Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong

Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong builds on seven years of design-based experiential learning across mainland Southeast Asia by the Division of Landscape Architecture. This year, focusing on the regional impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in northern Laos, students spend one term engaging issues of development vis-à-vis landscape architecture to define problems and produce innovative planning proposals. To build their knowledge base, students synthesized, through maps and diagrams, geography and anthropology literature on Laos’s major drivers of landscape change, including land reallocation polices, protected area development, watershed planning, drug eradication, illegal timber trade, and artisanal and corporate mining practices. Having not visited Laos this term due to the pandemic, we took the opportunity to reinforce critical approaches to planning, in which we understand our “sites” as inherently multi-sited constructs dominated by different stakeholders’ perspectives. In place of their field trip, each student was assigned pairs of existing development projects that we visited in previous years, and they were instructed to imagine the frictions between those sites’ ideologies, aims, expertise, and longer histories. For their strategic planning proposals, students each asked difficult questions of development and sustainability practices, including: Challenging impact assessment scope; qualifying the remediation potential of Chinese contract farming; bridging scientific study and community forestry; mitigating the industrialization and over-harvesting of species for traditional medicine; and exploring overlaps between mass ecotourism, protected areas and the illegal wildlife trade. Students had their work juried by a mix of ecologists, sociologists, geographers, activists, and philanthropists, in addition to designers and planners.

The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure

Responding to contemporary ecological pressures and current high demand for infrastructure development worldwide, this course brought together a series of thinkers and researchers from the design commons across Eurasia to discuss different methods, models and measures of large scale, long range infrastructure projects for the 21st century. This course challenged the commonplace assertion that the work of infrastructure remains invisible until it fails. Instead, It opened a horizon on infrastructure’s cultural valence that remains primarily symbolic — of technological development, of political patronage, of resistance to sovereign power. In addition to the weekly guest lectures and occasional screening of films, students worked in pairs to develop a videographic essay. Focusing on the multilateral transnational infrastructure development projects at China’s borderlands that are playing a significant role in current Chinese initiatives to create transnational China-centric development corridors, these videographic essays explored the following questions: How are environments and infrastructures built? Who builds them? What materials are required? What influences and forces act upon them? How are they changing? Through digital means, students explored and interpreted historic spatial processes and contemporary ecologic patterns to open a new lens on urbanization, where representation is, in and of itself, a form of research.

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.

Introduction to Landscape Design Studio

In this studio, students explored the core practices of landscape design in the context of high-density, dynamic urban sites in Hong Kong. Focusing on the everyday landscapes of urban enclaves and engineered slopes, students discovered the exceptional opportunities for landscape design and social and ecological enrichment of urban sites. The semester was divided into two projects, each tackling urban landscape concerns dealing with the edges, the gaps, and the overlaps of the city. In Project 1, ‘Exquisite Corpse, Sectional Surgery’, students explored the nature of spatial interventions in Hong Kong’s physical structure with a focused study of man-made slopes, which are essential in supporting our inhabitation of a geologically unstable terrain. After a focused investigation of the site conditions, students used the method of ‘exquisite corpse’ as a driver for generating design processes, inviting chance and unpredictability. In Project 2, ‘Sacred Spaces, Common Places’, students focused on the minority cemeteries in Happy Valley. After investigating aspects of practices and provisions relating to the dead in urban Hong Kong, students proposed interventionist strategies to untap potentials of these often-overlooked urban enclaves, cultivating new relationships between the living and the dead, the past and the present, and the tangible and intangible heritages within a high-density urban setting.

Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong

Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong builds on seven years of design-based experiential learning across mainland Southeast Asia by the Division of Landscape Architecture. This year, focusing on the regional impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in northern Laos, students spend one term engaging issues of development vis-à-vis landscape architecture to define problems and produce innovative planning proposals. To build their knowledge base, students synthesized, through maps and diagrams, geography and anthropology literature on Laos’s major drivers of landscape change, including land reallocation polices, protected area development, watershed planning, drug eradication, illegal timber trade, and artisanal and corporate mining practices. Having not visited Laos this term due to the pandemic, we took the opportunity to reinforce critical approaches to planning, in which we understand our “sites” as inherently multi-sited constructs dominated by different stakeholders’ perspectives. In place of their field trip, each student was assigned pairs of existing development projects that we visited in previous years, and they were instructed to imagine the frictions between those sites’ ideologies, aims, expertise, and longer histories. For their strategic planning proposals, students each asked difficult questions of development and sustainability practices, including: Challenging impact assessment scope; qualifying the remediation potential of Chinese contract farming; bridging scientific study and community forestry; mitigating the industrialization and over-harvesting of species for traditional medicine; and exploring overlaps between mass ecotourism, protected areas and the illegal wildlife trade. Students had their work juried by a mix of ecologists, sociologists, geographers, activists, and philanthropists, in addition to designers and planners.

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.

Reservoir Urbanism in Shenzhen

Known as the “instant city”, Shenzhen has grown from Bao’an County of 300,000 people to a burgeoning metropolis of over 20 million in four decades, since it was established as the Special Economic Zone in 1980. One of the cradles of China’s rapid economic expansion and global reintegration, Shenzhen also spearheaded a revolutionary dynamic in the country’s urban development. While rapid urbanization has increased incomes and improved livelihoods, it also has had significant environmental impacts. The conversion of vegetated surfaces to urban areas alters the exchange of heat, water, aerosols, and momentum between the land surface and overlying atmosphere.

