YU Kongjian - Projects

IntroductionProjectsBiographyBibliography

YU Kongjian personal papers (1990s to the present)

Two books by YU Kongjian
Two books by YU Kongjian: Tracing the Origin of Ideal Landscapes: the Cultural Meanings of Feng-shui and Ideal Landscape (1998) and The Path to Urban Landscape: Exchanges with Mayors. (2003).

This comprises of a selection of materials kept in the designers' private archive (1987 to the present), which provides unique access to the formation of his landscape approach. It includes handwritten manuscripts for research and publication done in China before 1992, about Feng-shui and landscape assessment; his writings and dissertation for Doctor of Design at Harvard GSD (1992–95). A majority of the materials were produced after his return to China in 1995 when he was appointed professor of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture in Beijing University. A first group of paper documents his efforts in establishing Landscape Architecture first as an accredited discipline in Chinese educational system, then creating China's first Graduate School of Landscape Architecture. A second group of paper records the on-going discourses in China around traditional literati gardens, following a stir caused by his openly-claimed negative opinion. A third group of paper concerns his effort in searching for a new urban aesthetics-promotion of a vernacular beauty of weed on the one side, criticism of formalism and rationality on the other. His lectures, articles and books, as well as a number of books and magazines prepared for pedagogical purposes are also included.

Zhongshan Shipyard Park, Zhongshan, Guangdong, China (1999–2001)

The Red Box at Zhongshan Shipyard Park. (© Turenscape)
The Red Box at Zhongshan Shipyard Park. (© Turenscape)

The project is a daring revaluation of common culture and aesthetics. The park covers 11 hectares (27 acres) in the midst of a popular residential development. The site was an abandoned shipyard originally constructed in the 1950s and closed in 1999. To many this site was merely one of many bankrupted ordinary industrial facilities bearing little significance in modern Chinese history, and therefore, likely to be razed for new urban development and a grand "Baroque" garden. To the designers, the site reflected the remarkable fifty-year history of socialist China, from The Great Leaping Forward of the 1950s, to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, until the sweeping industrial reorganization following the post-Mao economic reform led by Den Xiaoping. The historical experiences and emotion of many common people in an unprecedented era are encapsulated in the ruins, and should not be erased. After numerous meetings, the authority was convinced and the goal of the project was redefined to create an environmentally friendly public place full of cultural and historical connotations.

In design, reducing, reusing, and recycling natural and man-made materials are the principle. Original vegetation and natural habitats are preserved, and native plants are used throughout. Machines, docks, and other industrial structures are recycled for educational, aesthetic, and functional purposes. The design team also addressed challenging issues, such as accommodating variable water levels and balancing river-width regulations for flood control, protecting old riverbank popular trees, and reusing the remnants of rusty docks and machinery.

Since its inception in 2002, the park has become a popular local attraction to tourists and residence alike, as well as a favored site for wedding photographs and fashion shows. It has gained its recognition through various honors in and out of China, including ASLA Design Honor Award (2002), Chinese Architectural Art Award (2003), Gold Medal of the 10th Chinese Art Exhibition (2004) and Gold Medal of Contemporary Chinese Architecture (2004).

Dujiangyan Square, Chengdu, Sichuan, China (1999–2001)

Monument at Dujianyan Square. (© Turenscape)
Monument at Dujianyan Square. (© Turenscape)

The 11 hectares square is located in the middle of a dilapidated and featureless old townscape of Dujiangyan City, a designated international tourism city for its famous ancient irrigation infra-structure which was built in 256 BC during the Warring States Period of China and still functioning today to irrigate over 5,300 square kilometers of land in the region. In 1999, an international competition was held, and Turenscape's winning scheme was completed at the end of 2002. This design was inspired by the unique natural and cultural landscapes, irrigation works, and living styles connected to the site. With a budget of less than 40 USD per square meter, the project has created an artful public urban space that tells ancient stories of water in a modern language, expressing both regional and local identities yet pointing to a new approach.

