Related Staff : Dorothy Tang
Plants and their environments embody millennia of mutual adaptation. Plants are a product of their environment and simultaneously modify their surroundings, setting in motion myriad ecological and geological processes. At the same time, plants are culturally rooted, formed by and forming entire societies. The invention of agriculture and the domestication of certain plants has shaped settlement patterns and relates to the landscape in very specific ways. As the boundaries between ‘nature’ and ‘cultivation’ become increasingly blurred, this studio explored contemporary landscape design and planning methodologies through an ethnographic understanding of the role of plants in rural settings. The studio is set in the Autonomous County of Ninger in Yunnan Province. Home to multiple ethnic minorities, primarily the Hani and Yi peoples, Ninger is also located in the famous Pu’er tea region and an ecologically diverse river basin. The studio challenged students to address the often conflicting needs for urban development within this impoverished area while maintaining its ecological value, all at the same time addressing conflicts of ethnic identity and planning politics. Throughout the semester, students were encouraged continually to ask three critical questions: What is the role of the ‘village’ in a rapidly urbanizing China? How are landscape architects positioned within the top-down vs. the bottom-up approaches to planning and design? How might landscape designers adopt scientific and ethnographic methodologies within the design process? The studio first questioned the role and definition of a village in order to determine the appropriate scale of interventions within the region. Then it adopted a ‘plant’s-eye view’ of the world to understand the ecological and cultural landscape of Ninger. Students then conducted fieldwork in collaboration with colleagues from Peking University—that then went on to inform planning policies and design interventions.