Engaging development through critical landscape planning

This thesis section has for several years encouraged transdisciplinary landscape planning interventions in China’s large-scale eco-environmental programmes (生态立州). With China’s Belt and Road Initiative and increasingly diverse processes of going out (走出去), this section welcomes landscape-driven theses in transnational arenas of global environmental importance heavily influenced by Chinese development, aid and expertise. Indeed, lessons from China’s internal development, such as the long-running Western Development campaign (西部大开发), provide a critical lens for understanding new potentials for Chinese-led projects in ecologically complex frontiers. The global shift during the 1990s to models of “sustainable development” greatly influenced the establishment of China’s environmental legislation and national environmental programmes. Such national projects as the Sloping Land Conversion and Natural Forest Protection Programs mold, sometimes with great conflict, to diverse geographies where people impacted have a direct attachment to the landscape. However, these frontiers are typically the domain of multilateral development banks and international environmental NGOs. The design and planning disciplines’ involvement is either nascent or, when it exists in regional or master planning, naive, subservient and disciplinarily siloed. This thesis section seeks a renewed agency for landscape architecture in development. Theses will explore how landscape architecture could mediate technical practices (e.g., impact assessment of engineering projects, scientific prediction of ecosystem services) and practices of sustainability (e.g., technology transfers, resource governance) as discovered, studied, organized, and/or disseminated via design and the desire to intervene. Students will employ strategies such as counter-mapping and generate designs that synthesize environmental knowledge with differing value systems into landscape-driven scenarios and development narratives. Long the arena of geography and anthropology, the landscape architect and planner find disciplinary footing from earlier periods of landscape planning, contemporary landscape urbanism, and emergent technologies and approaches from civil engineering and sustainability sciences.

Productive Cities

Resources required to sustain urban life are increasingly supplied from a vast hinterland of productive landscapes well beyond the city’s boundaries. The ecological footprint (food- water- energy- footprints) of a high rise high density city should now be considered at a global scale. Cross boundary resource dependence, however, is subject to political considerations. This thesis stream explores the city as a site of production and asks what could we produce from the fabric of the city and to what extent could a city ever be self-sustaining. Although urban agriculture (in its multiple forms) is the most well-known form of production, we can also think of the city’s capacity to collect water, generate power, derive material resources (through waste), sequester carbon and even produce social capital (happiness) and physical wellbeing. Further, in identifying these potential urban products, we should consider both how and by whom. Can landscape architectural (re-)thinking at site – district – city scales help transform and shape cities so that the idea and form of production become integrated into the physical, ecological and social urban fabric.

Toward a New Nature, or, Landscape’s reckoning with technology

This thesis track imagines the impact of synthetic ecologies on the city. As emerging technologies reshape the substance and organization of our environments, landscape architects protest as disciplinary luddites-conversant with the concept of nature compromised by technology, but resistant to the concept of a nature augmented by, directed by, or created by technology. The 20th century model of technology and its complex, specialized assemblies is indeed remote to the practice of landscape architecture as the steward of natural and public realms. But increasingly, the boundaries between technology and nature are blurring, complicating our ethics, our agency, and our theories. Environmental engineering and biosynthetic manufacturing at territorial scales is on the horizon-let’s imagine this future or be left out of determining it. This thesis track will focus on the relationship between technological futures and the ecosystems of the city. Students will research emerging biological, material, and information technologies (and the systems/services they enable) with reference to a set of critiques about the landscape discipline’s role in shaping the public realm, addressing urbanization processes and their residues, and tackling climate change. Theses will work across a range of scales and develop critical design methodologies, working prototypes and dynamic simulations of applied technology. Ultimately, through physical design and material proposals, as well as through landscape-driven scenario-planning and visualizations, the work will articulate new trajectories for the landscape architecture discipline.

