into a commuters’ corridor for school children and adults, in addition to providing recreational opportunities. 8 Return to the river. The greenway runs into the dense urban fabric and rejuvenates existing urban development. Fish have come back to the river and residents can go fishing for their enjoyment.
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9 The existing trees were preserved in small tree islands that allow stream courses to flow around them. The ground cover is a palette of wildflowers that can naturally reproduce themselves.
10 People enjoy the path on the water as part of their everyday experience. 3.
11 Platforms are built into the water to allow people
to have close contact with water and vegetation. 7
12 Two young girls wading in the recovered river.
13 Planting plan. 1 Water fringe (Nymphoides peltata) 2 Common reed (Phragmites australis)
3 Tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis)
4 Grass fields 5 Crabapple (Malus baccata)
6 White poplar (Populus alba) 7 Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) 8 Common vetch (Coronilla varia) 9 Stonecrop (Sedum aizoon) 13
10 Iris 11 Bambusa
12 Locust tree 13 River club-rush (Scirpus validus)
14 Green bristlegrass (Setaria viridis) 15 Maple 16 Giant reed (Arundo donax) 17 Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) 18 Xinjiang poplar
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Activate a Resilient River: Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, 2011
In a competition sponsored by the Minneapo lis Park & Recreation Board and the Minne apolis Parks Foundation, Turenscape teamed with six other firms and developed this pro posal for 8.8 kilometers (5.5 miles) of water front redevelopment along the Mississippi River. The currently neglected site, which spans from the Stone Arch Bridge to the flat lands of the northern city limits, encom passes a variety of land uses from residential to industrial, neighborhoods of demographic and cultural diversity, government owned parks, and historic districts. Since Minneapolis’s founding in 1867, the Mississippi River has been the engine of its development. The city and its riverfront have a rich industrial past, starting with lumber mills and then flour mills. While the city’s lower riverfront can boast tremendous con temporary success, the upper riverfront is waiting to be rediscovered and redesigned. Challenges facing the area include a dimin ishing industrial base (loss of mills) and large-scale infrastructure (primarily roads on both sides of the river) that divides the river from the surrounding communities, as well as public parks that are too small for their constituent communities.1 The design team identified four primary challenges: 1. Ecological renewal: What can be done on the upper riverfront and in surrounding com munities to rebuild a healthy natural ecosys tem and make best use of a park system for its productive potential?
2. Social equity: Most Minneapolis commu nities of the upper riverfront have very little parkland or other public amenities. This ineq uity compounds and exacerbates other social challenges. How can North Minneapo lis become as much of a destination for the whole city as its other, wealthier areas?
protects and enhances critical natural and cultural processes. These include sustaina ble transportation, natural storm water man agement, urban agriculture, corridors for wild flora and fauna, wetlands, and other green infrastructures.
3. Vibrant economy: Commercial buildings like factories and warehouses in the upper riv erfront include many that present blank walls to the majestic river. How can they be enliv ened and new industries more suited to river sides in this resurgent corridor be fostered?
2. Reorient urbanism to the river: As green infrastructure grows, the city can be reori ented toward the river, with schools and housing, jobs and research, and art and com merce placed alongside the new ecological infrastructure. Skywalks and linear parks can connect residential centers to the riverside.
4. Cultural identity: The site of Minneapolis was an important gathering spot for Native Americans. It subsequently became home to European immigrants and an active base of fur trade, lumber milling, and grain storage. This history should be noted and its remnants preserved in any new development (e.g., the history of logging can be recalled in the use of large logs in park designs; gravel produc tion aggregate piles and large machinery can be incorporated into parks). A new riverside may also contribute to bringing people of diverse classes and ethnicities together.
3. Curate the vision through time: The city’s civic leaders have understood that its land uses and architecture will change, but that its fundamental landscape elements — the river and surrounding topography—will endure. This planning and design scheme explores ideal growth over a fifty-year period, grounded in those essential natural ele ments, reconnecting people to the river through unobstructed movement paths, cre ating riverfront horticultural and cultural des tinations, building transportation networks to the river, and more.
The design team proposed three strategies to address these challenges:
1 See http://www.minneapolisriverfrontdesigncompetition.com/
1. Build an ecological infrastructure: A strong city park system is rooted in robust and resil ient nature. Natural assets were identified to help to design an ecological network that
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1 Aerial view of planning site. 2 Build an ecological infrastructure, including green corridors, wetlands, agricultural fields, and storm water management. 3 Reorient urbanism to the river: Align new buildings with green infrastructure. 4–6 Existing site conditions: riverside rail yards, grain silos, and major roads.
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Vernacular cultural assets Existing land use Wildlife corridors Natural patches Surface flow analysis Water basins Topography
Cultural security pattern
Biological security pattern
Water security pattern
Trunk Branches Twigs Ecological infrastructure network
Ecological security pattern 7
7 Take a strategic conservation approach: “Security patterns” that offer the most effective ecological protection for the landscape were identified. This was envisioned as a vertical stack of interdependent layers that protect hydrological and biological processes, as well as the cultural heritage. Its network resembles a tree: The river is its trunk; branches of green link it to the urban fabric; and twigs are the specific sites and features of the neighborhood.
Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept
Riverfront treatment train
Wetland purification system Streetside swales
Greenhouse Tree nursery
Biofuels River fisheries
8 A system of natural drainage is proposed to manage water flows. Various natural cleansing systems will be used to treat polluted runoff from surrounding neighborhoods, interstate highway 84, and the inhabited river terraces. Retention space is to be increased in the flood plain, and excavated materials will be deposited in the upper river terraces to create dramatic landforms and overlooks. Wildlife habitat will be interspersed with personal allotment gardens, community-supported agriculture, along with aquaculture and tree nurseries.
