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Positioning Contemporary Landscape Architecture in China

来源:中华园林网   发布日期:2006-11-13 浏览次数:

In an era of multiple unprecedented challenges imposed by the processes of industrialization and urbanization, landscape architecture is now on the verge of change in China. It is time for this profession to take the great opportunity to position itself to play the key role in rebuilding the Land of Peach Blossoms for a new society of urbanized, globalized and inter-connected people.

  The role of agriculture has declined in China's urban-centered economy, along with the skills and the art of agricultural cultivation and stewardship. This process began with the classical scholar garden art from thousands of years ago, and has now spread to civic art and landscape design. Land design, once the king's art, has descended into the realm of the trivial.
  We see thousands of landscape architects compete for a tiny piece of land in the city. Simultaneously, our rivers run dry and polluted, underground water continues to drop every day, and in the north sand storms are affecting the area's arable land. Each year, the processes of urbanization and materialization lure one percent (approximately 13 million people) of the Chinese population to abandon their Land of Peach Blossoms and rush into the city. This process has expanded urban boundaries and encroached on agricultural land.
  The sacred Feng Shui forests have been cut and replaced with ornamental flowers. The grave yards of our ancestors have been leveled and their remains abandoned or removed to the planned cemeteries. Ponds outside the former villages have been filled, and whole settlements wiped out and replaced with glorious exotic stylish walled communities. The meandering country roads are being replaced with six-lane motorways and a baroque axes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Chinese began to work toward city beautification campaigns, in line with the "new socialist countryside" campaign launched by the central Chinese government. This has placed Chinese landscape planning at the forefront of an important precipice: there exists the danger of losing ecological integrity, cultural identity and historical heritage, while the great opportunity also exists to create a new relationship between the land and the people in the current era.
  65 percent of China's 1.3 billion population will live in cities in the coming 20 years (the present rate is 40 percent). Two thirds of the 667 cities lack sufficient water, and not a single river in the urban and suburban areas runs unpolluted. Thousands of dams criss-cross nearly all rivers in this country.

Environmental destruction

More than ever, the broader population is exposed to disastrous natural forces, as demonstrated by China's numerous floods and droughts each year. In the north, desertification is causing a crisis. Each year 3436 square kilometers of land is being turned into desert, and this figure is continually increasing. At present, the total area of desertification accounts for about 20 percent of the whole country, and each year about 5 billion tons of soil erodes into the ocean. Statistics shows that in the past 50 years in China, 50 percent of the nation's wetlands have disappeared, and 40 percent of the surviving wetlands have been polluted. The under ground water level drops every day. In Beijing for example, the overuse of underground water is 110 percent, and each year the water level drops by one meter.
  There are economic costs to this environmental destruction. While the GDP growth rate in the past twenty years is impressive in most Chinese cities, the annual loss caused by the environmental and ecological degradation is now between seven and twenty percent of the GDP. This is equal to, or even higher than, annual GDP growth rate. Can we survive the speedy deterioration of the environment and ecology?
  China's rapid and often chaotic socio-cultural transformation that started in the 1980s is causing a crisis of national and cultural identity. Traditionally, Chinese national identity was based on the feudalistic social and political order of the dynasties. In fact, when we look at the architectural hallmarks of China even in 2006, most sites listed as national and world heritages are products of feudalism, the imperial era, and the scholar-official culture. While we do not deny past achievements, we do need to ask ourselves whether this style represents our national cultural identity today.
  This identity crisis is particularly obvious in the area of urban design. When a French designer places his own masterpiece (the National Grand Opera House) into the center of China's capital to realize his own dream, or when the majestic but 'dysfunctional' Central TV Tower is built only for the "power to bewitch" (Daniel Burnham), we must, as designers, ask ourselves what are we trying to show the rest of the world? Torn between its own imperial past and today's Westernization, what is China's identity? These are important broader questions for China's landscape architects to consider.

