In July 2017, ASPECT’s Shanghai studio hosted a group of landscape architecture students from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The visit was part of a three-week study tour of China, led by UTS lecturer Andrew Toland, who also took the students to Hongkong, Beijing and Suzhou – a major city of the southeastern Jiangsu Province, 100 kilometres west of Shanghai. ASPECT’s Josh Gowers who is a UTS student working in the Sydney Studio was part of the delegation made possible by ASPECT Director Sacha Coles who is the Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture at UTS.
The seventeen students visited ASPECT’s Shanghai studio in July when studio BD Manager Vivi Xie and landscape architects Catie Doa and Yan Luo introduced them to some of ASPECT’s recent high profile projects in China. Studio Design Leader Sissy Chen then held a question-answer session with the students, who were curious about the practice of landscape architecture in today’s China, as it rapidly urbanises its population. Here’s a snapshot of the Q&A with Sissy Chen.
Q: How is the landscape architecture market in China?
Sissy Chen: The landscape architecture profession in China is changing at the moment. The status of our profession and its important role are being recognised and respected by the broader public and importantly, by our clients. More supportive government policies and the change of client investment strategies, as well as attention from the general public, are all strong proof of that change.
Q: Are the history, culture or even Fengshui the main elements to be considered in China?
SC: History and culture are certainly important elements in creating a place that resonates with people, but not the only elements, or even the main ones. We start with what the clients want, the site conditions and the users’ needs. Our design aim is to activate and improve the public space in urban settings. So, understanding the objectives of the clients and the needs of end users is critical in the design journey and making places where people want to be.
Q: We are facing environmental problems all around the world. What’s your strategy for providing good design and improving the environment?
SC: As a landscape architect, protecting the environment is our responsibility. At the same time, we understand that developers are seeking to maximise their return on their projects. The conflict between environmental protection and economic development is more obvious in China. We use sustainable strategies in many of our projects and make the case to developers that these strategies are vital to protect and conserve the environment of the city. If the city is not viable, returns on investment are lower.
UTS Lecturer, Andrew Toland thought the experience invaluable, for both the students and his own understanding. “It was wonderful for me to see the depth and breadth of ASPECT’s practice in China and a great opportunity to expose Australian students to both the range of ambitions and the realities of contemporary practice there”.
Q: What was the purpose of the trip (academically)?
Andrew Toland: The trip was intended to expose Australian students to landscapes and urban environments in a rapidly changing and increasingly important part of the world. China’s major cities encapsulate a range and scale of complex landscape and urban design challenges and students are likely to have professional engagements with the region in one way or another over the course of their professional lives.
Q: How long was the trip?
AT: The trip was just under 2 weeks, from 10–21 July 2017.
Q: Where else did you visit apart from ASPECT Studios?
AT: In Shanghai, we had visits to other landscape architecture offices, the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum, Houtan Park and the newly developed areas around the Rockbund and the Long Musuem, as well as visiting traditional Lilong areas, the Bund and the Pudong business district. We also visited Chinese classical gardens and canal side neighbourhoods in Suzhou as a day trip from Shanghai.
Q: What year are the students in? Are they all Landscape Architecture students?
AT: The students were predominantly second and third-year landscape architecture students, plus one final-year landscape architecture student.
Q: Was there a studio task set for or about the trip?
AT: Although the subject is called ‘Global Studio’, it is not a design studio in the conventional sense. Students were tasked with ‘collecting’ and ‘curating’ aspects of the urban and landscape experiences – in both a material and non-material sense – over the course of the trip. Part of the objective of this exercise was to engage them with the idea of landscapes as an expression of material culture and a very different material culture at that! After returning to Sydney, the students have been engaged in transforming this material into a more coherent research narrative organised around a specific theme, which will form the basis of an exhibition.
Q: What were some outcomes as you some [see?] them?
AT: Although there were two students with a mainland Chinese background who came on the trip (and these students formed an important cultural bridge for the non-Chinese students), the vast majority of students had never visited Asia before. The primary objective of the trip was to get the students to begin thinking about some of the very pressing environmental, landscape and urban issues facing greater China; to engage them with the very extensive but very different traditions of landscape design and thinking that exist within Chinese culture and to give them an opportunity to meet landscape students and practitioners (both local and expatriate) living and working in the region. I am hoping that the students came away from the trip with an expanded sense of the potential scope and contribution of landscape architecture and a better appreciation for the nature and experience of Chinese cities ‘on the ground’, rather than as frequent objects of discourse and representation.