Prairie Biofilter polishing wetland In-river habitat Flood plain terrace Upland forest / savanna Litoral wetland
Horticulture corridor Education corridor Art corridor Green-tech corridor Commerce corridor Residential corridor
10 Reorient urbanism to the river: Six programmatically different corridors will anchor activities in the ecological infrastructure. The corridors will provide gardens and
Exercise and transportation
crop fields, business facilities, amphitheaters, learning and exhibition spaces, and other gathering places.
9 Turenscape proposed ecological corridors to increase habitat biodiversity. The Mississippi is a flyway for migrating birds. A palette of native plants and crops will provide food and shelter for birds, fish, and other wildlife.
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Residential tower, typ.
Tree nursery Streetcar on Dowling Street
and pedestrian bridge Greenhouse
Greenhouse Office, typ.
Perkins Hill Skywalk Marshall Parkway
Minneapolis School for the Urban Environment New North High School
Linear track park Wetland eco-lab park Carbon-neutral neighborhood Aggregate art park Bottineau Greenway
26th Avenue green street
BN Bridge Amphitheater
Green-tech industry, typ.
Community garden Grain Belt brewery Broadway Bridge
Retail center, typ.
Mixed-use residential Halls Island beach park Plymouth Avenue Bridge
Bassett Creek green street
Cedar Lake regional trail
St. Anthony Falls Downtown greenway
Mill Ruins Park
Spirit Island 11
11 Vision of an ideal river landscape fifty years hence. Turenscape also proposed selected cultural uses. The Mississippi was once a significant recreational resource for Minneapolis, with community destinations like the Gerber Baths at Halls Island and Webber Pool at Shingle Creek. The river will again host opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, ice skating, sauna, and other waterbased experiences.
Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept
12 The existing power plant and grain silos. During the first phase of upper riverfront transformation, years zero to two, this area could be improved by immediate
Link to neighborhood
interventions such as using industrial buildings for murals and cultivating underused ground (for instance that at the
Link to Cityview School
Upper Harbor Terminal) with crops such as sunflowers, alfalfa, and clover.
Future Minneapolis School for the Urban
13 Existing industrial railroad tracks along the North
Minneapolis riverbank. These tracks are no longer in use and are to become part of the park. 14 A viewing platform and a network of boardwalks will allow partial access to the wetlands.
Link to new
15 Years two to five: Connect people to the river with
the proposed Perkins Hill Skywalk, linking Perkins 15
Link to riverfront
Hill and the Cityview School to the riverfront and the new Lowry Bridge. 16 Years two to five: Connect people to the river by restoring the Halls Island and Boom Island urban waterfront park at the Scherer Brothers site. A channel for swimming and water games will be excavated. Drawing on its logging heritage, the recreated Halls Island will host log diving structures and floating boom platforms. An urban beach and ribbon benches will provide places for recreation.
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17, 18 Years five to ten: Create a riverfront destination with Aggregate Art Park and Amphitheater. Clean water from the wetlands will flow south into this park. Sinuous
Aggregate play piles
canals will allow water play among post-industrial arti-
facts and aggregate piles between ribbons of prairie. The canals will become circuits for ice skating in the winter. With a great view to downtown, an adjacent amphitheater
will host performing arts.
19 Years five to ten: Create a riverfront destination with a Wetland Eco-Lab Park. This large park will demonstrate ecological restoration techniques. The wetlands will cleanse water drawn from the Mississippi, as well as surface runoff from the neighborhoods. Islands for wet prairie and riparian habitats for migrating birds and other wildlife will be built from recycled demolition materials and organic material from the
soil factory. 20 Existing condition: Industrial area south of Dowling
Street on the east side of the river. 19
Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept
21 Existing conditions include aggregate piles and conveyor belts on western side of river at 26th street. 22 Years ten to fifteen: Build transportation infrastructure with a streetcar loop and extensions of the parkways for new industries and new communities to emerge along the upper riverfront. The streetcar loop will extend the city’s transit network to catalyze development. A transformed BN bridge will bring the streetcar and pedestrians to both sides of the river. Walkers and bikers will enjoy an uninterrupted parkway network along the river. 23 The existing BN Bridge makes it unattractive to cross the river on foot.
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Make Architecture into Landscape: Low-Carbon Apartment Beijing, China, 2009
Buildings use more than 30 percent of over all energy in China. Forty billion square meters (430 billion square feet) of interior building space exist there now and annually increase at 2 billion square meters (22 billion square feet), but only 5 percent of this new production is energy efficient. The annual energy consumption for air-conditioning is equivalent to the energy produced annually by ten Three Gorges Dams and accounts for 20 percent of the overall energy consump tion in China. If one takes into account the fact that 50 percent of global annual new building space is in China, the importance of making residences energy efficient is clear. This project showcases how a landscape architect can let nature do the work to make homes greener.1 The Chinese housing shortage caused by rapid urbanization has led to poor quality con struction of millions of square meters of highenergy consumption apartments. The green building and low-carbon campaigns of recent years have provided incentives to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings. The challenge is to upgrade efficiency at a cost that will repay itself quickly and create a replicable model. The Low-Carbon Apartments project is located in northwestern Beijing in a highdensity community. The climate is one of
extremes, with nighttime winter tempera tures as low as -15C° (5°F) and daytime sum mer temperatures approaching 38C° (100°F). Strong winds force residents to contend with sandstorms February until April. Most of the city’s 610 millimeters (24 inches) of annual rainfall occurs during July and August.2 The balconies of the two redesigned apartments, each comprising two floors, were uninhabitable most of year because of extreme wind, rain, or temperature, but, with 30 square meters (325 square feet) of space on each balcony in a city where space is scarce, their use was inevitable: They were converted into a vegetable gar den and a fragrance garden. A simple glass enclosure protects them and gives the resi dents a year-round growing season. In the vegetable garden, the owner can pick fruits, herbs, and vegetables a few steps away from the kitchen, reducing some energy use for food transportation. In the fragrance gar den, subtropical aromatic plants such as jas mine, gardenia, sweet osmanthus, and white michelia provide lovely smells. A trellis sys tem lends support for climbing fruits and veg etables such as peas and squash. A balcony pool is made accessible with stepping stones and a wooden platform that looks like an extension from the bedroom. The moss-covered stone wall in the living
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room helps to stabilize temperatures. A trel lis system supports vines that grow on the wall and overhead for shade, reducing sum mer heat. Oxidized steel planters save space and add a modern element contrasting with traditional garden materials. The planters are terraced to create a sense of depth and provide ample sunlight for the plants. The ter racing also creates space to conceal and con tain collected rainwater. The stored water is used for irrigation and water features, and two solar panels on the roof provide hot water for the homes.