Future of the Countryside

In September 2014, Rem Koolhaas published an article in the “Icon” Magazine, titled “Koolhaas in the country”. He writes: “The countryside is now the frontline of transformation. A world formerly dictated by the seasons and the organisation of agriculture is now a toxic mix of genetic experiment, science, industrial nostalgia, seasonal immigration, territorial buying sprees, massive subsidies, incidental inhabitation, tax incentives, investment, political turmoil, in other words more volatile than the most accelerated city.” The countryside is an amalgamation of tendencies that are outside our overview and outside our awareness. Our current obsession with only the city is highly irresponsible because you cannot understand the city without understanding the countryside. To the renowned Dutch architect, his interest in ruralism did not subside. In March 2018, Koolhaas was interviewed by the Financial Times, and he expressed again “[h]is new thing is ‘the rural’ – a radical reassessment of the relationship between the city and the countryside […]”. When looking at our own country, China always has a strong connection to the countryside. Historically as an agrarian country, managing the rural population well is always in the mind of the leaders and central government. Recent decades rural policies include the “building a new socialist countryside” movement initiated in 2006 and the currently implemented “Beautiful Village Policy”. In Hong Kong, incidents such as the relocation of Choi Yuen Village due to the just opened high speed rail alignment, and our government’s new town proposals in the countryside, spark revived interests in Hong Kong’s rural areas and their connections to the city, and an alternative lifestyle other than an urban one. It should not be ignored that there are also criticisms about how city-oriented mentalities are imposing values from the urban trajectory and romanticizing lifestyles in the countryside. How is the rural landscape being perceived by villagers and city-dwellers, and from who’s perspectives should rural development be driven, are part of the questions to explore in this thesis track. For example, the numerous Art Festivals curated in Japan’s rural villages in recent decade, aim to invite artists to live, work, and create, in the countryside. Such extended rural experience is to transform the often city-mindset to a perspective that speaks from the countryside. Of course, these art festivals also generate seasonal tourism to the villages, which also can be a debatable issue for discussion. While this thesis track is broadly exploring contemporary ruralism, it welcomes both written and design theses. Your study site can be selected from either the areas mentioned above, or anywhere in the World. Just like Koolhaas, his observation and interest to the rural started from a Swiss village. For your information, Koolhaas will be curating an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2019, titled “Countryside: Future of the World”. It is possibly the right timing to explore the countryside now.

Site design-does it matter?

Site design-does it matter? When? Where? Why? How? In the face of dire environmental challenges including climate change, extreme wealth disparity, political strife, in addition to the only increased demand on natural resources and productive capacities of regional landscapes, the value of site-scaled built works can not be taken for granted. It is appropriate to question the importance of devoting energies to crafting built landscapes, and yet we know that some of these places will help bring communities together, support individual recovery, create places of memory and perhaps even nurture the sublime-in short, some built landscapes do matter a great deal. This thesis stream focuses on advancing methods for more critically understanding ways in which landscapes are valued. Potential areas of study include: Theoretical analysis for ways in which value is identified in different ways and by various user groups. How much was this planned for versus evolved over time? What role is the history of the site? Critical case studies investigating sites recognized as being especially meaningful. How significant a factor is the formal design vis-a-vis management and stewardship? More projective explorations for applying lessons of past works to new contexts, expressing new models of place making. Who are currently underserved communities, and what are strategies for producing landscapes to benefit these groups?

