Kongjian Yu, FASLA, won the 2023 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Landscape Architecture. Yu is a global leader in environmental landscape planning and design. He is one of the world’s leading advocates for nature-based solutions, including the sponge city approach, which has been implemented across China.
Yu is the founder of the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture of Peking University and founder and lead designer of Turenscape. His company, which has more than 400 employees, plans and designs landscaping that “fight floods while repairing environmental damage.”
“The award means that regardless of our differences between peoples and nations, there is one common ground that we must stick together: concern for the planet. We must come together to heal this ailing planet,” Yu said.
He also sees the award as a win for developing countries such as China. “It is a great encouragement for those who are working hard to establish themselves from the grassroots; For those who have made their careers in the underdeveloped regions, in the most difficult parts of the world.
Yu believes there are huge opportunities for landscape architects in developing countries. “I foresee a revolutionary development in the landscape architecture profession in the developing world where landscape architects are most needed.”
“I believe landscape architects are entering a golden age. We are positioning ourselves at the forefront of the battle for climate adaptation and planet healing, especially in China, India, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa, where climate change is intertwined with issues of urbanization, industrialization and food security.
“But there are also many hurdles landscape architects have to overcome,” he added. “The biggest barrier is our lack of capacity. We need to break through the boundaries of occupational and disciplinary stratification. This will involve restructuring institutions, changing school programmes, and redefining landscape architecture on a much larger scale, towards the art of survival.
Yu founded his China-based company Turenscape in 1998 with an ambitious goal – “nature, man and spirits in one entity”.
“Tu-Ren are two characters in Chinese. Tu means dirt, land, or land, while Ren means people, man, or man. Once these two characters come together, Tu-ren, it means “earth man,” the relationship between land and people. The company’s philosophy is to re-create harmony between earth and people and create sustainable environments for the future.He explained that we act in the name of heaven (nature) and as messengers of the spirits of our original ancestors.
Yu brings this philosophy to his work planning and designing nature-based solutions that integrate wetlands, mangroves, and forests.
“Any landscape that is sustainable is dependent on nature. Landscape is synonymous with nature when one discusses landscape architecture in the context of sister professions such as architecture and urban planning. Landscape architecture is about using knowledge and skills related to the adaptation, transformation, and management of nature to harness ecosystem services—such as Providing, organizing and supporting life, beauty and spiritual benefit – to meet humanity’s long and short term needs.This is the core essence of nature based solutions.
He also shared some news about how his practice and academic work can contribute to these goals. “The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Peking University to establish a joint research program on our campus focused on best practices for nature-based solutions. This is very much the landscape planning, design and management that Turenscape does.
Yu believes the ability of landscape architects to combine multiple disciplines and make use of science and engineering will help solve the climate crisis.
“Landscape architects play a key role in addressing climate change, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation, and especially the latter. Landscape architecture is a cornerstone of the intellectual palace of arts, science and engineering standing together to address climate change. That is why I am so happy to see landscape architecture included.” recently as a STEM major in the United States.
He envisions landscape architects leading the way, bringing a range of professions together to shape lasting solutions. “Ian McHarg has defined the landscape architect as a leader who harmonizes disciplines and professionals and integrates all abiotic and biotic processes into a harmonious ecosystem through design skill in the physical milieu of the landscape.”
In 2020, Yu won the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award from the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA). Read his acceptance speech.