In addition, the city’s rocketing population growth and explosive construction boom have resulted in a unique urban form. Among the topics on Shenzhen’s urban morphology, the “urban village” is perhaps the most widely discussed. However, the city’s landscape counterpart — its “urban waters” remains largely unknown. There are 189 government-managed reservoirs scattered throughout Shenzhen’s territory interconnected with a complex network of 310 streams and rivers. While most of the reservoirs are located in the city’s periphery, some can be found in the middle of built-up areas. These urban reservoirs constitute a largely unknown, but critical element of the city’s urban framework, an arterial infrastructure that has been quietly sustaining and nourishing the “Shenzhen miracle.”

Set on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta (PRD), one of the world’s most extensive and intricate estuaries, the “Shenzhen miracle” is a story of how naturally occurring biophysical processes modified by a myriad of “engineering” interventions result in an interdependent landscape of new physical realities, cultural expressions and economic dynamics. By examining the ever-changing roles that Shenzhen’s reservoirs play in guiding the city’s occupation, use and urbanization, this project interweaves the story of Shenzhen’s engineered landscape with that of the city itself. Moreover, drawing on the approach of forward-thinking landscape architects who work to re-envision the relationships between landscape, infrastructure and urbanism, this project sheds light on the tremendous opportunities that Shenzhen’s urban reservoirs provide to mitigate undesirable results of rapid urbanization, and contribute to building up the environmental and social resilience of this high-density city.

Interstitial Hong Kong

In this studio, students explored the core practices of landscape design in the context of high-density, dynamic urban sites in Hong Kong. Focusing on the everyday landscapes such as resting areas and engineered slopes, students discovered the exceptional opportunities for landscape design and social and ecological enrichment of urban sites. The semester was divided into two projects, each tackling urban landscape concerns dealing with the edges, the gaps, and the overlaps of the city. In Project 1, ‘(Inter)positioning’, students explored the nature of spatial interventions in Hong Kong’s physical structure with a focused study of Sitting-out Areas and Rest Gardens. Using methods of collage, deformation, and morphological transformation, students developed a critique about the parameters and principles of the existing typology. In Project 2, ‘A Cemetery Park In-between’, students focused on the ‘in-between’ fields of culturally, topographically, and ecologically distinct development areas at Happy Valley Cemetery. Taking on notions of expanded roles for infrastructure, students were challenged to consider strategies that construct habitable ground for both people and ecology. Through multiple exercises, the students explored design methodologies including typological analysis, abstraction, projection and iteration. Students refined their capabilities in presenting landscape designs in both measured conventional formats, and in inventive, process-driven techniques.

Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong

Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong builds on six years of design-based experiential learning across mainland Southeast Asia by the Division of Landscape Architecture. This year, focusing on the regional impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in northern Laos, students spend one term engaging issues of development vis-à-vis landscape architecture to define problems and produce innovative planning proposals. Before visiting Laos in early March, students reviewed literature on Laos’s major drivers of landscape change, including land reallocation polices, protected area development, watershed planning, drug eradication, illegal timber trade, and artisanal and corporate mining practices. Students synthesized these issues through maps and diagrams and distributed them as a 150-page report to organizations met in Laos. In addition to visiting several conservation management projects, students presented their work to the landscape ecology lab at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan and civil society in Laos, including representatives from domestic NGOs, bilateral aid agencies and embassies from Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, as well as international organizations, including OXFAM and the UN-FAO. For their strategies, students developed proposals for a range of sites and issues, including: Chinese development enclaves at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and the China-Laos border; Remediation potential of Chinese contract farming; China-led transboundary forest research plots and community forest initiatives; Ethno-botanical knowledge at Xishuangbanna, Laos’s newly opened botanical garden in Luang Prabang, and civil society learning centers; Resilience of China-Laos Railway temporary access roads; and Materials sourcing in large infrastructure and development enclave construction.

Staging Water Urbanisms: Landscape infrastructure for Changan Township, Guangdong

Course Title: Staging Water Urbanisms: Landscape infrastructure for Changan Township, Guangdong

This three-week research and design workshop examines the land reclamation and hydrologic infrastructure of Chang’an Township on the southern edge of Dongguan bordering Shenzhen. It acknowledges the layered histories of urban development and planning within Chang’an, its disjointed relationship to the urbanization of its neighbors, and the environmental transformation resulting from a complex conflict in the management of water infrastructure. The workshop considers the hydrologic infrastructures as “staging grounds” for urbanism, working carefully with existing material, social, and ecological conditions while speculating on the future of Chang’an in light of its current planning efforts. Through ethnographic research, case study analysis, and interdisciplinary discussions with engineers and planners, students explore the potentials of engineered landscape in the cultural, social, and economic production of the territory. Students create a set of transects focusing on four primary natural and artificial waterways in Chang’an:

(T1) URBAN WATER – Changqing River and Maozhou River;
(T2) MANAGING WATER – Huanshan Channel and Xinmin Channel;
(T3) WATER ECOLOGIES – Shachong River, Dongyin River and Sanba River;
(T4) PLANNING FOR WATER  –  Dongyin River and Modie River.

Research Teams:
T1: MOK Siu Man; LI Aijing; POON Yan Lam
T2: LAW Wai Yan; NWE Saw Yu; ZOU Wen Yao
T3: CHAN Lok; LEE Yin Chik; MAK Sui Hin
T4: CHONG Ying Monica; SHUM Hiu Lam