1 Rajesh Chhabara, “The Future of Green Building in China,” March 17, 2009, http://www.climatechangecorp. com/content.asp?ContentID=6023. 2 http://www.beijingobserver.com/beijing-climateweather.html.
1 Floor plan. Solar energy and rainwater are harvested for a balcony garden and indoor living wall to transform two apartments into productive ecosystems. 1 Wooden platform 2 Water 3 Water feature 4
6 Trellis 7 Bedroom 8 Living room 9 Green wall 2 Sections. One of the balcony gardens provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the residents, and mediates temperatures in the living environment. 3 Detail section of the living wall. This wall in the east unit is inside the main room on the fourth floor where the common wall between the two apartments was removed. It cools the home in summer and humidifies it in winter.
Rooftop rainwater collection Rooftop rainwater collection
Hot air Cooling
O 2 CO2 Rainwater filter
O2 CO 2 Cold air
Cold air Rainwater storage
4 mm steel plate Increase in moisture
Cooling Porous stone Increase in moisture
DN20 water pipe
Cold air Circulation pump Drain pipe Floor
– 243 –
4, 5 The balcony accomodates several planting beds. A trellis provides support for climbing fruits and vegetables such as peas, gourds, and squash. 6, 7 The living wall is constructed from native limestone. The porosity of the rock allows harvested rainwater at the top to slowly trickle out of the stones, where mosses grow and create an ever changing canvas.
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Make Landscape into Architecture: Hallelujah Concert Hall Z hangjiajie, Hunan Province, China, 2010
The Hallelujah Concert Hall is located in the front of the plaza of Yellow Dragon Cave in Wulingyuan, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province. Wulingyuan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and it is famous for its approximately 3,100 tall quartzite sandstone pillars, some over 800 meters (2,620 feet) high. With the Suoxi River in the front and the lush green cliff at the back, the Hallelujah Concert Hall is designed as a stack of tilted layers of alternating limestone slabs and glass. The design was inspired by the geolog ical structure of the surrounding limestone mountains. The form, with a dramatically sloped roof, reflects the building’s functions: The performing stage benefits from its place ment along the highest wall of the building at the northwest end and the entrance at the lowest end of the sloped roof at the south east, and with seats arrayed along a slight incline from the entrance down to the foot of the stage. The southeast-facing green roof
slopes up from the ground, where a mod est entrance is formed. The building’s green roof will not only minimize the visual impact of the concert hall on the natural landscape, it will also reduce the heat radiation enter ing the building, lowering the potential indoor temperature through passive cooling, an effective energy-saving strategy in a hot and humid climate. The immediate vicinity of the building used to be concrete pavement and a lawn with European ornamentation. As an integrative part of the project, Turenscape recreated the rice paddies that were on the site in the past and transformed the landscape into romantic rural farmland at minimum expense. On the rice paddies, authentic vernacular dwell ings were built to present regional lifestyles and to create a contrast to the contemporary building. The concert hall and the recreated agricultural landscape have become a large tourist attraction in the area.
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1 Site plan. 1 Theater 12 8
01. entrance 02. auditorium 03. main stage 04. side stage 05. toilet 06. service room 07. office 08. control room 09. meeting room 10. anteroom 3 11. VIP room 12. management office 13. screening room
2 Cliff 3
2 The quartzite sandstone pillars at Wulingyuan provided inspiration for the design. 3 Floor plan. 1 Entrance 2 Auditorium 3
4 Side stage 5 Toilet 6 Service room 7 Office 8 Control room 9
10 Anteroom 11 VIP room 12 Management office 13 Screening room 4
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5 With the Suoxi River in front and a lush green cliff at the back, the concert hall is designed as a tilted pile of alternating layers of limestone and glass with a green roof. The design was inspired by the geological structure of the surrounding limestone mountains. 6 The concert hall form is a reflection of its functions, with the performing stage housed at the higher northwestern end and the entrance at the southeast, with seating sloping toward the stage.
7 The immediate surroundings of the building used to be concrete pavement and ornamental lawn. Turenscape recreated the rice paddies, which were here years before, and transformed the landscape into a romantic rural farmland at a minimum expense. A cluster of authentic native dwellings demonstrate regional life style and create a contrast to the contemporary architecture. 8 The southeast-facing green roof almost slopes down to the ground, where a humble entrance is formed. The green roof minimizes the visual impact of the building on the natural landscape and reduces the heat radiation into the building, thus saving energy in this hot and humid climate.