The designers are extremely pleased that this project survived the disastrous 2008 earth quake that destroyed 50% of the buildings in this city. During this time of disaster, the square played crucial roles for the evacuation of the dense urban population and for the distribution of life saving goods. The fully accessibility of this square enhances its function as a public space, demonstrating that landscape design is an art of survival.

The Rice Paddy Campus, Shenyang, Liaoning, China (2002–2003)

Students on the new campus. (© Turenscape)
Students on the new campus. (© Turenscape)

This project explores how agricultural landscape can become part of the urbanized environment, and how cultural identity can be created through an ordinary productive landscape. The overwhelming urbanization of China is encroaching upon much arable land. With a population of 1.3 billion people and limited tillable land, food production and sustainable land use is a survival issue that landscape architects must address.

The site of about 80 hectares (198 acres) forms the new campus of Shengyang Architectural University. The design and construction had to contend with a small budget and short timeline of six months, meanwhile the landscape needed to provide a strong identity. Productive rice fields (along with other native crops) were proposed as the overall theme while fulfilling the need for new functions. The production cycle is fully organic: storm-water is collected for irrigation; frogs are raised to control insects; fish are cultivated to double the productivity; and sheep "cut" the grass, eliminating the pollution of mowing machines. Student involvement is also part of this landscape's productivity. Each year a planting festival and a harvesting festival are held on campus, and these bring Chinese culture alive. Farming processes become an attraction to the students of the university and the nearby middle school. The crop is packaged as "Golden Rice," sold in the university canteen and presented as souvenirs to visitors. Now Golden Rice has become the university's well-known identity marker. The Rice Campus increases sensitivity about the environment and farming among the mostly urban students. It demonstrates that inexpensive and productive agricultural landscapes can also become, through careful design and management, pleasurable social spaces. This working landscape is an example of YU's signature "Big-Foot" aesthetic-unbound but beautiful. It won the 2005 ASLA Honor Award in Design.

Terraces of Time: Memory and Prophecy-Beijing Olympic Green Plan (competition proposal, 2002–2003)

Master plan. (© Turenscape)
Master plan. (© Turenscape)

The land of China with its 5000 years of agricultural history has been worked and reworked. The footprint of the past is retrievable in her terraced farmlands, terraced waters and mountains, and sustainable cultivation/irrigation practices. And it is this historical agrarian legacy integrated with cutting-edge biological and energy technologies that forms the foundation of Turenscape's competition proposal for Olympic Forest and Axis. The goal of the design is to create a sustainable contemporary urban public landscape that embodies the memory of the past while addressing the future.

Major design solutions include:

  1. "Contour + fields" are taken as the extension of the region, framing a symbolic structure;
  2. "Terraced lakes and wetlands" is a minimum approach to deal with the 10 meters difference of the site, while referring to the Chinese agricultural tradition;
  3. A Sustainable Water System and Aqueduct will integrate the park as part of the water treatment system of Beijing city;
  4. Apply the "matrix-patch-corridor" model of landscape ecology to create diverse vegetation habitats, with Chinese traditional patterns of agricultural planting serving as the main source of inspirations for the planting design;
  5. The Axis presents a linear symphony of five landscape elements—the terraces, contour lines, forest belt, water and axis pavement-linking dotted gardens, fountains, squares, plazas and islands for multifunctional use;
  6. This is a site tells its own stories. Old roads and village sites are preserved and integrated with special botanical gardens.

Floating Garden—Yongning River Park, Huangyan, Zhejiang, China (2002–2004)

BA natural rock in the Yellow Box. (© Turenscape)
BA natural rock in the Yellow Box. (© Turenscape)A natural rock in the Yellow Box. (© Turenscape)

By Making friends with floods, this park project demonstrates how human being can live and design with nature. An ecological approach to flood control and storm water management promotes solutions other than defensive embankment, and reveals the beauty of native vegetation and the ordinary landscape.