The challenge of cultural identity

The third challenge is the loss of our spiritual homeland, where our soul rests and our life is devoted to making our existence meaningful. My grandmother once told me that when a tree grows old, it becomes a spirit, and other spirits will inhabit the old tree. The same is true of the fish, a snake or a bird and other animals. a rock lying outside our village for a long time will becomes a spirit. This is also true for streams, ponds, hills and the land itself. Our grandfathers built temples to shelter and worship our ancestors, the wise men of the past and the religious spirits for our own welfare. We used to believe these spirits protected our earthly life, and our future would depend on their judgment. Life was meaningful because of these spirits.
  40 million farmers have lost their land in the past few years, with an annual increase of two million. Where do they belong and where is their spiritual homeland? The bankruptcy of the former state-owned factories has left more than 21 million workers jobless. How much will they have to suffer spiritually for those who were educated to "regard their factory as their homes"?
  The trend toward materialism is taking over China at a rapid rate, just as in other regions in the world. This trend also dominates real estate development. The Dragon Hills (sacred hills) that protected numerous villages in rural China have been bulldozed. Meaningful and sacred streams and ponds outside the villages have been filled or channeled in the name of flood control. The old camphor tree with its tree spirits has been pruned and sold for the beautification of boulevard. Landscapes have become commercialized. Gradually, we have lost our spiritual connection to our land and to the world beyond this earthly one.
  In the face of environmental and ecological degradation, loss of cultural identity and the erosion of our spiritual connection to the land, the mission of contemporary landscape architecture is to bring nature, man and the spirits together again, to create a new Land of Peach Blossoms in an urbanized, globalized and industrialized era. How can landscape architecture play a major role in fulfilling this mission? The simple argument is that landscape is a medium upon in which various natural, cultural and spiritual processes interact. Landscape architecture is possibly the most legitimate profession among those dealing with our physical environment to work toward recovering our cultural identity and rebuilding the spiritual connection between the people and their land. The strength of landscape architecture lies in its intrinsic association with natural and its root in agricultural tradition, evolved from local systems over thousands years.

The mission of landscape architecture

First and foremost, if landscape architecture is to establish itself as a profession that safeguards humanity and brings together the land, the people and the spirit, it should reconsider its origins. We must recover its root as the king's art of survival, land design and land stewardship, and not as an art of entertaining and gardening. More than half a century ago, educator and landscape architect, Hideo Sasaki commented: "The profession of landscape architecture stands at a critical fork in the road. One fork leads to a significant field of endeavor contributing to the betterment of human environment, while the other points to a subordinate field of superficial embellishment. Unfortunately, except for some rare cases, landscape architecture in the past decades has been biased toward a subordinate field of superficial embellishment". We could have taken a more important role in some of the most pressing environmental issues including flood control and water management, the protection of biodiversity and cultural heritage, urbanization and land resources management.
  One of the most important reasons for landscape architecture's weakness in addressing major environmental issues is that the profession is still associated with the ancient tradition of gardening. The rich heritage and overwhelming literatures about gardening and garden art did not help landscape architecture to emerge as a modern discipline. It is time to declare that landscape architecture is not a direct decedent of garden art, but a product of the survival skills of our ancestors who had to endure a changeable environment, ensuring a safe place away from floods and enemies, while surviving by leveling the land, planting and irrigating crops, and saving water and other resources for sustaining the family and the people. Landscape architecture works on a larger and more significant scale than the field of garden arts.
  Since the appearance of the first imperial and intellectual gardens in China, as well as in other countries, landscape design and gardening had become synonymous with the art of creating the exotic and the grand, and being different from the common landscape and living environment. This can be well illustrated by the Chinese Imperial Garden of Shanglin Yuan of more than two thousands years ago, which features exotic plants and animal species. Another example is the intellectual gardens of South China's Suzhou, which represented spectacular and exotic scenic spots using rocks and water, and the imperial Grand View Gardens of the 17th century, was a collecting of gardens from south China. In this sense, there is virtually no difference in the western Culture, as reflected in the English gardens that collect exotic ornamental species from China, and Versailles that were created as a paradise in the sea of "chaotic vernacular landscape."
  The overwhelming "city beautiful movement" in China, as inherited from the United States, also has its own "city gardening" origin, but is an extension of the decorative, cosmetic and exotic search. For more than two thousands years, the art of landscaping has lost its way in searching for senseless style, meaningless form and exotic grandeur. Landscape gardening has for a long time been limited to the elite class, including city dwellers who do not care about the survival of the common people struggling with flood and draughts, year after year.
  For a long time, greenbelts and green wedges were seen as element providing landscape structures to stop and prevent the everlasting sprawl; and they were planned in comprehensive master plans. Current evidences show that these greenbelts and wedges dreams have failed. Some of the major reasons include: (1) They are usually planned artificially and arbitrary, and lack the intrinsic relationship between the green elements and the living earth system; (2) They are not use by residents, due to the lack of accessibility and connectivity between green space and housing projects, and so on. (3) They usually function only as barriers to stop the urban sprawl processes, and lack various functions, such as flood control, creational use, heritage protection, and habitat protection; (4) They quickly become development opportunities when pressures on the peripheral increases; (5) They are impossible to administer and safeguard in a metropolitan region that is fragmented into myriad local governments, cutting across greenbelt and wedge jurisdictions.
  The search is on for a more differentiated, fine-grain ecological integration model that can be envisioned, implemented and managed on all scales. As a consequence the ecological planning approach has risen to prominence again typically under the flag of lan McHarg's Layer model, which tries to provide land-use planning a sound ecological basis.
  Under this framework, time is visualized as a string that links, and as a tool that enables understanding and vertically integrates, different layers of physical, and finally what is "on top", the most resent layer of cultural processes. These include the earliest geological processes, soil processes, vegetation processes, and finally what's 'on top', the most recent layer of the cultural processes. It is a vision of progress - of natural evolution based on the intrinsic values of a specific site. The core for this model of ecological planning is that fitting can best plan urban development. With the maximum fitting of the land use pattern to the intrinsic values on the earth, the best development pattern can be achieved.

