At a former shipyard, a park design breaks with convention to
honor China’s recent past.
By Mary G. Padua, ASLA
During the past half century, China has lived through a period
of extraordinary change. In just over 50 years, the country has
been transformed from a semifeudal society dominated by foreign
interests to an economic superpower exerting claims to authority
in the world. The nation has lived through revolution, famine, waves
of massive centralization and decentralization, isolationism, and
entry into the World Trade Organization. The Chinese record of lifting
people out of extreme poverty is unequaled in world history.
Mary G. Padua
This dizzying history has created major social discontinuities.
The misery of periods like Mao Tse-tung’s “Great Leap
Forward,” in which millions starved, and violent episodes
like the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square have left the
Chinese people with historical blind spots. Although these events
are within the personal experience of many, there is a collective
effort to banish them from memory. The result is a cultural split
personality. People are enamored with things that are modern and
international, and they show great respect for elements that are
seen as classically Chinese, but much of twentieth century Chinese
history has become forbidden territory.
This atmosphere poses particular challenges for landscape architects.
A designer can appropriate elements of classical Chinese gardens
and assemble them into landscapes that resemble the popular image
of a traditional design. Or a designer can transpose elements from
projects in other parts of the world and provide a completely contemporary
solution. Either approach might satisfy the client, but the resulting
design solution is divorced from context and offers little more
than decorative content.
When seen in the light of these conventions, the award-winning
Zhongshan Shipyard Park is a ground-breaking project for contemporary
Chinese landscape architecture. Professor Kongjian Yu and his team
from Turenscape took the risk of rejecting popular attitudes toward
design and created a new approach that acknowledges and incorporates
the recent past. The 25-acre park combines historical, contemporary,
and ecological elements in a place that is both a living memorial
to China’s recent past and a vibrant part of everyday life
in the southern Chinese city of Zhongshan.
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