Hallelujah Concert Hall
8 – 249 –
The Persistent Promise of Ecological Planning Charles Waldheim
Kongjian Yu was the first landscape architect to open a private firm in China following the Western model of consulting practices in design and planning. Yu thus represents a historical singular ity and is arguably the most important landscape architect prac ticing in China today. He has certainly emerged as that for Englishspeaking and international audiences over the past decade, many of which have identified him as the Chinese landscape architect of first resort. Based on the national awards and honors bestowed on Yu and Turenscape in the recent past, the Chinese have themselves reinforced this perception, particularly through the recognition of national political and cultural organizations.1 Yu and Turenscape have leveraged this unique historical position to lobby Chinese political elites, most notably mayors and national leaders, for the adoption of Western-style ecological planning prac tices at the metropolitan, provincial, and even national scale. The fullest articulation of this aspiration is embodied in Yu/Turenscape’s 2008 National Ecological Security Pattern Plan for China. Taken together with over a decade of lectures to the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development’s Conference of Mayors beginning in 1997 and the wide circulation of his 2003 treatise A Path to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors, Yu has effectively articulated a scientifically informed ecological planning agenda to domestic and international audiences. At the same time, he has consolidated his national reputation as the landscape architect to hire if you are a public official in need of a plan. 2 Many of his admirers are aware that Yu is the son of poor farm ing parents in a nation comprised mostly of poor farming parents.3 The reception of this narrative in the United States has mostly rein forced the idealized image of a national hero pulling himself up by the bootstraps, going from farming remote fields to a professor ship at Peking University, via a doctorate at Harvard University. Less well described has been the unique confluence of historical events and the relatively rare generational opportunity that Chinese peo ple preparing to attend university in 1979 and aspiring to higher education were afforded. While it is certainly fair to say that Yu is an exceptional individual, and nothing in this brief afterword should be read as implying otherwise, it is arguably true that had Yu been born
a few years earlier or later, he would not have enjoyed the same level of access to the singular opportunities available during the transition between very different eras of Chinese history. Yu’s parents were an illiterate farming couple in rural Zhejiang Province, southwest of Shanghai. During the year of Yu’s birth in 1963, the first public pronouncement of the Four Modernizations was made when, at the Conference on Scientific and Technologi cal Work in Shanghai, then-Premier Zhou Enlai proposed modern izing Chinese agriculture, industry, defense, and science/technol ogy. This early attempt at economic transformation would founder for the next decade and a half until after Mao’s death and the sub sequent consolidation of power by Zhou Enlai’s protégé Deng Xiaop ing. Following his ascension to the highest offices of the Chinese party in late 1978, Deng announced the adoption of the Four Mod ernizations; this is now commonly understood as the beginning of the reform era in modern China. As Yu was preparing to enter university in 1979–1980, he was in precisely the optimal generational cohort to benefit from the sub sequent economic reforms, scientific modernization, and opening to the West. Yu experienced the rigorous national standardized test ing system of university placement, and, since he was an outstand ing student and worked hard, he was rewarded with placement at the prestigious Beijing Forestry University. Among the early indica tors of the Four Modernizations was the return to Beijing in 1979 of Beijing Forestry University’s undergraduate program in landscape architecture. The program had been among those exiled to Yun nan Province in the remote southwestern corner of the country dur ing the 1960s, in the context of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Rev olution.” The Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) program that Yu would enter at Beijing Forestry was not initially among the choices available for him to select in 1980 but, through a unique historical confluence, Yu was offered admission by Beijing Forestry based on his performance on the national university entrance exam inations. Upon his arrival in the capital, he was allowed to enter the recently reinstated program in landscape architecture, in lieu of the Soviet-era Department in Urban Greenery founded in the context of the Cultural Revolution. Yu’s choice of landscape architecture as
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a profession in 1980 was not a common one in China, but among his fifty-nine BLA classmates at Beijing Forestry, he was the only one selected for admission to the landscape gardening program at Beijing Forestry based on his scores on the national qualifying examination, in spite of the fact that he had not identified the pro gram as his preference. Those sixty undergraduates were divided in two tracks comprising “Landscape Gardening” and “Landscape Design.” Since Yu was a recent arrival to Beijing and as yet unable to draw, he was shunted into the gardening track, against his will and in spite of his keen intelligence and appetite for design.4 From Yu’s BLA cohort at Beijing Forestry, seven students were admitted into the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) pro gram. Of those, five were from the traditional entrance program in landscape design, and the other two were from the landscape gar dening track: Kongjian Yu and his future wife, Ji Qingping. From his classmates in landscape architecture at Beijing Forestry, ten pur sued doctoral degrees, half of them in the United States or Japan. From among his cohort of landscape architects at Beijing Forestry, Yu was the first of five to open a private consulting firm and land scape architecture practice in China. The unique combination of the program’s return from exile to Beijing and the educational, eco nomic, and professional opportunities afforded to Yu’s cohort from Beijing Forestry was unlike those afforded graduates of the exiled program in Yunnan just a year or two earlier. Equally, later classes of landscape architects at Beijing Forestry entered a professional and cultural milieu quite differently evolved and changing rapidly. During his graduate studies at Beijing Forestry, Yu made regular use of an exceptional library of English language books in land scape architecture and planning. This was the result of a historical anomaly that allowed Beijing Forestry, as the most prestigious of the national universities in forestry, to acquire international books. During his MLA studies (1984–1987), Yu first encountered semi nal English books by Kevin Lynch, Ian McHarg, and Richard Forman, among many others.5 Given his reading of these texts, his growing grasp of English, and his status as a top graduate student from his program, Yu was asked to serve as interpreter and to offer simulta neous translation for three lectures by Professor Carl Steinitz of Har vard, delivered at Beijing Forestry University in 1987. Prior to those lectures, Yu had already been completing work on his MLA thesis on the subject of “Quantitative Methods of Landscape Assessment,” inspired in some part by Steinitz’s mentor Kevin Lynch. By the time of his encounter with Steinitz and completion of his Master’s thesis, Yu already harbored aspirations of post-graduate work in the United States, but he was focused on the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) as the appropriate terminal degree and considered a list of elite US univer sities including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. Based on Steinitz’s recommendation, Yu applied to the recently inaugurated Doctor of Design program at Harvard to study ecological planning following his professional apprenticeship, teaching at Beijing Forestry, and a one-year appoint ment as Visiting Research Fellow in Systems Ecology at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing.6 The Doctor of Design (DDes) was first offered by the Graduate School of Design in 1986 as an alternative to the traditional
