Yu Kongjian, Turenscape: Landscape as ‘art of survival’

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Yu Kongjian, Turenscape: Landscape as ‘art of survival’
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Yu Kongjian, Turenscape: Landscape as ‘art of survival’

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Yu Kongjian, Turenscape: Landscape as ‘art of survival’
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We all want to live closer to nature. But can urban landscapes be designed to mimic natural systems and processes? And if replicated, what would a nature-based design approach mean to future cities?

This episode features Yu Kongjian, a landscape designer and urbanist who is the founder and principal designer of Turenscape, China, and a founder of the Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

Kongjian is one of China’s most prolific landscape designers who has changed the way landscapes are perceived and valued. He has also had an impact on urban policy in China with initiatives like Sponge City that deal explicitly with environmental risk.

Episode outline

00:12:00 Cities and nature-based solutions
00:14:08 “The city is a killer of people… people get trapped in the flood, trapped in the pandemic… We are facing survival issues: climate change, the pandemic, the drought, the flood. We are close to (being) killed by our own design, by our own city.”
00:19:43 “I’m not talking about going back to (a) primitive agricultural civilisation or era… I’m talking about designed ecosystems… designed ecologies. To achieve a sustainable future for humanity, we need (urbanism) to be based on nature.”
00:27:25 “It’s a miserable life here in Beijing, Shanghai… 20 million people (in a) lockdown. I see the trend in China: people are beginning to look for a better life in small town(s).”
00:28:25 “(In China) the policy is to enforce urbanisation… it’s what we understand… urbanisation as concentration of population. Now, that’s totally wrong… totally wrong.”
00:30:17 China and public policy
00:30:55 “The American model or European model is a kind of colonisation… cultural, infrastructural, urbanism colonisation of the ancient Chinese agricultural civilisation. I’m calling for a New Urbanism… a new vernacular. (Here) modernism is a way of living, of thinking… a social, more democratic, society… a science-based understanding of Nature and man.”
00:52:37 “Whether (they) are architects, or landscape (architects), or urbanists, they are designers of ecologies… of ecological relationships, the ecological process.”
00:53:05 Becoming Kongjian
00:58:00 “We need an intellectual revolution… We need to break through boundaries… across discipline(s). Landscape architecture, architecture, planners… these (represent an) old knowledge system. We need (to put) a shovel (to) this knowledge system… A change of values — even aesthetics – a change of practice… practising ethics. (We are) looking for a revolution.”

Summary

In this episode, Yu Kongjian recollects when he first began to see landscapes differently. As a child, he fell into a river and would’ve drowned, if not for the vegetated edges along the waterway, which he grabbed onto.

As a young adult, returning home after a stint in the US, he noted that the economic transformation of China was transforming urban and rural conditions, and destroying the very landscapes that had saved his life.

This realisation set Kongjian on a path to learn from nature and adapt lessons from China’s agricultural practices. These strategies, applied to parks in urban centres, also led to his position on codes and regulations which shape decisions at the drawing board.

Social and ecological functions of Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua City, China, overlap. Space used for leisure is also part of a water detention system.
© Yu Kongjian, Turenscape

Yu Kongjian speaks of the ‘art of survival’ to make the point that landscapes are more than mere ornaments; they have the power to fundamentally create or offset risk. This risk, in Chinese cities, can be a matter of life or death.

Shanghai Houtan Park in the city of Shanghai, China, was an early demonstration of a nature-based approach to landscape urbanism.
© Yu Kongjian, Turenscape

His projects demonstrate a scientific approach to the creation of ecosystem services. This approach simultaneously embraces human culture, creating what he calls ‘deep form’, defined as the integration of human and ecological systemic flows.

Yanweizhou Park, Jinhua City, China, sits at the confluence of two rivers and connects the urban areas with colourful bridges. Seen here is the park in the dry season.
© Yu Kongjian, Turenscape
During the wet season, Yanweizhou Park draws flood water into itself, acting like a sponge. This substantially reduces the risk of inundation in adjacent urban areas.
© Yu Kongjian, Turenscape

Turenscape projects are often conceived as layers. Underneath are elements that address ecological risk and opportunity, for instance, flood mitigation or biodiversity habitats. Above, are the programmes and amenities that meet the needs of urban dwellers.

Ecosystem services, such as water cleansing, are on display in Shanghai Houtan Park in Shanghai, China. Public boardwalks overlook phytoremediation pools that remove pollutants from the water.
© Yu Kongjian, Turenscape

Yu Kongjian’s work frame nature in new ways. He has shifted public opinion in China towards a deeper understanding of ecology. His efforts at lobbying politicians have resulted in new policies that are now key to the country’s declared ambition to enter an ecological age.

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:04:17 “…during the Cultural Revolution it was a bad family…”
Cultural Revolution” | Britannica
00:04:35 “…I work in the commune until the China Open policy…”
The “Three Reforms” in China: Progress and Outlook” | Japan Research Institute
00:05:57 “…It is all about Chinese classical gardens…”
Features of Chinese Gardens” | China Highlights
00:07:16 “…the literature is of course Design with Nature, the book written by Ian McHarg…”
Design with Nature, 25th Anniversary Edition” | Wiley
00:07:25 “…the father of ecological planning…”
Ecological Urban Planning and Design” | Scholarly Community Encyclopedia
00:07:50 “…published in 1984 by Richard Forman called “Landscape Ecology“…”
Landscape Ecology” | Wiley
00:12:03 “…advocates a nature-based approach to the future city…”
Nature-based solutions” | International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
00:13:49 “…a year ago, Zhengzhou flooded…”
Zhengzhou Floods Serve China’s Urban Planners Deadly Warning” | Reuters
00:16:52 “We call industrial civilisation…”
Industrial Civilization” | World Civilizations and History of Human Development
00:23:55 “…the Garden City movement at the start of the 20th century…”
What Are Garden Cities?” | ArchDaily
00:24:27 “…we know this kind of megacity has such big problems…”
Megacity” | Designing Buildings
00:33:35 “…From 1998, it’s a huge flood in China…”
Final Report on 1998 Floods in the People’s Republic of China” | Relief Web
00:35:36 “…including the regulation of ecological baseline…”
Unshifting the baseline: a framework for documenting historical population changes and assessing long-term anthropogenic impacts” | The Royal Society Publishing
00:36:44 “…There’s also ecological security patterns that you’ve talked about…”
Ecological security pattern: A new idea for balancing regional development and ecological protection. A case study of the Jiaodong Peninsula, China” | Elsevier ScienceDirect
00:41:35 “…the 18th national congress…”
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC)” | China.org.cn
00:05:13 “…Beijing Forest University in Beijing City…”
Beijing Forestry University
00:07:18 “…the book written by Ian McHarg…”
Ian L. McHarg” | The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology
00:07:42 “…a studio at Harvard Graduate School of Design…”
Harvard University Graduate School of Design
00:07:50 “…first published in 1984 by Richard Forman…”
Richard T.T. Forman” | Harvard University Graduate School of Design
00:09:28 “…you decided to set up a firm and you call it Turenscape…”
Turenscape
00:09:36 “…two years at SWA group…”
SWA Group
00:09:44 “…established by Sasaki…”
Sasaki: History | Sasaki
00:09:44 “…established by […] Peter Walker…”
Peter Walker, FASLA” | PWP Landscape Architecture
00:37:09 “…Carl Steinitz geographic information system…”
Carl Steinitz” | Harvard University Graduate School of Design
00:40:31 “…I wrote a report to the Premier Wen Jiabao…”
Wen Jiabao” | Britannica
00:40:55 “…he sent a notice to the Ministry of Environmental Protection…”
Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE)
00:40:55 “…to the Ministry of Rural Urban Planning…”
Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of the People’s Republic of China” | English.gov.cn (The State Council of the People’s Republic of China)
00:40:55 “…the Ministry of Land Resources at that time…”
Ministry of Land and Resources” | China.org.cn
00:49:48 “…which President Xi Jinping visited…”
Xi Jinping” | Britannica
00:05:14 “…University in Beijing City…”
Beijing” (China) | Britannica
00:10:03 “…my travel from South China, from Shenzhen…”
Shenzhen” (Guangdong, China) | Britannica
00:10:03 “…my travel from South China… to Guangzhou…”
Guangzhou” (Guangdong, China) | Britannica
00:13:49 “…a year ago, Zhengzhou flooded…”
Zhengzhou” (Henan, China) | Britannica
00:42:15 “…to my test planning in Taizhou…”
Taizhou” (Jiangsu, China) | Britannica
00:42:48 “…that embraces the flood. Yanweizhou Park… This is a project…”
Jinhua Yanweizhou Park” (Jinhua, China) | Turenscape
00:42:50 “…a project that’s in Jinhua City…”
Jinhua” (Zhejiang, China) | Britannica
00:48:52 “…the Shanghai Hutong Park is situated in the city of Shanghai…”
Shanghai Hutong Park” (Shanghai, China) | Turenscape
00:48:55 “…on the site of the 2010 World Expo…”
About Shanghai World Expo 2010” | World Expo Museum
00:48:58 “…on the banks of the Huangpu River…”
Huangpu River” (Shanghai, China) | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

There are no products and technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistants
Amulya Dhulipala
Ann Mathew

Sound technician & Editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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