Kongjian Yu's Bigfoot Revolution for Chinese landscape architecture 俞孔坚 大脚革命 中国园林建筑

Landscape architecture: Keynote of Kongjian Yu from hayal oezkan on Vimeo.

Kongjian Yu has a good claim to the title of China’s leading landscape architect. He is an author, a professor and the employer of 600 landscape architects. In 2011 he gave an IFLA keynote lecture at the World Congress in Zurich.
So who, in the history of landscape architecture, should we compare Kongjian Yu to? Senenmut? Le Notre? Humphry Repton? Frederick Law Olmsted? Lawrence Halprin? Ian McHarg? Peter Walker? From this list, my answer is ‘Beyond a doubt, Ian McHarg’. Kongjian Yu has strength in planning, design and theory but, beyond all these, he is a publicist and popularizer.
Yu’s Bigfoot idea is that modern cities are akin to the ancient Chinese art of foot-binding 缠足. Bound feet may conceivably be beautiful in some warped eyes but the practice was cruel, un-natural and done for the gratification of men with warped minds. This is not why international modern cities are made the way they are made. Prof. Yu equates urbanisation with gentrification, which is also inaccurate (gentrification is the process of converting low-income urban areas into high-income urban areas). In the longer term, good design is mostly likely to result from good theory. But his two strategies are surely correct: (1) Provide a natural infrastructure to integrate hydrology, biodiversity and the cultural heritage, thus creating an ‘Ecological Infrastructure (2) establish a New Aesthetics, deriving from the ecological infrastructure.
But this is nit-picking. China is very lucky to have Kongjian Yu and I would like to see him appointed Chief Technical Officer to the The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development 住房和城乡建设部.
Comments in the video:

  • Peach trees become flowers without fruits
  • Fish, when they are urbanised, become goldfish
  • Beijing has a population of 20m and its water table is falling by 1m/year
  • We should minimise interventions and maximise returns
  • We should learn from nature
  • The Red Ribbon Park was made in 3 months.
  • Use nature to transform, make useful, and make beautiful
  • 75% of China’s surface water is heavily polluted
  • We need a big foot revolution
  • We need a new Chinese garden to survive
  • Tiananmen Square is “Too big, too big”. We should turn it into a productive sunflower field.

The last comment reminds me that I wrote and invited Kongjian Yu to enter the Gardenvisit.com Tiananmen Square Design Competition. He did not take part and I doubt if his wonky design for filling the square with sunflowers would have been commended. Perhaps he guessed this and decided not to send in the entry!
One other comment: like China, Kongjian Yu is trying to do too much too quickly (eg the Red River Park). Much better to take some more time and do some superb work.
Does anyone know if Kongjian Yu is a member of the Chinese Communist Party CCP?

4 thoughts on “Kongjian Yu's Bigfoot Revolution for Chinese landscape architecture 俞孔坚 大脚革命 中国园林建筑

  1. Christine

    Interesting. I wonder whether the vastness of the Chinese landscape has had any impact on the conceptual vastness of Chinese new cities? If so, there might be some more interesting ways of analysing the phenomenon and seeing positive aspects which might be enhanced by closer attention to the way nature creates heirarchies of scale?

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I think China is a country with a long tradition of ‘thinking big’, compared to European countries. And I think the reason for this is more to do with connectedness than vastness. What I mean is that Europe is a single, though diversified, ‘culture area’ but it is split up by mountain ranges and seas. This made ‘thinking small’ more natural than ‘thinking European’.

  3. Christine

    The reason for my thinking is that the vastness of the Australian landscape caused two distinct settlement responses. Initially in the Colonial period there was close settlement of area which clung to the ports and bayside rivers as a lifeline.

    As the native born ‘currency’ children began to make up the population in greater numbers confidence in the landscape setting was mirrored by a new ease in the vast landscapes of Australia, inland settlement and a new sense of spaciousness in settlement patterns.

    Do you think language diversification reflects a sense of distinct cultural areas ie think Belgium?

    Indigenous populations in Australia were highly culturally and linguistically diverse [ http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/map-aboriginal-australia ] and hence there are greater geographical divisions into ‘country’ than the original colonies prior to Federation.

    Until 1948 with the passing of the Nationality and Citizenship Act Australians (excepting Indigenous Australians who were protected persons [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_protected_person ]) remained subjects of Britain.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I remember a Belgian friend telling me that ‘Belgium is a joke’. I asked ‘why?’. He explained that ‘it just is – that’s why surrealism began here’.
      Belgium was ‘invented’ after the Napoleonic War as means of preventing another European war. Instead, it led to the Schlieffen Plan and thus another two World Wars. Australia was involved in both wars and, I suppose, this could hardly have been avoided. But the question of how politically integrated Australia needs to be is still one for the future. It may be, as many have said, that we are moving towards a world of cities and away from a world of nations, or perhaps to a world of looser nations – in a way that Deng Xiaoping pioneered with his brilliant One Country – Two Systems solution for Hong Kong. I wonder if he was inspired by Europe’s unproclaimed arrangement of One Country – Twenty Seven Systems.


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