humanities-based PhD at Harvard.7 The DDes was conceived and constructed by Dean Gerald McCue, Professor Peter Rowe, and Steinitz to enable doctoral research into topics “attendant to design,” as a faculty member at the school put it. As such, it became the preferred venue for studies in landscape ecology, landscape planning, and a range of related topics. Yu was one of seven stu dents offered admission to the DDes from among eighty-six appli cants in 1992. He enrolled in fall 1992 with five classmates and graduated three years later. Among his DDes classmates from that time are several contributors to the discourse on ecology and plan ning who have gone on to notable academic or professional careers, including Kristina Hill of the University of Virginia, the late Jacque line Tatom of Washington University in Saint Louis, Rodney Hoinkes of the Center for Landscape Research in Toronto, and Douglas Olson of O2 Planning + Design in Philadelphia. Yu was among the first Chi nese nationals to enter the DDes program and hence one of the few of his generational cohort to have access to doctoral work in the field at Harvard. The Doctor of Design degree was organized as a research-based program culminating in a written dissertation, but candidates advised by Steinitz regularly entered his landscape planning stu dios as a part of their coursework. In addition, Yu integrated into his course of study the principles of landscape ecology from classes with Richard Forman. He was also immersed in the representational and computational questions associated with aggregating large datasets of ecological information through Geographic Informa tion Systems (GIS) software at Harvard’s Lab for Computer Graph ics. Through his work with Forman, he was introduced to concepts of spatial structure and land use analysis in landscape ecology. During this time, Yu was also reading about game theory for ana lyzing competitive situations mathematically and came to connect the language of spatial conflict associated with this theory to For man’s language of landscape analysis, particularly as it pertained to the identification and maintenance of particular strategic points in a larger landscape. Yu would come to refer to these as “security points,” and this understanding ultimately informed his conception of planning for ecological “security patterns.”8 Through Yu’s synthesis of Steinitz’s rigorous planning methods, Forman’s language for analyzing complex landscape matrices, the tools and techniques of digital Geographic Information Systems associated with the Lab for Computer Graphics, and the concepts of game theory, he conceived of a National Ecological Security Pattern Plan as a project for China. He developed the concept, methodologi cal questions, representational means, and analytical approach for such a project through his doctoral thesis “Security Patterns in Landscape Planning,” advised by Steinitz, Forman, and Professor Stephen Ervin, Computer Resources Director. The thesis included a case study for the ecological security planning of Red Stone National Park in China but also developed a methodo logical approach to planning for ecological security across regional, provincial, and national scales. The thesis embodied a methodo logical integration of Yu’s various influences from Beijing Forestry and Harvard, including the “layering” method of McHarg, the visual analysis methods of Lynch, the ecological analysis of Forman, and
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the Geographic Information Systems methods of Ervin, and the leg acy of GIS embodied in the Lab through the work of Jack Danger mond and others. At Harvard, Yu worked as a Research Associate in GIS as well as a teaching fellow. Over the summer of 1994, he was a researcher at Dangermond’s Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) in Redlands, California. Among Yu’s innovations in the thesis was the identification of par ticular “security points” (SPs) through the analysis of ecological functioning as it is impacted at particular thresholds of change, recognizing that particular ecological functions such as species interactions can withstand fairly large impacts without proportion ate change, but that they will suddenly change drastically across particular degrees of impact. Yu’s thesis proposes three distinct SPs: ecological, visual, and agricultural. 9 In so doing, he antici pated the conflation of topics associated with ecology, tourism, and food security that his national plan for China’s ecological secu rity would embody. Yu’s conception of a national ecological secu rity plan for China is therefore not without precedents in the West. While at Harvard, Yu was exposed to various historical antecedents for landscape planning both at regional and national scale through Steinitz’s courses, including Warren Manning’s 1923 National Plan for the United States.10 Following his doctoral work, Yu spent two years as a landscape architect in the Laguna Beach, California, offices of SWA and pub lished journal articles based on his doctoral dissertation.11 In 1997, he returned to Beijing, taking a faculty position at Peking University and opening his consulting firm Turenscape a year later. Since its formation, Turenscape has engaged in a range of large-scale eco logical planning projects in addition to the National Ecological Secu rity Pattern Plan. 12 Turenscape’s planning practice—in its national, regional, metropolitan, and municipal proposals—represents a transfer of scientific and cultural knowledge of historic signifi cance. Setting aside the questions of their technical efficacy, pre dictive accuracy, or ease of implementation, the very existence of these plans stems from the unique historical circumstances of Yu’s personal and professional arc. As such, they embody a great experi ment in conveying, across generations and cultures, an idea of sci entifically informed spatial planning that emerged in the West. Ironically, the first generation of Chinese professionals trained in landscape ecology and planning in the United States now embody the greatest hope for the renewed relevance of a tradition of plan ning that has all but been eclipsed in the United States. Over the decades since the declaration of the Four Modernizations in China, the political, economic, and cultural conditions in the United States have trended increasingly away from supporting scientifi cally infused spatial planning practice in favor of a neoliberal, decentralized, and privatized economy of spatial decision-making. During those decades, improbably, and through the export of higher education in design and planning to Asia, practices of eco logically informed spatial planning have found fertile ground for influencing public and political opinion in China. Contemporary China’s unique combination of top-down political structure, cen tralized decision-making, openness to Western conceptions in sci ence and technology, and rapid urbanization render it uniquely
capable of receiving Yu’s interpretation of ecological planning strategies devised in the West. Yu’s Ecological Security Plan for China represents the persistent promise of ecological planning practices all but abandoned in the United States in favor of laissezfaire land development and speculative urbanization, which are largely uninformed by such practices.
1 Yu has received several national
7 Anthony Alofsin, The Struggle for Mod-
awards in China based in some measure
ernism: Architecture, Landscape Architec-
on the reception of his work outside
ture, and City Planning at Harvard (New
China, including the Overseas Chinese
York: Norton, 2002), p. 299, note 60.
Pioneer Achievement Medal (2003), the Overseas Chinese Professional Excel-
8 Kongjian Yu, interview with the
lence Top Award (2004), and the National
author, January 20, 2011.