Horizontal and vertical processes

The two models, namely the conventional urban growth model and the ecological planning model, are incompatible. One of the obvious reasons for this incompatibility is that the conventional urban growth is often a horizontal process, while the ecological suitability analysis is essentially a vertical process. Green space based on the layering model can not only protect the horizontal ecological processes, such as species movement in the system, it may actually become attractor for intensive urban development .The economic value of the land surrounding this green space will increase and development may eventually encroach. The development of landscape ecology, which focuses on landscape patterns, horizontal processes and change, provides the fundamentals for setting up a green infrastructure that will help to integrate the horizontal processes of urban development with ecological protection.
  This is a new ecological planning model: time can be visualized as a multi-scaled ecological infrastructure, or landscape security pattern that safeguards the various ecological, cultural and spiritual processes across the landscape and provides ecosystem services for the sustainability of a region and a city such as water and flood processes, biodiversity protection and species flow, heritage corridors and areas for recreation.
  On the large scale, the ecological infrastructure consists of the permanent regional landscape of flood prevention, ecological networks, heritage corridors and recreational corridors, which are planned for protection and define urban growth pattern and the form of the city. On the intermediate scale, the regional ecological infrastructure is integrated into the interior urban structure, and becomes the urban green space system that comprises various functions such as commuting, cycling, heritage protection and recreational activities. On the small scale, the ecological infrastructure defines the structure for urban land development, and guides site-specific design. This landscape infrastructure becomes an integrated medium of various processes, bringing nature, man and spirits together. It is the efficient landscape security pattern to safeguard ecological and environment integrity, cultural identity and to provide for people's spiritual needs.

英文版图书:The Art of Survival: Recovering Landscape Architecture, Kongjian yu, Images



Figure 1
Artful land cultivation was the basis for a highly developed culture in china. Decorative landscape architecture does not offer solutions for today's serious environmental problems.

Figure 2
An artist depicted the Grand View Ga\arden in China's last feudalistic dynasty, the Qin (16th century). It followed the idealistic "Land of Peach Blossoms", with beautiful sceneries but with no productive fields.

Figure 3
Design in the cities is eclectic. It is based on the ornamental garden design of the court and thus fails to give identity.

Figure 4-1
Even holy Feng Shui trees are dug up in the villages and sold for the beautification of cities. There they become sad symbols of the similarly uprooted rural population, forced to hire out as day labourers.

Figure 4-2
Even holy Feng Shui trees are dug up in the villages and sold for the beautification of cities. There they become sad symbols of the similarly uprooted rural population, forced to hire out as day labourers.

Figure 4-3
Even holy Feng Shui trees are dug up in the villages and sold for the beautification of cities. There they become sad symbols of the similarly uprooted rural population, forced to hire out as day labourers.

Figure 5-1
If landscape architects in china persist in the garden design tradition they will not be able to meet the demands of modern society, to stop the destruction of resource: Shanghai skyline

Figure 5-2
If landscape architects in china persist in the garden design tradition they will not be able to meet the demands of modern society, to stop the destruction of resource: development project

Figure 6
Only few of the rivers in China are not canalized. In the construction of the Three Gorges Dam alone 16 million cubic metres of concrete were used.

Figure 7
The Beijing Olympic Stadium is referred to as the Bird's Nest; 500 kilograms of steel went into each square metre. Design: Herzog & de Meuron

Figure 8
Cities are decorated with expensive and highly maintained exotic ornamental plants. The native vegetation has been completely wiped out.

Figure 9
Concrete and engineering structures are employed to put a stop to flooding. Concrete dykes surround even the beautiful island of Hainan on the south coast.

Figure 10-1
The City of Heze in the Yellow River Valley, Shandong Province was surrounded by attenuation basins to prevent flooding. In time the basins were built upon, the city grew and now floods regularly.

Figure 10-2
The City of Heze in the Yellow River Valley, Shandong Province was surrounded by attenuation basins to prevent flooding. In time the basins were built upon, the city grew and now floods regularly.

Figure 10-3
The City of Heze in the Yellow River Valley, Shandong Province was surrounded by attenuation basins to prevent flooding. In time the basins were built upon, the city grew and now floods regularly.

Figure 11
This article is the shortened version of a lecture held at the IFLA Eastern Region Conference in Sydney, May 2006.

Figure 12
Examples of ecologically sound traditional methods of cultivation and building with nature are increasingly scarce. Protected from flooding a settlement sits high on the embankment of a river in the rural Provice of Hunan.




  ·Positioning Contemporary Landscape Architecture in China 2006-11-13