WT Architects craft an “island hopping” agrotourism experience at Joybo Farm
by Jerry ElengicalDec 12, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Feb 18, 2023
Urban green space is a commodity whose value has steadily appreciated since the dawn of urbanisation and migration towards cities. With any and all available land near city centres occupied for construction and infrastructure development, giving rise to urban heat islands and subsequently diminishing air quality and overall standards of health, the crucial role of these spiritual and functional ‘green lungs’ is now being thrown into the light. This concern on its own is not new, with similar sentiments echoed as far back as the 19th century in writings such as Frederick Law Olmsted’s Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns. Although many developed nations have strived to address this issue on different fronts, the problem is especially pertinent in developing economies, where the effects of industrialisation and accelerated development have contributed to the deterioration of the overall environmental quality and standard of living in cities.
China, the most populous country in the world, has undergone an incredible transformation over the past few decades, where its once agrarian economy has transitioned into one centred on manufacturing, finance, retail, and services. Accordingly, the country’s built environment, especially those in city centres have undergone a similar metamorphosis, with skyscrapers and paved promenades replacing it's formerly thriving natural landscapes. In response, the work of a growing cohort of landscape architects and designers is making a dent in this uphill battle, tackling this challenge head-on in a bid to bring life back to the country’s now artificial urban realms. One such initiative by cross-disciplinary Chinese design firm Dean Design in the city of Changsha, the capital of the country’s Hunan Province, has attempted to deal with the shrinkage of green cover in China's metropolises, with the first of a series of interventions in the “City” series planned for the region.
Titled Changsha Poly City Gather, this new public park is located in the city’s Xiangjiang New District, in the vicinity of the city’s 7,200-acre Yanghu Wetland Park, but also in proximity of eminent recreational spaces and landmarks including the likes of Tianxin District Commercial Center and the Yuelu Cultural Center. A key part of the Belt and Road initiative currently being implemented by the country’s government, the site was chosen as the setting for this new intervention, which aimed to merge ecologies and urban life, creating a space where the experience of traversing the neighbourhood is elevated by art and a return to nature.
Planting arrangements, pathways, outdoor furniture, and sculptures, collectively narrate the overarching theme of an “Urban Forest,” which served as the foundation for the landscape architecture project from the very start. In rendering this vision as a tangible environment, Dean Design employed the archetypal imagery associated with forest ecologies, most evidently, that of deer frolicking in the forest. Amounting to an immersive experience that harnesses visual references and tactility simultaneously. As the firm, led by Chinese designer Tao Siyuan, shares in a statement: "Landscapes represent the integration of aesthetic sensibilities applied to natural scenery and daily life. In this forest-style community park, ecology, vitality, and recreation were the keywords behind our conceptual approach. We applied the subtle, fleeting imagery of deer in the forest to begin an enquiry into the relationship between nature and human experience, in order to fully realise the unique potential of the site.”
Scenes cut straight from the pages of a fairy tale or fable have been curated throughout the verdant environment of the park, weaving together architectural features, sculpture, and landscape all into an appealing narrative. Throughout the course of the park, the intent was to emulate the ambience of an actual wooded environment, and the design team’s ideation revolved around combining these components with the natural sounds of grass, fluttering breezes, and water features such as flowing streams or surging waterfalls, alongside the figures of the deer dotting the stretches of trees and walkways. "Here, regardless of the object or form, we aspire to create an engaging environment that reflects not only the world of culture, but the essential connection between humanity and nature through the aesthetics of landscape and design," reveals Dean Design.
Beyond these more naturally-inspired elements, the hardscape takes on a more man-made slant, albeit, still realised in a fluid, organic design language that evokes natural trails cutting through forested stretches. Smooth curved paving ebbs and flows in parallel to the walkways, with bridges soaring over them to create layering that gives the ensemble a multidimensionality. Structure, rhythm, and elaborate geometries have been rolled into a composition where the harmonic synchronisation of art and nature does not explicitly feel like the result of human action, but rather the only fitting course that the landscape could have taken. Lighting design also plays a starring role in this scheme, subtly but concisely illuminating pathways through the proverbial forest.
One particular highlight of the hardscape is a steel ring installation, which emulates a portal adorning the course of one of the wood-finished walkways. Rising, falling, and flowing in an all-too-organic fashion, the structure of the topography does not fall flat or feel stagnant at any point, always channelling movement through its many undulations. Past this is a waterfall that runs along a raised section of the park, with its waters cascading into a reflecting pool on the lower level, Shimmering in tones that echo the hues of the sky and grass, there is a poetic clarity to this scene, almost ethereal in its visual character.
"For us, landscape sculpture is not simply a physical form, but a metaphorical bridge between humanity and nature. By encompassing the associations between 'art - place - landscape - emotion', it provides both a conceptual and intuitive link for the public to the project’s underlying meaning: a symbiosis of scenery and emotion,” note the Chinese designers. The park also incorporates other sculptural installations, such as latticed mushroom clouds, whose silvery forms float above the topography, affixed to branching structures.
Concealed between rows of trees is a children’s play area, which fuses parent and child activities, as well as opportunities for visitors to socialise, with interactive features such as the “deer house” slide, settled on a varicoloured floor, adjacent to see-saws and other fitness equipment. "The planning of children's playgrounds is closely related to natural ecology, urban environments, and children's patterns of behaviour; it is based on close observation and a practice rooted in dynamic systems, rather than being limited to the static assemblage of play equipment." On this note, the design also accounts for the children’s experience of forest landscapes, engendering interactions that foster curiosity and a desire for exploration.
Taking on the role of a mythic forest inside a busy urban landscape, Changsha Poly City Gather invites urbanites to reconnect with their ecological roots in a safe environment that harnesses a curated synthesis of nature and culture. Gracefully intertwining art and landscape design, the project not only manages the complexity of complementing an intricate cityscape but also introduces a new site for gathering and interaction for residents from all walks of life.
Name: Changsha Poly·City Gather
Project Location: Yuelu District, Changsha, Hunan Province, China
Landscape Area: 10,000 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Client: Hunan Poly Real Estate Development Ltd.
Client Team: Zhou Rong, Xin Yongguang
Design Firm: Dean Design
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