Yu Kongjian is an architect who made friends with Flood

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I had the opportunity to observe it in his natural habitat that night. He escorted me and Geng into the club through a set of carved metal doors and through the courtyard where the traditional stone floor has been replaced by thick glass. Inside, he led us to a large table under the transparent floor downstairs. As we sit on the ornately carved chairs and sip the bright green cucumber juice, I look at the moon above. The finance ministers also came to the club that night, so Yu rotated between our tables.Before we left, he gave me a souvenir: a book called Design ecology: Kong Jianyu landscape architectureAfter dinner, his driver took us to my hotel in a brand new Mercedes minivan, got off there and walked home-this is his daily constitution.

A week later, I visited an ongoing project in Turen Landscape: Yongxing River Park, located in Daxing, a remote suburb of Beijing. Satellite images of the “before” three years ago showed a river being straightened and closed by a steep concrete wall. The photos of “now” are crowded with buildings, surrounded by a wider, winding waterway.

When I saw it, the project was almost complete. The park is about two and a half miles long, two blocks wide, and is built along the river. Workers demolished concrete and excavated soil along the river to widen the river bed. The soil is then shaped into a large berm extending down the center, forming two passages. The river flows through from one side; the other channel has large holes of different depths and is used as a filter pond. During the dry season, the filter side is filled with partially clean sewage from the sewage treatment plant. The wetland plants in the pond are further cleaned, and the slow pace allows some of the water to be filtered into the ground. During the monsoon season, the channel is dedicated to flooding, and the sewage is treated industrially.

Beijing Yongxing River Greenway

Skyline

Geng and I walked a long, thin concrete path on the central berm. Many designs of Turen landscape have such sidewalks, soaring over the wetland, allowing people to enter the landscape throughout the year and appreciate the changes of the four seasons. Thousands of small sedges are dotted on the wider river bank that has just been liberated from the concrete. They are arranged in rows to support the earth, like a landscape rendered by a pointillist. We passed the young willow tree, a native stream plant that can survive the flood. In other places, reeds, dwarf lilies and other native plants can stabilize the soil. The native landscape mainly uses native plants in its design because they depend on water, weather and available nutrients to thrive.

In the summer of 2020, during the heavy rain, Yu sent me pictures of Yongxing River Park. Since my visit, the trees and grass have grown tall. There is a lot of water in the river, but it is far from it. Turen Landscape currently has no data on Yongxing’s flood control capacity, permeability, or water purification services, but Yu called its management of the monsoon that year an “excellent performance.”

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