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    Turenscape and The Art of Survival

    Courtney Healey Oct 11 '08 4

    Last night was the one and only "Lecture on Architecture" that will happen this year in Vancouver, a 30 year tradition of bringing relevant and exciting contemporary practitioners out here to the end of the earth. A deflated introduction cited the Vancouver League of Architect's and UBC SALA's failed efforts to find a donor to replace the 6-year support of Light Resource, but that they hope to reinstate the series for the 2009/2010 season.

    In 10 short years since graduating from the GSD's Doctor of Design program, Landscape Architect, Kongjian Yu's firm, Turenscape, has grown from 3 to more than 300 people. Turenscape is comprised of Landscape Architects, Urban Designers, Biologists, and Architects working on projects at a range of scales from national ecological infrastructure planning to water management in many of China's new towns and cities to landscape design of small community parks. He presented last week at the ASLA Awards in Philadelphia.

    Kongjian Yu also founded the Landscape Architecture Department at Peking University, and has been in an ideological battle from the beginning to save China's environment by looking, not to the high culture of ornamental garden design, but to China's productive ancient vernacular landscapes, the "'real' Land of Peach Blossoms". By looking at a 2000-year-old dam, we can learn how to harvest the power of water without preventing fish from swimming up-stream. Through a blend of traditional vernacular thinking and contemporary technology we can re-learn the art of survival. Yu took us through a handful of projects illustrating each through this lens.

    The Floating Gardens of Yongning River Park
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    The Red Ribbon at Tanghe River Park
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    Zhongshan Shipyard Park
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    During Q&A, a Chinese student in the audience challenged Yu about the "Chineseness" of his designs, and what he means by vernacular, implying that his dismissal of "tradition" was because of his western education, that he had been "Westernized".

    Yu doesn't take this sort of slander lying down, and countered by reaffirming the theme of his lecture... That Chineseness has come to mean one thing, the "bound-feet" traditions of pavilions and sick neutered landscapes, but that this Chineseness tells only one story, a high-culture story, leaving out the "big-footed" peasants and a vernacular ancient tradition of land stewardship. He reiterated that China is an enormous Brownfield site, that they are destroying their environment every day with an engineering-driven mechanization of the landscape like huge channelized rivers and hydroelectric dams, and the propagation of cosmetic and non-productive gardens. Yu was helped a bit with his definition of "vernacular" by a woman in the audience who offered her long-understood meaning as something that is “Opportunistic, Buildable and Wise”. He said he is criticized all the time for being so-called Westernized, and it is ridiculous, of course he is Chinese, he can be nothing but Chinese. That his own generation and those after him have been educated wrong, and have come to misunderstand and accept a single Chinese tradition, when there are multiple traditions, multiple presents and multiple futures amongst its 1.3billion people.

    Yu and Turenscape have chosen to see the beauty in productive native landscapes, to "make friends with floods" and to bring rice paddies, agricultural fields and thereby birds and wildlife back to urbanity at Shenyang Architectural University Campus


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    Showing this image, he talked about how he recommended that the university leave some of the rice after the harvest, that it will provide beautiful autumn colour, but also that he remembers his farmer grandparents telling him to "leave some rice in the corner of the field or the rats will come to your house," that it is advantageous to provide some food and security for the whole ecosystem and not only ourselves.

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    • 4 Comments

    • Nam HendersonNam Henderson
      Oct 11, 08 6:47 pm

      Man that is a wicked project.
      And while i certainly don't disagree with the main point of his argument i found interesting/provocative his response to his designs not reflecting the Chinese vernacular, by arguing that all of China is one huge Brownfield.
      Especially as Turenscape's projects such as the one above do seem to reflect a particularly Chinese sensitivity to landscapes, in many of the features and aesthetics of the project.

      Courtney Healey
      Oct 11, 08 9:03 pm

      Maybe I was unclear, but I think he was trying to make a new distinction between the terms "traditional" and "vernacular" associating traditional with the ornamental high-culture Chinese landscape design and the vernacular with productive and healthy strategies. By employing only the ornamental at the expense of the productive, Chinese designers lose the tools and knowledge needed to deal with their environmental "Brownfield" crisis.

      will gallowaywill galloway
      Oct 11, 08 10:20 pm

      amazing project. i am embarassed to say i hadn't heard of him. thanks!

      Nam HendersonNam Henderson
      Oct 12, 08 12:21 pm

      Courtney i think i understand. I was just saying that i thin it interesting that he seem to be arguing for Chinese equaling process/approach not style/ornamentation..

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