by Lee Parks, International ASLA
For the full event summary in Chinese and English, please visit mp.weixin.qq.com.
International practice has been an incredible challenge during the global pandemic as offices around the globe have adapted to new ways of working, attracting and retaining talent, and relying more on digital tools and communication platforms. During the early phases of returning to a ‘new normal,’ international practitioners in China came together for the 7th Shanghai Landscape Forum with the aim to share experiences of the pandemic. It was the first time the forum was held as an online event since it was initiated in 2017.
Speakers from seven world-famous design companies discussed the pandemic from a variety of viewpoints, including personal experience, academic exploration, and practical experience in the profession. Three invited guests included Qi Wei, Design Director of Vanke, Shanghai; Du Pengzhan, Planning and Design Director of Guangzhou Wanxi; and Dong Nannan, Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University. They shared views on development trends, new technologies, big data, autonomous vehicles, and future industry trends, offering advice to practitioners for the post-pandemic era.
Pandemics—Shaping Humanity, Our Landscapes, and Future
Speaker: Lee Parks, International ASLA (Director, Landscape / Landscape Studio Leader)
Lee Parks, Chair of the ASLA International Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN), kicked off the forum with a personal viewpoint on pandemics. As a frequent speaker on nature conservation, biodiversity loss, and ecological design, he discussed the underlying causes, looking back in history at pandemics that shaped advances in public health, urban healthcare systems, and the provision of public open space.
After looking at the increasing frequency of zoonotic diseases in the present era due to degradation of the natural environment, loss of habitat and biodiversity, unsustainable land use practices, intensive agriculture, and livestock farming, Lee concluded with “21 wishes” for a better world for 2021.
The wishes included a shift in human behaviors to end factory farming, rewilding of agricultural land, afforestation, habitat restoration, advocacy for plant-based diets, improvements in food safety, encouraging greater access to local food and community markets, waste reduction, carbon positive design, and greater access to nature in cities. With references to the advocacy work of the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the presentation encouraged nature-based solutions to plan and design our cities. Landscape architects should become role models for restoring the balance between people, nature, and the planet.
Safer Public Spaces
Speaker: Cheng Zhe (Project Designer)
Atkins presented the ways in which their work in the UK has supported local governments through “Safer Public Spaces: Urban Centers and Green Spaces.” During the pandemic they witnessed an increase in consultancy work to provide planning and design guidelines for public spaces, streetscapes, universities, and campus spaces of primary and secondary schools. Atkins utilized an array of digital tools for analysis, improvement measures, and subsequent monitoring.
The various guidelines advocate for and demonstrate the benefits of expanding pedestrian space, adding cycling lanes, creating pocket green spaces, and encouraging outdoor learning environments for safer social distancing, health, and wellbeing.
Past, Present and Future: Urbanist Responses to the Pandemic
Speakers: Sam Xu (Senior Landscape Designer), Jenny Ren (Landscape Designer), and Yu Ziyang (Landscape Designer)
Three speakers elaborated on the past, present, and future dimensions of the pandemic’s impact on urban space, human social behavior in different periods, and various technical possibilities and solutions for the future. Highlights included ways to integrate technology to respond to future pandemics, such as the application of touchless landscape elements (such as access controls), automated cleaning and disinfection systems, and invisible boundaries in public spaces to reduce cross-contamination.
Rethinking Planning Principles in Response to the Pandemic
Speakers: Huang Yang (Urban Planner) and Song Yi (Landscape Designer)
Huang Yang and Song Yi’s presentation reflected on planning principles and concepts focused on public transportation and open and closed development patterns, covering the continuous innovation of autonomous technology and its impact on the shape and pattern of public transportation systems and potential to release more open space in cities. Sasaki shared work on a ‘Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)’ system for a high-speed rail hub and an ‘infinite loop’ within the Virginia Tech campus.
The next part of the presentation highlighted China’s pilot schemes to adopt open communities which could play a positive role on the quality of urban space. Open communities have the potential to increase the vitality of the street by softening boundaries and increasing access to green space.