Small Intervention & Urban Surgery

We cannot expect the economy to keep high as what we have experienced in the last two decades. Many cities are transforming themselves from the rapid sprawl to the improvement of spatial and social quality. In the past decades, landscape architects have produced a vast amount of homogenous, coarse, and placeless spaces on this planet, especially on the land of China and other developing countries. We have to see the modern landscape design practice have created many fragmented, neglected, and unambiguous places in the city. They are often forgotten gaps or debris between many “symbolic”, “profitable”, or “iconic” spaces. We have to see we are so addictive to be designers of great “dream” projects. We are hands of crazy politicians and wasting billions of taxpayers’ money. We have to see we often have ignorance of local wisdom, power from grass root, and local construction experience. We have to see our values are pendulous: We are chasing most popular forms, materials, and colors from the Internet and magazines but we are so reluctant to make our hands and boots dirty on site. That is, we are very like an outsider or a knight on a white horse. Keeping doing that would finally make us become fast-fashion designers who are selling instant and superficial illusions. In this thesis study, we will explore several types of possibilities: How to revitalize the neglected, valueless, or even dangerous places in the city? How to understand human nature and behavior in a specific context and use the knowledge for a design intervention? On the other hand, how to understand the universal human nature and behavior as another driver of design intervention? How to use small and pristine design interventions to transform a site to a place with Genius Loci? Last, you don’t have to agree on all or some of my extreme opinions. Working with me if you have the same feeling(s) as mine.

The Urban-Rural Imaginaries

The urbanization of the world is a kind of exteriorization of the inside as well as interiorization of the outside: the urban unfolds into the countryside just as the countryside folds back into the city. … Yet the fault-lines between these two worlds aren’t defined by any simple urban-rural divide, nor by anything North-South; instead, centers and peripheries are immanent within the accumulation of capital itself… -Merifield (2011) as quoted by Brenner, N., & Schmid, C. (2014). The ‘Urban Age’ in question. International journal of urban and regional research, 38(3), 731-755. Rapid urbanization occurring in Asian cities over the last four decades has left a unique and expansive set of urban conditions that challenge traditional notions of the city and its hinterland. Urban development today extends well beyond core municipal boundaries in a dynamic landscape that, free of traditional planning restrictions, is driven instead by economic, political, social, demographic and ecological flux. Described variously as urban-rural fringe, peri-urban, or urban hinterland, these peripheral urbanized landscapes contain a spectrum of rural and urban land uses, assorted building morphologies and fragmented scales, and diverse economic networks. Due to their liminal condition-not fully urban but not at all rural, densely populated but frequently containing productive landscapes–these areas are frequently ignored by urban core-centric policies, plans, and development services. Likewise, their potential social and ecological services are usually overlooked as planners seeking to soften the negative effects of urbanization. This thesis track will seek to bring these peripheral landscapes to the fore by developing frameworks that conceptualize their hybrid conditions. Students will start by defining an urban fringe and understanding it’s spatial identity. Designs will ultimately project these conditions of settlement, infrastructure, and ecology onto the larger urban system to develop new imaginaries about nature and the city. Can we learn from these hybrid conditions and speculate on how they can be applied elsewhere? Can the urban rural fringe become a mechanism that allow for urbanization in a more sustainable way? Can we find an identity to these fringe landscapes? Ultimately, students must also consider the medium of representation itself to grapple with the imagery of design/ research in a pre-professional, post-digital context.

Border Landscape / le voisinage

The world has never been so interconnected in the long history of human beings. To the contrary, we also live in an increasingly divisive world. Physical environment we live in is not immune from these underlying structural forces. Increasing tensions between center vs. periphery; global north vs. global south; city vs. suburbia, urbanization vs. conservation, etc are clear evidences we see in the news on a every day basis. These debates operate at multiple scales, ranging from the local to the global. What does this mean for spatial designers? How can designers comprehend this, especially as professionals who often are expected to draw boundaries, borders, edges that define limits within our environments? Who and how do we exclude and include when we draw a line in a given project? One of the principal interests in political boundaries relates to the way in which a boundary or frontier influences both the landscape of which it is a part and the development of the policies of the states on either side. Despite the 1950s ideology to govern space hegemonically through delimitating and demarcating, the concept of a linear boundary could never be established as an absolute, geographical fact. The geographical and historical boundaries conventionally set down as lines on a map represent the edges of zones, which extend and retreat. Pierre de Lapradelle termed this zone le voisinage, and ‘border landscape’ or ‘frontier landscape’ is suggested as an equivalent term. This thesis stream investigates human, urban and ecological implications of border landscape. It will place particular emphasis on the interaction between ecological and political boundaries. Students should be prepared to apply analytical cartography, photography and video in their research, in order to reveal the hidden layers of landscape where multiple tensions converge.