The landscape architect was called in to "beautify" the riverfront site which was largely embanked with concrete as a result of the local flood control policy. Design team successfully convinced the decision makers to stop the conventional engineering along the remaining part of the river and to create an ecological flood control and storm water management system. A water process analysis dictated a regional drainage approach; concrete embankments were removed and replaced with wetlands that provided flood mitigation, biodiversity conservation, outdoor recreation, environmental education, and local historical and cultural demonstrations. Native grasses—"ugly weeds," most thought—were used to stabilize the riverbanks. The results have been remarkable: Flood problems were successfully addressed; frogs, fish, and birds have returned; local television celebrated the "weed" grass in blossom on prime time; and hundreds of thousands of people visit to appreciate what would otherwise have been considered a messy and uncouth landscape, initiating a new aesthetic in the historical city of Yongning. This project won the 2006 ASLA Honor Award.

The Negative Planning—Taizhou Project, Taizhou, Zhejiang, China (2004)

One of the proposed urban development patterns—The Watertown. (© Turenscape)
One of the proposed urban development patterns—The Watertown. (© Turenscape)

Take land as a living system, this master planning develops an Ecological Infrastructure (EI) in order to guide and frame the urban sprawl. The EI is defined as the structural landscape network that is composed of the critical landscape elements and spatial patterns that are of strategic significance in safeguarding the integrity and identity of the natural and cultural landscapes and securing sustainable ecosystem services, protecting cultural heritages and recreational experience. Like the functional infrastructure-such as transportation, power, sewage, etc-that supports potential urban growth, the Ecological Infrastructure safeguards ecological services, protects cultural heritages, provides visual and recreational experiences.

This system is integrated into the urban development framework on three scales. On the large scale, it is planned through the identification of critical landscape patterns (security patterns) for the targeted processes. Using EI alternatives as framing structure, scenarios of regional urban growth patterns were simulated. On the medium scale, the green lines of the regional EI, overall design and management guidelines were developed to guarantee the implementation of the regional EI, and especially for the green corridors that function as critical EI elements in water management and biodiversity conservation, heritage protection and recreation. Finally, new models of urban land development are developed to test ecological infrastructure at the small scale. Through this "Negative Approach," landscape and ecology leads the way of urban development. And ecological urbanism is operated spatially across multiple scales and both conservation and growth can be carried out wisely. This research won 2005 ASLA Honor Award for Planning and Analysis.

The Red Ribbon—Tanghe River Park, Qinhuangdao, Hebei, China (2005)

Night view of the Red Ribbon. (© Turenscape)
Night view of the Red Ribbon. (© Turenscape)

This surprising red ribbon along the Tanghe River is a minimum intervention. On the background of natural terrain and "messy" vegetation, a 500-meter "red ribbon" is positioned along the shoreline, integrating lighting, seating, environmental interpretation, and orientation. While preserving as much of the natural character of the river corridor as possible. The ribbon brightens this densely vegetated site, links diverse natural vegetation types, and provides a structural means of reorganizing the formerly unkempt and inaccessible site. The park is urban and modernized—attributes highly sought by the local residents—while keeping the ecological processes and natural services of the site intact. This project demonstrates how a minimal design solution can achieve dramatic improvements, and how to integrate art with ecology. The project won the 2007 ASLA Design Honor Award.

The Bubble Park—Tianjing Qiaoyuan Park, Tianjing, China (2005–2006)

Plan. (© Turenscape)
Plan. (© Turenscape)

The 22 hectares (54 acres) park locates in the northern coastal city of Tianjin. Rapid urbanization had changed a peripheral shooting range into a garbage dump and drainage sink for urban storm-water. The site was heavily polluted, littered, deserted. And the soil is saline and alkaline. The regional landscape is flat and was once rich in wetlands and salt marshes that have been mostly destroyed by decades of urban development. Although it is difficult to grow trees in the saline-alkali soil, the ground cover and wetland vegetation are rich and vary in response to subtle changes in the water table and PH values.

Inspired by the adaptive vegetation communities that dot the landscape, a simple design strategy was devised, one that included digging 21 pond cavities 10–40 meters in diameter and 1.1–5 meters in depth. Diverse habitats were created, and natural processes were initiated. Seeds of mixed plant species were sowed to start the vegetation, and other native species were allowed to grow wherever suitable. Through the seasons, patches of unique vegetation established correspondence to the individual wet or dry cavities, creating The Adaptation Palettes. Visitors are invited to linger on the network of red trails or rest on the platform in the middle of each vegetation patch. The park realizes its core goals. Storm water is retained in these cavities, allowing diverse water-sensitive communities to evolve. Seasonal changes in plant species occur and integrate with the beauty of a native landscape. Let nature work, and there will be creation.

Boston Chinatown Park, Boston, USA (2007)

Night view of the garden gate in China red. (© Turenscape)
Night view of the garden gate in China red. (© Turenscape)

This community park commission called for a redefinition of the image of China abroad. The gateway covered with glazed tiles and roofed pavilion are well accepted signs of Chinatown in the West. This newly built park largely changed this image, and enabled "Chineseness" to break through into the contemporary. As an important part of the Big Dig project and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Chinatown Park in Boston was designed to transform the former dangerous and deserted gateway into a lively new place for the local Asian communities. Contemporary language of design is adopted to create a place with its own identity and tradition. The plan is inspired by typical village layout in South China, which is composed of one open square, a series of entrance gateways and a stream in front of the entrance-shuikou from which the ancestors arrived. The new Chinatown Park is composed of a straight-line steel gate in Chinese red that separates and connects the Chinatown territory and the rest of Boston; three pairs of bamboo hedges framed in red steel poles defining entrance corridors along a curved path along a meandering stream. This project is a cooperation between Turenscape in Beijing and CRJA in Boston.

National Landscape Security Pattern (research on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, 2007)

Contemporary China-with its huge population and relative meager natural resources, fragile ecosystems, plus the urbanization and economic growth in unprecedented speed and scale-is facing severe challenges of sustainability and survival. To address the challenge requires first of all a wise planning of land use on the national level.

This research is a pilot project aiming at establishing national ecological security patterns that will protect the most sensitive ecological landscapes and critical pattern as a strategy for conservation and development. Critical natural processes are analyzed systematically at the national scale, including water resource protection, soil erosion prevention, storm water management and flood control, the prevention of desertification, and the biological processes protection and biodiversity conservation. Individual security patterns for safeguarding each of these natural processes are identified and then integrated into an overall ecological infrastructure. Three levels of National Ecological Infrastructure are defined, the low security level, the medium security level and the high security level, which account for 32%, 61% and 82% of the national land respectively. This study is expected to provide a scientific basis for the on-going national function zoning and land use planning.

Grand Canal Cultural Heritage Corridor (research on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Heritage, 2007)

Like the Great Wall to the north, the Grand Canal to the south is another of the two most significant manmade linear marvels across the landscape of China. The speedy urbanization in the east coast, and big projects causing enormous landscape change (such as the water diverting plan from the south to the north) impose huge impact on this cultural heritage; meanwhile, offering great opportunities to the establishment of a national historical corridor and a regional ecological infrastructure. This research project takes the Grand Canal not only as a cultural heritage, but also as a multi-functional corridor that provide multiple social and natural services. The values of the Grand Canal are fully re-assessed. This includes:

  1. its historical value of this heritage that gives China its national cultural identity;
  2. its functional value as a life line in the region's daily activities (water transfer, navigation, and irrigation);
  3. its value of being a regional ecological infrastructure, as a key element for the national ecological security and balance;
  4. its potential value of being a recreational corridor and as a strategic resource of education and tourism.

The existing conditions of each individual sections of the Canal are surveyed and recorded. And strategic recommendations are made for the establishment of a national multi-functional heritage corridor, whereas the full value of the Grand Canal should be thoroughly respected and appropriately integrated.

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