Whilst the pandemic saw many of these initiatives get set back by increased security under public health restrictions, the changing mindset in this area for residential communities inspired design practitioners to interpret new perspectives on design and planning. Public spaces need to be prepared for emergent situations in urban environments, and there are many challenges ahead in the post-pandemic era.
Working from Home and Beyond
Speaker: Yu Han (Senior Landscape Designer)
SOM’s Yu Han focused on future office and living environments and wider urban space planning. This covered the shrinking demand for centralized office space, the emerging diverse forms of office space, and indicators related to pandemic prevention, such as staff density, antibacterial materials, and fresh air circulation. People appear more inclined to join shared or community office spaces located close to where they live that feature flexible office space. In addition, with digital communications having a significant impact on people’s daily lives, the need for increasing privacy within living spaces, enhancing outdoor ventilation, increasing community and urban green space, optimizing open space activities, and trying to introduce community agriculture are all trends resulting from the impact of the pandemic.
Internships During COVID-19
Speakers: Shang Yeqing, Gao Hanyu, Lian Xu, Wang Bosheng, Tong Zhiyu, Wang Guanyi, Zhong Sijia, Liu Yani, and Xu Yijia
SWA raised awareness of the impact of the pandemic on Chinese overseas students and provided an opportunity for those choosing to stay in China to continue their studies to express their thoughts on the current situation. Through a series of video interviews, interns in SWA’s Shanghai office from UPenn, Harvard GSD, and other universities talked about their learning experiences, internship opportunities, and their experience of online education.
The interviews expressed the loss of internship opportunities abroad, and potential problems with visas and unexpected difficulties for international students. Some students took the opportunity to take a “gap year,” while others chose to continue their studies online in conjunction with internships. The interviews raised awareness of the impact the global pandemic is having on next generation landscape architects, and how the pandemic will inspire their future studies and practice.
Design Reflections in the Post-Epidemic Era
Speaker: Xu Shuya (Senior Urban Designer)
Hassell looked at the impact of the pandemic on global urban development and social and spatial inequality. Through the pandemic, a series of seemingly unrelated phenomena have been found to be closely correlated: a heavy loss in global tourism and economic fallout, a slowdown in housing supply and demand, a massive retail shutdown, changes in transportation choices due to significant travel reductions, increased demand for outdoor activities, the rise of telecommuting, etc. The presentation served as a catalyst for rethinking urbanization and accelerating global urbanization change, asking whether overly dense urban populations are in fact a hidden danger, increasing the spread of pandemics. However, research demonstrated that some of the countries with the highest density had better pandemic prevention performance, possibly explained by effective governance and control policies.
In conclusion, Hassell introduced six design reflections for the post-pandemic era as thematic directions for international practice and design:
- Mix uses and diversify assets
- Flexible streets for the 21st century
- Embed place value and experiential destinations
- Social-oriented neighborhoods
- Embed and leverage natural systems
- Holistic leadership
The global pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our daily lives, practices, and economies. The 7th Shanghai Landscape Forum enabled international practitioners to address the potential crisis and challenges together by sharing knowledge and embracing and seeking positive change.
The Shanghai Landscape Forum continues to focus on and discuss cutting-edge topics in the landscape industry. The forum intends to return to an offline format in autumn/winter 2021.
About the Shanghai Landscape Forum
The Shanghai Landscape Forum is a themed landscape professional sharing event initiated by Sasaki, AECOM, and SWA in 2017, with participation from SOM, ASPECT Studios, HASSELL, TLS, and many other international landscape companies. The forum’s aim is to “pioneer new practices that result in design innovation and influence on policy transformation; raise public awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution, and advocate landscape architecture into the mainstream driving force for social progress,” and to promote our profession and build a more sustainable tomorrow.
Lee Parks, CMLI, International ASLA, is Director and Landscape Practice Leader of AECOM based in Shanghai, China. He is a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute (UK) and currently chair of AECOM’s global landscape practice sub-committee. Lee is a co-founder of the Shanghai Landscape Forum and a regular speaker across urban planning, architectural, nature conservation and academic forums in China. Lee is currently Chair of ASLA’s International Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN).