I said our cities were designed by architects when the layout design is predominated by the traffic or other urban infrastructures. Landscape architect’s role is to fill the blank when everything else is done. That was the mainstream urban planning strategy so far. I think landscape architects should do urban planning.
There is an saying that “An accomplished disciple owes his accomplishment to his great teacher.” While you were pursuing your master’s degree at University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass in brief), you were influenced by two great professors – Joe Volpe and Jack Ahern. In your perspective, what is the biggest influence from both of them?
俗话说名师出高徒，在美国麻省大学景观与区域规划系攻读研究生期间，您师从两位德高望重的教授约瑟夫·沃尔普(Joe Volpe)和杰克·埃亨(Jack Ahern)。想请问您，两位教授对您最大的改变是什么？
刚获得2017年度英国景观行业协会（BALI）国家景观奖的融科中心项目 | © 易兰设计
The two professors you just mentioned were both my tutors at University of Massachusetts. Another professor is Julius Fábos who has retired. They both offered me all-round education and inspired me a lot.
Yet their design strategies are completely different. Students either followed one of them or one another. Nobody was like me who liked both of their strategies. Joe Volpe is the representative of hard core traditional design approach, which is the strict and traditional design method that focuses on projects of mostly small scales. If you want your project to be honored in his class you must pay attention to the scale, proportion and materials, which are typical factors you would notice in a traditional project. As for Jack Ahern, who was the head of the department back to then, represents the new generation and a contemporary design trend to the regional planning in large scale. It was the mid of 1980s when I was at University of Massachusetts, right at the moment when contemporary landscape was sweeping in both the academic field and the landscape industry. Jack is the one of them who speak for ecological planning and landscape urbanism.
Discord did exist between the two sides. Students may choose one direction or another to follow. But for me, both treated me very well. I learnt different theories, different design methods of different scales from theboth. It is consistent with my design method from big scale to small detail that I used afterwards.
你刚才提到这两位教授，是我在马萨诸塞大学(University of Massachusetts)的时候指导过我的教授，还有一位教授的名字是朱利叶斯·法布斯(Julius Fábos)，已经退休了，实际上这几位教授给我的启迪是全方位的。
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You are a master at small-scale space creating, at the same time, you are also very good at working on projects in city scale, or regional scale. Landscape architects need to solve problems in different scales, or even trans-scales. In your projects, what is your strategy dealing with projects with different scales or trans-scales?
I initiated the concept of “mega landscape architecture” when I was back to China in 2000. People didn’t understand that since I was the first one who said the word. I said our cities were designed by architects when the layout design is predominated by the traffic or other urban infrastructures. Landscape architect’s role is to fill the blank when everything else is done. That was the mainstream urban planning strategy so far. I think landscape architects should do urban planning. So, what is “mega landscape architecture” in simple words? It means landscape architects will design the layout and will arrange urban infrastructures based on the laws of the ecosystem, or landscape ecology. It addresses the sustainable development of the city and maximizes the value of urban infrastructures, while influencing the real estate and urban development.
This idea is coming directly from the modernism trend from the landscape architecture field in the United States in the recent decades. My undergraduate study was focusing on urban planning at Chongqing University, so I had backgrounds in city planning, architecture, and landscape architecture. They gave me great foundation to overcome the scale transition in projects, from macro scale to micro scales.
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One concept that people are arguing about but all have no idea about is the essence of contemporary landscape architecture. People think tradition equals antiquity, which is not true at all.
In the recent years, Ecolandis advocating trans-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary cooperation, resource sharing, shared economy, participatory office platform and other new ideas. In cooperation with architects, planners, city designers, engineers, decision makers, developers and other disciplines, what do you think is the new role of contemporary landscape designers?
Speaking of contemporary landscape architects, I want to talk about contemporaneity first. It is not a concept of time. It relates to the essence. One concept that people are arguing about but all have no idea about is the essence of contemporary landscape architecture. People think tradition equals antiquity, which is not true at all.
