Yellowhorn Farm Park: Battling The Threat of Desertification

Honor Award

General Design

Inner Mongolia, China
China Construction Design Group
Client: Yellowhorn Exhibition Center Inner Mongolia Yellowhorn Agricultural Technology, Ltd.

"The once-fertile grasslands of Inner Mongolia in China have suffered from desertification caused by overgrazing, logging, expanding farms, population pressure, wind, and drought. In the past 20 years, approximately three million acres of desert have been rehabilitated through local and national efforts, which are celebrated in this educational park and observation platform in the middle of a yellowhorn farm. The designers bridge the past and the future by using local materials, plants, and construction methods to create simple, beautiful structures and viewing platforms that frame the reborn landscapes, and which use augmented reality to tell the remarkable story of transformation."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits

  • Yuhui Song, Wenna Feng (Lead Designer)
  • Design Team:
    • Chenghui Zhu
    • Nan Chen
    • Jie Chen
    • Zheng Zhang
    • Shuangfuo Zheng
    • Weixing Dong
    • Yongqing Zhang
    • Zongrui Chen
    • Lu Li
  • Sustainable Technology and Design:
    • Julian Wang, Ph.D., LEED AP., Penn State University
  • Humanistic Consultant:
    • Jian Zhang
  • Ecological Consultant:
    • Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences

Project Statement

The Yellowhorn Farm Park project, built in 2014, is a 150-acre hilltop of yellowhorn farmland located in Aohan County in Inner Mongolia, China. Inner Mongolia is China’s third largest province, and has been battling severe desertification for over a century. Over-grazing, logging, expanding farms, population pressure, wind, and drought have all turned this once-fertile grassland into sandy a plain. In the past 20 years, approximately three million acres of desert have been rehabilitated through enormous local and national effort. This project site is one of the most representative fields of this type of transformation, from severe desert to flourishing farm. The particular location of the overlook platform of this park was an onsite temporary office, during those years of fighting desertification, serving as a hub, providing space for observation, organization, rest, and service to thousands of workers devoted to fighting desertification. With an intention towards minimal environmental intervention, the landscape design team integrated historical resources (i.e., materials, plants, and construction methods) with contemporary uses (i.e., education, recreation, and technology integration) to commemorate several generations of effort to combat desertification and provide ecological, recreational, educational, and economic benefit to the local area.

Project Narrative

Design ContextYellowhorn is a native species that thrives in harsh desert climates, stabilizes soil, retains moisture, and provides oil-rich seeds. At this project site today, the yellowhorn farm spans 150 acres and has begun to attract immigration and boost the local economy. This farmland has been also integrated within a greater wind energy program supplying renewable energy for both farmlands and local villages. The project was initiated by the Yellowhorn Exhibition Center and Aohan County government in 2013. The concept is to commemorate the work that has been done to combat desertification on the Mongolian plateau, exemplify the transformation from desert to commercially viable farmland, and promote the vitality of local villages through the landscape. A series of public meetings with local governments, communities, village residents, farm employees, and scientists in the agriculture, geology, ecology, and humanities fields gave this project a true sense of place that connects it with the heritage, spirit, and attitude of those battling desertification.

Historical Landscape ArchitectureThe overall landscape architecture was designed with a radial concentric shape consisting of three semi-open viewing pavilions and one fully open overlook. The geometry of the park was inspired by the leaf structure of the yellowhorn tree, a plant species that has been instrumental in reversing the area’s desertification and promoting local economic prosperity. The three semi-open viewing pavilions positioned in different directions represent the other three historical campaigns waged against desertification on the Mongolian Plateau: Hulunbuir grassland (to the north), Xilingol grassland (to the west), and Horqin grassland (to the south). Together, these features serve as an historical place epitomizing the natural and historical practice of reversing the desertification of the Mongolian Plateau.

Tangible and Intangible InteractionAs a part of the scenic overlook, we designed pictorial frame structures presenting the current overall scene of the yellowhorn farm, which is part of the long history of battle against desertification taking on this site. Augmented reality technology was particularly introduced to the viewing experience. A chronological series of digital scenarios representing stories significant to the battle against desertification were created by the design team, collaboratively working with historians and local government, and added to onsite augmented reality devices. These could be held by visitors, allowing them to experience a two-dimensional real and virtual interaction that overlaps the desertification with the history of the desertification battle and visionary future landscape, all in a single framed scene.

Eco-friendly Construction and LandscapingThe landscape architect mined elements from the local site, including excavated rocks and soil, abandoned planting machinery, and local natural plants; these were repurposed in the new landscape structure and pavement. The recycled agricultural machinery elements from the yellowhorn farming and natural rocks excavated for construction add historic character to the landscape. To build a resilient landscape in this cold, dry, and windy climate, we took our cues from the local drought-tolerant house construction method that uses cyclopean masonry with rammed mud and natural stones, and planted native species (sea-buckthorn, miscanthus, and yellowhorn) around or in the structures. This six-month landscape construction process involved no professional construction teams, but rather used only local resources and village residents.

Multi-functional UseThe basic functions of the landscape structure include memorial, recreation, education, photography, nature watching, resting, and village events. The distribution of open spaces, public stages, social places, and amenities reflect the mobility, flexibility, and cultural interaction that define this contemporary use and certain traditional cultural activities, such as Mongolian dancing and singing. Also, some specifically designed display structures with traditional signs and patterns were integrated into the open spaces for potential exhibition, memorial, and educational events. The routine programs held in this landscaped area, part of the Yellowhorn Exhibition Center, involve national summit meetings of yellowhorn businesses, classes and summer camps for regional schools, and a great quantity of public visitors.


Product Sources: N/A

Plant List:

  • Yellowhorn
  • Sweetvetch
  • Miscanthus
  • Astragalus Mongolicum
  • Oxytropis Aciphylla Ledeb