China’s Urban Forest

Via Bustler, an amazing competition winner at the New Urban Streetscape in Beijing, sponsored by New World China Land Limited. Entitled ‘Urban Forest’ and anchored by SITE New York along with Chinese firm WaHa Studio.

:: image via Bustler

Bustler offers some extensive text, so definitely check out the link and the description. Some highlights: “It is our team’s view that one of the main values of horizontal surfaces in the cityscape is to use streets, parks, plazas and gardens as means of mediation between neighborhoods, building heights, economic levels and territorial functions.”

:: image via Bustler

Continuing: “In designing the New World public space, the SITE/WaHa “Urban Forest” concept has been influenced by an observation that the existing site is roughly shaped like a growing tree, with a crown of extended branches. It can also be seen as similar to a river, with many tributaries, or linked to the cardiovascular system of a human body.”

:: image via Bustler

More: “The main features of this concept – an evolution from plaza to architecture, inside and outside treated as simultaneous events, dense forest areas in the cityscape and an infinitely flexible paving design – are readily applicable to other parts of the city.”

:: images via Bustler

My favorite quote from the entry, via Bustler: “In summary, the horizontal surfaces and mounded configurations of the Urban Forest establish a universal (but also site-specific) concept – including a tree branch • river tributaries • vascular system • Chinese calligraphy • regional landscape imagery – for Beijing’s New World center. This iconography is expressed vertically and horizontally, physically and symbolically, experientially and ecologically.”

To which we can all say, huh?

Or perhaps, can we throw another metaphor into that mix maybe? Either way, I really like the concept, although a bit heavy-handed – or maybe a chance to use my favorite new saying ‘ham fisted’. Anyway, my biggest rant is the flat black and white graphics. The idea is great, but gets lost in the scribbly and frankly amateurish illustration… while sometimes a very powerful and evocative… are just patently bad. Landscape can be done well in black and white – but is for the most part – much, much better in color. Or if you’re going to do black and white – at least do it simply and well.

Good to see that good concept beats good graphics – but would be better to see both.

5 thoughts on “China’s Urban Forest

  1. yeah i agree with Andrew about the sketches–i love ’em! i understand where your criticism is coming from on one hand–but don’t you appreciate the raw, hand drawn quality, instead of the same-style computer renderings we see from most firms these days? Also, this is James Wines’ signature style–he’s been doing it for 40 years–so there is a bit of branding in it, kind of like Steven Holl’s famous water color sketches.

  2. Dave. I definitely hear ya – and am a huge fan of James Wines illustrative technique (and I like some life to all drawings) – in fact the desktop on my work computer has prominentely displayed a wines drawing for ‘High Rise of Homes’ – via Vertical Gardens which i love.

    Maybe it’s the lack of color (of which the Holl watercolors have) – but there’s ‘branded’ scribbly hand-drawing and there’s poor communication style. These, unlike many others, don’t do it for me.

    In fact, they seem like someone poorly copying the Wines signature style perhaps?

    We just had a conversation at work about the Mike Lin style… which was all the rage when I was in school – but is now dated and dare I say, arguably ‘done’? Style is one thing – communication is definitely another – and the latter needs to perhaps change to evolve with the changing media we all use.

    It’s ironic we talk about this in terms of a competition winner – as it was obviously effective to tell the story. I do find that we tend to be more fawning than critical – to a fault – so I think disagreement is the cornerstone of keeping the profession lively… so thanks for the comment.

  3. I really like that design but I have to agree with you partially on the graphics. The plan view has some color in it, which really helps to focus the eyes and some color in the perspectives would be nice as well. Perhaps not fully colored but added in a way that is stronger in the central portion of the design and then bleeds out from the “trunk” as if giving life to the area.

    But on the other hand, I get tired sometimes of the photoshop look which is standard in Asia. My office actually did some hand drawn graphics for a project in Asia only to have the client actually request more photorealism. It’s just standard therefore totally unoriginal. What I really like seeing these days is something that does a kind of computer/hand drawn/painted combo with a really warm feeling that gives you a real sense of the place without looking like a glossy computerized photo. Ah, but I could go on for ages about graphics….!

  4. Do go on, Lisa… the way we represent graphics is one of the major areas of transition I keep seeing in Landscape Architecture… as we’ve transitioned from the very sketchy graphics with sharpie/marker – to other forms that rely on more digital tools, I think we’ve been able to capture designs better (and give them some more realism) – but this is often at the expense of feeling and character.

    I’ll add an epilogue this by saying I really dislike 1) 1990s era Mike Lin graphics, and 2) real models that are made poorly. I feel like every time projects are represented, it is an opportunity for us to have a dialogue about what works and doesn’t (see the more recent post about the Hudson Yards graphics as well).

    Always fascinating!

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