Tuesday, May 4, 2010

China Sweeps American Landscape Architecture Awards

Rising Star Yu Kongjian’s Radical Vision

Design firm Turenscape in concert with Peking University Graduate School of Landscape Architecture virtually swept this year’s ASLA awards, winning an unprecedented three of the twelve design awards, including the prestigious Award of Excellence and two Honor Awards. The group beat out the hugely popular Highline, New York’s elevated rail park, anticipated by many to win this year’s top award.

All three of the winning projects were large scale, regenerative landscapes that transformed formerly degraded sites into lush, public parks. “This is very powerful,” wrote the Awards jury for the Shanghai Houtain Park, built on a former brownfield. “It’s full of the right messages of our profession. The scope is exquisite. The presentation is excellence. Shanghai never has a blue sky, and recognizing this kind of sustainable project in that context is important.”

Lead designer and professor of landscape architecture Yu Kongjian has long worked to bring attention to China’s impending environmental crisis. Yu views landscape architecture as “the art of survival, not an art of entertaining and gardening.” Awarded ASLA awards eight times since 2002, Yu is a rising star in the world of landscape architecture. In 2007, Yu won an Honor Award for The Red Ribbon in Tanghe River Park, a project that Conde Nast Traveler named as one of the seven modern architectural wonders in the world.

A Different Kind of Park

Yu has long advocated for a different kind of public park: “Why can’t we use agricultural plants, crops, wild grasses, and fruit trees to decorate cities and parks? They are equally beautiful but yield fruits and demand little attention."  Yu's love for wildness is balanced by an appreciation for the agricultural and industrial heritage of a site.  The winning projects frequently use the concept of agricultural terraces and rice fields to create ecologically productive landscapes.

Shanghai’s Houtan Park uses wild grasses and crops as a water-filtering machine, cleaning 2,400 cubic meters of water a day. “There is a beauty in wild grasses,” says Yu. “We don’t see it because we have a twisted aesthetic, taking natural things to be lower class. We are addicted to city beautification: uprooting agricultural crops and trees on the land, building cities, and importing expensive and fruitless garden plants.”

Yu goes on to make an analogy: “It’s kind of ludicrous and harmful feudalistic aristocratic aesthetic. Like when we bound women’s feet and still viewed it as beautiful and elegant. We now are binding the feet of nature.”

To view more about the winning projects click the links below:

Shanghai Houtan Park: Landscape as a Living System

The Qinhuangdao Beach Restoration: An Ecological Surgery

Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park: The Adaptation Palettes


  1. He well deserves the awards. I met him a few years ago, very humble and forward thinking.
    He invited me to China to speak to his students, never got it together to go, sorry I didn't.

  2. I am fascinated by Yu's aesthetic and the way it incorporates the wild into the garden (or park).

    BTW, I have a feature on my blog called "Garden Blogs of the month," and your blog is one of three I have chosen to highlight this month. My post introducing the three blogs just went up today, and your blog will also be featured on my sidebar throughout the month of May. I'm a fan :-). -Jean

  3. Excellent sound bite. It's an interesting cultural parallel to compare European aristocratic traditions with eastern aristocratic traditions.

  4. The foot binding analogy is quite thought provoking.

    And,ignorantly, I was unaware that landscape architecture had it's version of the Oscars or Tony Awards. I love those "who knew?" moments.

  5. Yeah, I'm still waiting for Ryan Seacrest to host them . . .


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