The essence of contemporary landscape architecture concludes three aspects. The first is to let landscape architects do urban planning. Taking traditional gardening as an example, there is little regional planning involved. Even there is, it is a passive way, not mentioning to plan something with purpose. Landscape architects were just gardening inside the wall and build themselves. Conversely, landscape architects should lead the planning process. It calls for the ability of coordination and leadership. Landscape architects shall be good at coordinating with decision makers, architects, stakeholders, and other participants ranging from water conservancy to finance, etc.
Secondly, landscape architects shall know how to utilize the idea of ecology, science and ecological technology. We do pay attention to Feng Shui and touches some principles of ecosystem in literati garden but it is not a predominant consideration nor a fundamental concept. The connotation of landscape we talk about today is ecology. Science first, humanistic deployment second. Science and ecology is the second connotation of contemporaneity.
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The third connotation is landscape architects’ service scope change, which is not only concentrated on garden but expanded to urban space. When I was at school, no matter private or public, the meaning of landscape was confined to a single leisure garden. But when we talk about contemporary landscape architecture today, we are talking about landscape architect designing parking lots or streets, dealing with complicated urban function, not only for aesthetic consideration or for a lawn. That’s the contemporaneity of landscape architects.
So, there are three symbols in all. First, large scale urban planning (the scale), second, ecology (design principle), third, function, shifting from garden to city (functionality). Those were the differences I noticed when I arrived in United States in 1980s. Looking back, Chinese landscape architecture industry is walking along the path to the contemporaneity. Orwe could say we are one foot stepping into it while the other foot is coming along, but still struggling.
People I mentioned, including Laurie Olin, Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz, they all know how to unify the knowledge and practice. They, include Dan Kiley, pushed the development of landscape architecture forward in 1950s that it finally exceeds the time.
我提到的这几个，包括Olin，Peter Walker， Martha Schwartz，他们都是知行合一，身体力行的。既有情怀，又有哲学和匠人精神。所有这群人，Dan Kiley等等，他们在五六十年代推动景观向前发展，最终使美国当代景观发展整体超越同时代其他国家。
Compared with other disciplines, such as economics, science, and politics, the social impact of landscape architecture is relatively smaller. Many people in the society do not fully understand what is landscape architecture. In your point of view, how can landscape architects have wider audiences in both social and political realms?
In my opinion, a first-class designer is a designer with 3 great accomplishments. First, a good cultural cultivation, which Chinese designers emphasize particularly. For example, Zhaozhen Meng, Academician of CAE, used to say that Chinese Literati Garden is mainly a representation of literacy when space is a second consideration. We call it “a landscape face with a literary soul”. Landscape show itself on the surface where literacy lies in the core of Chinese Literati Garden. If you don’t have the fundamental understanding of literacy, you cannot even understand the garden, not mentioning to design it. Hence, literacy accomplishment is important in landscape architecture.
Second, Zeal, especially as a contemporary landscape architect. By zeal I mean moral perseverance and social responsibility, etc. How can you achieve a contemporary landscape project without passion when you have to coordinate with multiple parties? Where will the motivation come from? A landscape architect who doesn’t have passion will never be an outstanding landscape architect. Unless you want to become nobody more than a good designer who is always lying on the table, passion is crucial. Then as an outstanding contemporary landscape architect, you have to know how to push the government, investors and citizens. Being able to land a project, especially the big one with coordination among multiple parties is an important ability. You may know a lot of highly talented designers or professors who are not able to do that. Less intervention to the public, less influences, hence less real projects are left. It is true that some designers have great projects. Yet his volume is too small to be heard because he never intervenes.
Third, the craftsmanship skill, which we should not ignore. Professor Joe Volpe at University of Massachusetts we just mentioned is the one who values craftsmanship very much. Landscape is not only an art but also science. Let’s put the artistic part aside momentarily and concentrate on the technical part for now. Taking drainage as an example, many people who lack fundamental knowledge draw nonsense arrows on the map to show the flow of water when they try to explain the sponge city. Let’s be realistic. Water never follows arrows. It follows contour lines, right? Seldom students, even who have a good sense of drawing, could not draw excellent contour lines these days. Why? because they do not have sufficient knowledge about technique. We need craftsman’s spirit. What is it? It is a grit that I have to make it, even suffering with loneliness. First things first is to own these three qualities, then you can become a good contemporary landscape architect, not yet a master.