Man-made Ecologies: Interpreting Layers of Urban Landscapes

Nature in the city is unquestionable dominated by man-made landscapes. At its very basic, it is an accumulation of material – arranged, adjusted, disposed. But the question if nature is shaped by the city or if the city is designed upon its natural origin is more complex. In this densely intertwined system, concepts of the ‘natural’ and the ‘built’ environment cannot be read autonomously but have to be understood as layers of cultural, economic, social forces as well as its geographical conditions: exotic material superimposes local geology, the urban wild overlaps manicured green space, the built heritage overwrites natural history. Landscapes and micro ecologies in the urban context are in constant shift. The processes of changing shape and program, often influenced by piecemeal interventions on a comparatively small scale, build up a history of multi-layered landscapes which are directly connected to the very unique identity of a place. Even though documentation through surveys, photography and maps has never been as evident as in the past century, we are far away from fully grasping the impact of how these human interventions shape the environment. And, beyond comprehending, how do we engage with these urban ecologies bridging between acknowledgement of local history and opportunistic prediction of the future? How can we distinguish between material culture of significant heritage and redundant repositories of urban matter? Can we clearly define what is exotic and what is native to a place, what is intentionally developed and what an accidental by-product? Do we need to call for restoration or rather favour neglected maintenance? This thesis stream will investigate urban ecologies along with the human interventions that determine their evolution. It will emphasize on the interpretation of the material culture, the enclaved ecologies and the social history which shape the ground conditions and define the setting of one place. It will raise the challenge for landscape architects of how to deal with this sometimes unknown, invisible or only temporarily visible heritage and how to respond to the challenges of enabling the evolution of functioning urban systems considering their ecological and social sustainability.

Engaging development through critical landscape planning

This thesis section has for several years encouraged transdisciplinary landscape planning interventions in China’s large-scale eco-environmental programmes (生态立州). With China’s Belt and Road Initiative and increasingly diverse processes of going out (走出去), this section welcomes landscape-driven theses in transnational arenas of global environmental importance heavily influenced by Chinese development, aid and expertise. Indeed, lessons from China’s internal development, such as the long-running Western Development campaign (西部大开发), provide a critical lens for understanding new potentials for Chinese-led projects in ecologically complex frontiers. The global shift during the 1990s to models of “sustainable development” greatly influenced the establishment of China’s environmental legislation and national environmental programmes. Such national projects as the Sloping Land Conversion and Natural Forest Protection Programs mold, sometimes with great conflict, to diverse geographies where people impacted have a direct attachment to the landscape (Yeh, 2013). However, these frontiers are typically the domain of multilateral development banks and international environmental NGOs. The design and planning disciplines’ involvement is either nascent or, when it exists in regional or master planning, naive and disciplinarily siloed. See Weller (2014) for an optimistic overview-from within landscape architecture-of the discipline’s past and potential contributions to environmental planning. This thesis section seeks a renewed agency for landscape architecture in development. Theses will explore how landscape architecture could mediate technical practices (e.g., impact assessment of engineering projects, scientific prediction of ecosystem services) and practices of sustainability (e.g., technology transfers, resource governance) as discovered, studied, organized, and disseminated via design and the desire to intervene. Students will employ strategies such as counter-mapping and generate designs that synthesize environmental knowledge with differing value systems into landscape-driven scenarios and development narratives. Long the arena of geography and anthropology, the landscape architect and planner find disciplinary footing from earlier periods of landscape planning, contemporary landscape urbanism, and emergent technologies and approaches from civil engineering and sustainability sciences. (For an immersion into related interdisciplinary human-environment project types, see Roy Chowdhury (2013).)