Gold Medal of Fine Arts (2004). 9 Kongjian Yu, “Security Patterns in 2 Kongjian Yu and Dihua Li, A Path
Landscape Planning: With a Case in
to Urban Landscape: Talks to Mayors
South China,” doctoral thesis, Harvard
(Beijing: China Architecture & Building
University Graduate School of Design,
Press, 2003). Published only in Chi-
May 1995. Yu makes a distinction
nese as 城市景观之路 : 与市长们交流 ;
between the recorded title of his doctoral
excerpted in English in Kongjian Yu’s text
thesis and that of his doctoral disserta-
“The Big Foot Revolution” on pp. 42–49
tion “Security Patterns and Surface
in this book.
Model in Landscape Planning,” advised
3 See William S. Saunders’s account
Forman, and Stephen Ervin and dated
of his early years in “The Boy Who Read
June 1, 1995.
by Professors Carl Steinitz, Richard
Books Riding a Water Buffalo,” pp. 60–65 in this book. Peter Rowe estimates Chi-
10 Carl Steinitz, interview with the
nese distribution of population in 1963
author, January 20, 2011. For more on
at approximately 80 percent rural, so it
the genealogy of Western conceptions
is not surprising that Yu’s origins were
of landscape planning from Loudon and
agrarian. See Peter Rowe, “China’s Water
Lenné through Olmsted and Elliot that
Resources and Houtan Park,”
Steinitz made available to Yu, see Carl
pp. 184–191 in this book.
Steinitz, “Landscape Planning: A Brief History of Influential Ideas,” Journal of
4 Kongjian Yu, interview with the
Landscape Architecture (Spring 2008),
author, January 20, 2011.
5 Beijing Forestry’s library in landscape
11 Kongjian Yu, “Security Patterns and
architecture and planning held English
Surface Model in Landscape Planning,”
language first-edition copies of Kevin
Landscape and Urban Planning, 36:5
Lynch’s The Image of the City (1960),
(1996), pp. 1–17; and Kongjian Yu, “Eco-
Ian McHarg’s Design With Nature (1969),
logical Security Patterns in Landscape
and Richard Forman’s Landscape
and GIS Application,” Geographic Informa-
Ecology (with Michel Godron, 1986).
tion Sciences, 1:2 (1996), pp. 88–102.
See Frederick R. Steiner’s account of Yu’s early academic career on pp. 106–115 in
12 For more on Yu/Turenscape’s
regional planning projects, see Kelly Shannon’s “(R)evolutionary Ecological
6 Carl Steinitz, interview with the
Infrastructures,” pp. 200–211 in
author, January 20, 2011.
– 252 –
Man playing flute among the grasses of Houtan Park. – 253 –
John Beardsley, author and curator;
Antje Stokman, landscape architect, head
Zhongshan Shipyard Park
The Floating Gardens of
Director of Garden and Landscape
of osp urbanelandschaften, Hamburg;
Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China
Yongning River Park
Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington,
Professor and Director of the Institute of
Size: 11 hectares (27 acres)
D.C.; Adjunct Professor of Landscape
Landscape Planning and Ecology, Stutt-
Designed June 1999 to May 2001;
Size: 21 hectares (51 acres)
Architecture; Harvard University Gradu-
gart University; author, essays on water
completed May 2001
Designed July 2002 to March 2003;
ate School of Design; author, Earthworks
in urban landscapes, and River.Space.
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Peng Wei,
completed March 2004
and Beyond: Contemporary Art in the
Design (Birkhäuser, 2012).
Huang Zhengzheng, Qiu Qingyuan,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Liu Yujie,
Li Jianghong, Hu Haibo, Wu Ben
Liu Dongyun, Ning Weijing, Lin Shihong,
Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving Profes-
Li Hong, Jing Yuanyuan, Que Zhengqing,
Kristina Hill, lecturer and consultant
sor of Landscape Architecture and Chair,
2009 Global Award for Excellence,
Cai Hongmei, Ge Mingyu
on adapting infrastructure to climate
Department of Landscape Architecture,
Urban Land Institute
change; Associate Professor of Landscape
Harvard University Graduate School of
2009 Asian Pacific Award for Excellence,
2007 Design Honor Award, American
Architecture, University of Virginia; editor,
Design; editor, The Landscape Urbanism
Urban Land Institute
Society of Landscape Architects
Ecology and Design.
2008 Excellence on the Waterfront Award,
2007 Excellence on the Waterfront,
The Waterfront Center, Washington, D.C.
Top Honor Award, The Waterfront Center,
Dihua Li, Associate Professor of Land-
Peter Walker, FASLA, head, Peter Walker
2004 Chinese National Gold Medal
scape Architecture, College of Architec-
and Partners, Landscape Architecture,
of Fine Arts
2005 National Habitat Award, Ministry of
ture and Landscape Architecture, Peking
Berkeley, California; former Chair, Depart-
2002 Honor Award, American Society
Housing and Urban-Rural Development,
University, specialist in urban ecology
ment of Landscape Architecture, Harvard
of Landscape Architects
and planning, coeditor of five-book series
University and University of California,
on landscape architecture education in
Berkeley; coauthor, Invisible Gardens:
The Rice Campus of Shenyang
Yinzhou Central River Transformation
China, published since 2008 by Higher
The Search for Modernism in the Ameri-
Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China
Education Press, Beijing.
can Landscape and other books.
Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China
Size: 100 hectares (247 acres)
Size: 80 hectares (198 acres), of which
Designed March 2004 to August 2005;
Peter G. Rowe, Raymond Garbe Professor
Kongjian Yu, president of Turenscape
3 hectares (7 acres) are crop fields
western part completed October 2007
of Architecture and Urban Design, Harvard
Landscape Architecture, Urban Design,
Designed March 2002 to August 2002;
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Wang Yunfeng,
University Graduate School of Design;
and Architecture, Beijing, China; Profes-
completed May 2004
Zhou Huixia, Li Jiangfeng, Feng Xianjun,
University Distinguished Service Profes-
sor and Dean, College of Architecture and
Design Team: Kongjian Yu, Long Xiang,
Zhang Bo, Hu Hanyu
sor, Harvard University; author, East Asia
Landscape Architecture, Peking University;
Han Xiaoye, Lin Shihong, Wang Dawei,
Modern: Shaping the Contemporary City
Visiting Professor of Landscape Archi-
Que Zhenqin, Han Yi, Zhang Yufei,
(Reaktion Books, 2005), Emergent Archi-
tecture and Urban Planning and Design,
Wu Liying, Liu Yixing, Sun Yiwen
Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China
tectural Territories in East Asian Cities
Harvard University Graduate School of
Size: 20 hectares (49 acres)
(Birkhäuser, 2011), and many other books.
Design; author, The Art of Survival and
2008 National Habitat Award,
Designed August 2005 to August 2006;
several other books.
Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural
completed July 2007
Landscape, and other books.
Red Ribbon Park
William S. Saunders, Ph.D.; Editor,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Lin Shihong,
Harvard Design Magazine, Harvard
2007 Architectural Review Award for
Hong Wei, Chen Chen, Niu Jin, He Jun,
University Graduate School of Design,
Emerging Architecture, Commended
Ning Weijing, Men Yujia, Luo Shuishui,
1997 to 2012; author, Modern Architec-
2005 Design Honor Award, American
Long Xiang, Liu Xiangjun, Yang Zhenrong
ture: Photographs by Ezra Stoller and
Society of Landscape Architects
Awards: 2010 Excellence on the Waterfront Award,
James Wright; editor of several books,
The Waterfront Center, Washington, D.C.
including Nature, Landscape, and Building
North Grant Park
Chicago, Illinois, USA
2008 International Architecture Award,
The New Architectural Pragmatism;
Size: 10.7 hectares (26.5 acres)
The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Archi-
Judging Architectural Value, and
Designed August 2009
tecture and Design, The European Centre
Commodification and Spectacle in Archi-
Design team: Turenscape in association
for Architecture Art Design and Urban
tecture; Daniel Urban Kiley; and Richard
with JJR, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Kongjian
Haag; author, articles on architecture,
Yu, Shi Cun, Sun Peng, Lin Shihong,
2008 World Architecture Festival,
education, and theory.
Shao Fei, Alex Camprubi (Turenscape);
Gregg Calpino, Debra Michell, Jared
2008 “New Seven Wonders of the World,”
Kelly Shannon, researcher at the inter-
Condé Nast Traveler, April issue
section of urban analysis and design,
2007 Honor Award, American Society of
especially in Asia; Professor of Landscape
Architecture, Oslo School of Architecture Beach Restoration
and Design; coeditor, two book series, Explorations in/of Urbanism and Urban
Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China
Fascicles OSA; coauthor, The Landscape
Size: 60 hectares (148 acres) Designed August 2006 to October 2007,
of Contemporary Infrastructure.
completed October 2008 Frederick R. Steiner, Dean and Henry
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Hong Wei,
M. Rockwell Chair, School of Architecture,
Lin Shihong, Liu Xiangjun, Liu Dehua,
University of Texas, Austin; author,
Ning Weijing, Zhang Jing, Yu Hongqian,
The Living Landscape: An Ecological
Qiu Yu, Shao Zongbo, Liu Zhiming
Approach to Landscape Planning, and
Awards: 2010 Honor Award, American Society
of Landscape Architects 2009 Excellence on the Waterfront, Project Honor Award, The Waterfront Center, Washington, D.C.
– 254 –
Qinhuangdao Forest Park
Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept
Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Security Pattern Plan
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Size: 233 hectares (576 acres)
Size: 4,100 square meters (1 acre)
Size: approximately 21 square kilometers
Designed September 2010 to January
Designed January 2003 to October 2006;
Size: 9.6 million square kilometers
(8 square miles)
2011; completed June 2011
completed September 2007
(3.7 million square miles)
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Lin Shihong,
Design team: Turenscape in association
Planned September 2007 to June 2008
Length: 8.8 kilometers (5.5 miles)
Hong Wei, Zhen Hui, Luo Qian,
with Carol R. Johnson Associates, Boston:
Planning team: Kongjian Yu, Li Hailong,
Design team: Turenscape in association
Gao Zhengming, Wang Jin, Yu Yan
Kongjian Yu, Zhang Lei, Zhang Bing, Huang
Dihua Li, Qiao Qing, Xi Xuesong,
with Alta Planning + Design, SvR Design
Guo Ping (Turenscape); Bill Taylor, Tom Doolit-
Xu Man, Chen Ying, Li Jing, Wang Shuang,
Company, Meyer Scherer Rockcastle,
The Adaptation Palettes of Qiaoyuan
tle, Jill Ochs Zick, Nancy Stack, Hongbing
Wang Meng, Li Yiran
Applied Ecological Services, Summit Envi-
Tang, Henry G. Bee, Leonard Thomas, John
Ward, Carl Okazaki, McKenzie Cordes, Mark
Growth Planning for Beijing
Kongjian Yu, Shihong Ling, Xiangjun Liu,
Size: 22 hectares (54 acres, including
Andreasson, Doris Chu, David Le, Chia-Ming
Jie Bai, Yunqian Liu (Turenscape);
the Bridged Gardens at the east and
Sze (Carol R. Johnson Associates)
Size: 16,410 square kilometers
Steve Apfelbaum, Nate Cormier, Steve
(6,336 square miles)
Durrant, John Dustman, Tom Meyer,
Designed May 2005 to October 2006;
2009 Honor Award, Boston Society of
Planned July 2007 to December 2008,
Nathan Polanski, Antonio Rosell, Lisa
completed May 2008
completed December 2008
Town, Tom von Schrader
rosolutions, and Community Design Group:
Planning team: Kongjian Yu, Wang Sisi,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Shi Cun, Wang Jun, Ji Sheng, Hu Hanyu, Zhang Bo, Su
Qunli Storm Water Park
Dihua Li, Zhang Wei, Tao Zhihong, Qiao
Xinglan, Feng Xianjun, Wang Yunfeng, Lin
Qunli New Town, Harbin, Heilongjiang
Qin, Cao Yanqun, Sun Qi, She Yishuang,
Li, Zhang Xuenian, Jia Jun
Li Chunbo, Chen Chundi, Yuan Hong, Wang
Size: Each apartment stretches over two
Size: 34.2 hectares (84.5 acres)
Xin, Yan Bin, Zhang Danming, Hu Wangshu,
floors and has an total area of 250 square
2010 Honor Award, General Design,
Designed June 2009 to November 2009;
Li Ting, Li Qing, Xiong Liang, Li Yunsheng,
meters (2,691 square feet) plus a balcony
American Society of Landscape Architects
completed November 2010
Tang Min, Liao Huiyi, Hu Jiawen, Zhong
of 30 square meters (325 square feet).