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Taking the development of contemporary American landscape architecture will help us know what is missing in China. Landscape architecture, being a subject, initiated by Fredrick Law Olmsted when it was called garden designer before. A group of people like Ian McHarg, Dan Kiley, and Peter Walker who are really brilliant, with both craftsmanship skill, philosophy consciousness, and social responsibility, pushed American landscape architecture to the contemporaneity. Landscape architecture is such a small industry, an industry that even doesn’t have registration exam in Europe, how come it got developed so well in the United States? To my understanding, it is not just related to economics, but also related to these people. Of course, GSD is a great place of origin. Although GSD raised more talented designers than we know, some of them couldn’t land their projects since they lack craftsmanship. People I mentioned, including Laurie Olin, Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz, they all know how to unify the knowledge and practice. They, include Dan Kiley, pushed the development of landscape architecture forward in 1950s that it finally exceeds the time. United States is the only country that can declare itself owning contemporary landscape architecture. Other countries are still half on their way or have no idea about it. We need people like them in China now. Our issue is even complicated, since literati garden is a good tradition that we need to study more.
我们以当代美国景观发展为例，回过头来看中国缺了什么。Landscape Architecture 这个名字是从Olmsted他们开始的，以前叫Garden Designer，中间有Ian McHarg, Dan Kiley, Peter Walker这些人，非常有才华，又兼具工匠精神，哲学意识和社会责任感，推动了美国的景观走向了当代。欧洲社会经济同样发达，为什么景观没有跟上来？很多国家连注册考试都没有，景观还是一个很普通的行业，美国的景观为什么能蓬勃发展？不只是社会经济达到了一定程度，还和这批人有关。哈佛是一个很重要的策源地，哈佛培养出了很多人，但是培养出来的很多人是有思想却缺乏工匠精神，落不了地。我提到的这几个，包括Olin，Peter Walker， Martha Schwartz，他们都是知行合一，身体力行的。既有情怀，又有哲学和匠人精神。所有这群人，Dan Kiley等等，他们在五六十年代推动景观向前发展，最终使美国当代景观发展整体超越同时代其他国家。现在我认为在世界上敢称有当代性的也就是美国，其他国家仍在追随的路上，有些国家根本搞不清楚。中国现在特别需要一批这样的人，中国的事情更复杂一些，中国还有非常优秀的传统“文人园”，怎么样对待“文人园”也是一个重要课题。
In China, landscape education has many schools and genres. In your opinion, how could we provide a better soil to raise masters, through internal change or revolution within the academic discipline? What do you want to say to the current college education, or even the training process of young design professions?
It is controversial when it comes to the essence of this industry since it has different names in China. Some people call it“fengjingyuanlin” (more towards the meaning of landscape and scenery), while some people call it “jingguanjianzhu” (more towards landscape and architecture). To be honest, in terms of the meaning, I think they both tends to be alike. But we need the professionals to have a consensus, that we should be aware of that the so-called contemporaneity focuses on diversification and inclusiveness rather than divergence. Our industry is big enough to include all kinds of ideas and voices. Is it necessary to distinguish right or wrong? One says my method is the heritage from tradition, another says it is only correct to be contemporary. I would say nobody is wrong. Inclusiveness is the biggest part of contemporaneity. Only being aware of this will you understand how big this industry can be. So how to inherit literati garden? How can we teach them? How to teach them to consider it with parking lots and urban spaces? This is a problem that is difficult for us to reach a consensus now.
My point is that it can be unified as long as we reach a consensus on the concept of landscape urban planner, landscape urbanism and ecological consciousness. Then we can look back to a cultural heritage like literati garden, and make a conclusion that it is not for entry-level designers. No literary accumulation, no contemporary literati garden. It (the literati garden) is not only minority but also essence of our culture just like Peking Opera. We have to admit that not every student will be able to handle it. It would be a cliché to have pavilions and rockery being built by some quacks. Literati garden should be inherited by the most talented people who do know literature. The others take the responsibility of the mainstream design who solve contemporary problems. That’s how we unify.
刚刚获得2017年度英国景观行业协会（BALI）国家景观奖的北京京东商城总部项目 | © 易兰设计