Questioning the Thirty Years of Chinese Landscape Architecture

LOU Jian-yong   2016-05-08 16:08:52

LOU Jian-yong, Translated by WANG Hui

Chinese garden, known for its 3,000-year history and titled "the mother of world gardens", is an important part of Chinese culture, and also the cultural tie to maintain Chinese culture, history and philosophy. The philosophy of "unity of human and nature" is also the key part of Chinese garden, and as the substantial evidence of human rationality and wisdom, harmonious coexistence with nature, and respect for nature, gardens is more a symbol of human spiritual home.

In recent thirty years, various types of investment in landscape architecture construction is – in a conservative estimate – at least trillions dollars. It should be said that the large number of new garden projects hasprovided opportunities for the progress of the theoretical research, teaching, design, construction and production of modern landscape architecture in China, promoted the rapid development of the landscape architecture cause, and set many stages for the landscape architecture industry to show their strength and level and combine education, research and practice.

I entered the landscape architecture industry in late 1980, and has been engaged in bonsai production, nurseries, engineering construction, planning and design, engineering technologies and other work. I would like to put forward my humble opinion of "questioning the thirty years of landscape architecture", in the hope to start the discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the present situation of landscape architecture industry of China.

Question I: Chinese garden, which enjoys a history of 3,000 years, has encountered the unprecedented prosperity in the recent thirty years. But why has the modern landscape architecture theoretical system that serves as a link between past and future not been formed or established?

The practical skills spread and accumulated between craftsmen were rarely recorded in documents, and their basic skills were handed down through folk accumulation and oral teaching. Because of the small number of practitioners, gardeners and their craftsmen group often served particular gardens of particular places, the activities and exchange spaces were limited, and the operating skills and pet phrases and terms of craftsmen in gardening were mostly taught through the relationships of master and apprentice, father and son, which resulted in the lack of unified specifications on gardening skills in Chinese classical garden. And more gardening theories and techniques were lost due to wars, or the downfall of gardening industry, and were irreparable.

It should be said that the existing gardening theories and techniques of Chinese classical garden were excavated and sorted out by the modern landscape architecture masters in the periods from late Qing Dynasty to the early years of the founding of new China regardless of the hardships. However, back to our current academic environment of landscapearchitecture, it seems to have the atmosphere of "encouraging blossoming and contending of all", but in fact scholars of painstaking exploration and strict scholarship are rare. Careful observation will judge that the most fish for fame, works and papers are mostly copied, flashy but inane, and some are really phony too.

Why does the UNESCO promote the diversified cultures of all eras of various ethnic groups? Because they are the symbols of ethnic histories and cultures, which is the value they should save. So the Chinese garden, as part of our traditional culture, should be developed and innovated based on protection and inheritance, and its value will lose without this core concept. The blind repeat of tradition is stepping backwards, totally rejecting tradition is betrayal, and how to carry forward with innovation is ourincumbent responsibility.

Question II: There have been countless Chinese garden construction projects over the thirty years of reform and opening up. Why are there few masterpieces that are of ethnic and cultural traditions, modern innovative spirit and widely recognized?

Today Chinese society’s opening gesture is rare in history, and the doors for international academic exchanges have been open over thirty years. It should be said that in the present China there are no obstacles for cultural and technological exchanges and theoretical explorations and research, so is for landscape architecture.

Many of our designers do not have intention or motivation to do real landscape architecture work, just regard the design and designers as a way and business to earn money, do not deal with their design works as the professional lives of designers, and always stressed many kinds of objective reasons about their failure design. Some modern industrial materials, geometric forms, and light and sound do not necessarily mean your works are of modern, international and innovative senses, and using somecommon Chinese building materials as elements does not mean you have the essence of Chinese culture.

There are still some highly acclaimed works, including Ge Yuliang's "Huanxiu Villa" in Suzhou, Sun Xiaoxiang's "Fish View in Flower Port" in Hangzhou, and Liu Yanjie and Shi Diandong's "Hanzhou Taizi Bay" landscape park. This fully shows that today’s Chinese landscape architecture requires our colleagues in the landscape architecture industry to have noble professional ethics, practical spirit and courage, serious and enthusiastic attitude, and concentrated research and peaceful mentality, to deeply understand the essence of Chinese and foreign landscape cultures, to master with an open mind, and to create a pioneering new era of landscape architecture full of distinctive time background and national characteristics. identity. Let us look forward with great enthusiasm to the rebirth of Chinese landscape architecture!

Question III: Landscape architecture is a major covering a wide range of knowledge, emphasizing both theory and practice, and combining technology and art. Why is Chinese landscape architecture education still on the crooked path of "more theory, less practice"?

At present the real time left for study in the four-year undergraduate education of landscape architecture major is not much: the first year for general education and fundamentals, the second year and third year for major courses, the fourth year for graduation thesis and looking for job, and very little time for internship. Learning to meet practical needs is the goal responsibility of students and colleges, and students should basic theoretical knowledge and a certain practical ability when they enter the profession after study. However, the professional levels of students I have been in touch in the recent decade are getting lower and lower, and especially the basic knowledge and practical ability almost reach the unacceptable level. There are some common reasons in the general quality of students, such as the more emphasis on grades than on physical education in the primary and secondary education, the bad study consciousness and discipline, the selfcentered mentality of selfishness since spoiled childhood, the lack of team spirit. The universality of these issues cannot be imposed just on individual students, it is a social problem, and students and colleges both cannot be spared. The institutional issues and education method issues of colleges can hardly absolve themselves from the blame, such as the shortage of professional teachers after education industrialization and enrolment enlargement, the low level or non-experience of teachers, the misleading teacher evaluation system, and more emphasis on projects than on teaching. Students entering colleges, the professional educational institutions, is like a piece of iron ore stone into the furnace, and the colleges' mission of smelting for steel has no reason to shirk responsibility. It is another matter whether students could amount to something after graduation, but the basic "primary processing" of colleges should never be a problem, nor letting employers go to solve the "primary processing" process. If so, what is the use of professional institutions? Therefore, colleges must take responsibility for their duties.

The current development of the landscape architecture industry has begun the phased adjustment and conversion, the next stage will be a stage of "industry reshuffle, decrease in quantities and scales, improvement in quality and technology, and expansion of professional contents", and requirements for students will gradually increase. And the challenge of the landscape architecture major will be increasingly big. How to train professional talents to meet the needs of the industry will also be the biggest challenge faced by colleges. Are our landscape architecture colleges ready to meet such a challenge?

This article was written in the winter of 2011, the 30th anniversary after I graduated and entered the industry. When rereading today and looking back, the questions I asked then still remain. The prospect for the development of the industry I made at that time were regarded as being pessimistic, and the one I made in the annual engineering meeting of Zhejiang Society of Landscape Architecture in 2011 was considered to be unfounded, but now it seems to be truthfully fulfilled. We, landscape architecture practitioners, should think about it, get prepared and make a change.


LOU Jian-yong, male, born in 1964 in Zhuji of Zhejiang Province, Chief Engineer of Huangzhou Datong Landscaping Company, President of Zhenjiang Pushu Landscape Architecture Design Institute, research area: engineering technology and engineering design (Hangzhou 310013)

(Editor / WANG Yuan-yuan)

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