2009 Landscape–Category Winner, World
Design team: Kong jian Yu, Long Xiang,
Chen, Ji Ting
Architecture Festival Awards
Han Xiaoye, Song Benming, Li Hongli,
2008 National Habitat Award, Ministry of
Zhang Wenjuan, Men Fanxin, Meng Xiang-
Housing and Urban-Rural Development,
yun, Li Guo, Zhang Li, Giuan Miaomiao,
Wulijie, Jianxia District of Wuhan, Hubei
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Song Benming Designed May to July 2009; completed July 2009 Hallelujah Concert Hall
Xu Bo, Yuan Enkai, He Chong, Chen Feng,
Size: 10 square kilometers (6.2 square
Wulingyuan World Heritage Site,
miles) urban core; 22 square kilometers
Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China
Tianjin, Tianjin Province, China
2012 Award of Excellence, General
(13.6 square miles) with surroundings
Size: 4,970 square meters
Size: 10 hectares (28 acres) within the 22
Design, American Society of Landscape
Designed May 2010 to August 2010.
(53,497 square feet)
hectare (54 acre) Qiaoyuan Wetland Park
Under construction, completion expected
Designed September 2001 to June 2003;
completed September 2010
Designed May 2005 to October 2006; completed May 2008
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Liu Yunqian,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Zhang Huiyong,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Shi Chun,
Shanghai Expo Park, Shanghai, China
Liu Xiangjun, Lin Shihong, Hong Wei,
Liu Xiangjun, Liu Yujie, Hong Wei, Cao Mingyu, Zhang Juan
Wang Jun, Ji Sheng, Hu Hanyu, Zhang Bo,
Size: 14 hectares (34.6 acres)
Zhang Yuan, Chen Ying, Liu Hongli, Zhang
Su Xinglan, Feng Xianjun, Wang Yunfeng,
Designed December 2006 to October
Yunbo, Li Dongzhe, Li Yongchang, Wang
Lin Li, Zhang Xuenian, Jia Jun
2007; completed October 2009
Yang, Chen Zhirui
Design team: Kong jian Yu, Lin Shihong, Sanlihe Greenway
Long Sleeve Skywalk
Hong Wei, Yuan Tianyuan, Yu Hongqian,
Xuzhou, Suining County, Jiangsu
Fang Yuan, Jin Yuanyuan, Long Xiang,
Qian’an, Hebei Province, China
Kong Xiangbin, Ren Dongli, Zhang Yuan,
Size: 135 hectares (334 acres)
Total length: 869 meters (950 yards)
Tang Haibo, Jiang Weirong, Yu Qiu, Bai
Designed March 2007 to July 2007;
Designed January 2009 to October 2009;
Shaohui, Hi Meicai, Yang Fan, Zhang Juny-
completed May 2010
completed July 2010
ing, Pan Yang, Zhang Jing, Liu Xiangjun,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Shi Cun,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Lin Shihong,
Ding Hongxia, Niu Jing, Zhang Yuan, Lin
Liu Yujie, Feng Xianjun, Wang Yunfeng,
Liu Xiangjun, Ning Weijing, Xie Dangfeng,
Shaohua, Zang Yanan, Shao Zongbo,
Xiao Ming, Lin Li, Hu Hanyu, Liu Yuanchao,
Meng Yujia, Pei Zhiyan, Wang Yan, Qiu Yu,
Liu Dehua, Yu Fumin, Chen Rao, Zhang
Zhang Lin, Li Xing, Zhou Peng, Li Xu,
Chen Raou, Zhang Yuan, Zhang Na, Wang
Wei, Chen Jiwei, Wan Xiangrong
Guoshun, Liu Jie
2011 American Architecture Awards,
2011 Landscape–Category Winner, World
The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of
Architecture Festival Awards
Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Architecture and Design; The European
2010 National Habitat Award, Ministry of
Size: 11 hectares (27 acres)
Centre for Architecture Art Design and
Housing and Urban-Rural Development,
Designed March 1999 to October 2002;
completed December 2002
2010 Award of Excellence, General Design,
Design team: Kongjian Yu, Hu Haibo,
American Society of Landscape Architects
Shi Yin, Dihua Li, Wang Zhifang, Sun Peng,
2010 Landscape–Category Winner, World
Luo Hua, Yao Zhennan, Zhang Dong
Architecture Festival Awards
– 255 –
illustration credits All images were provided by Turenscape and most photographs were taken by Kongjian Yu himself, except the following: Archive Kongjian Yu, personal collection: 62, 65, 108–114 Iwan Baan: 189 Corbis: 41 (top), 184, 185 (left) Patrick Geddes Trust: 202 Getty Images: 42 Gjl, Wikimedia Commons: 247 (2) Antje Stokman: p. 11 (bottom), 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41 bottom, 152, 185 (right), 201, 256