The Cultural Landscape Foundation recently announced that Beijing-based landscape architect Kongjian Yu has received the 2023 Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize. The biennial Oberlander Prize includes a $100,000 award and two years of public engagement activities focused more broadly on the laureate’s work and landscape architecture. Yu is the global champion of the “sponge cities” concept for addressing climate change accelerated urban flooding, which was adopted as a national policy in China in 2013. The biennial Oberlander Prize is bestowed on a recipient who is “exceptionally talented, creative, courageous, and visionary” and has “a significant body of built work that exemplifies the art of landscape architecture.” Yu was selected by an international seven-person jury, supported by Oberlander Prize Curator John Beardsley, from more than 300 nominations worldwide. The Oberlander Prize Jury Citation noted that Yu is a “brilliant and prolific designer … [who] is also a force for progressive change in landscape architecture around the world.”
Yu defines landscape architecture as the art of survival. “He lives and breathes his conviction that landscape architecture is the discipline to lead effective responses to the climate crisis,” said TCLF President & CEO Charles A. Birnbaum, “and his ideas are inspiring planners and decision makers in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, and elsewhere.” His “sponge cities” concept addresses climate change accelerated urban flooding with large-scale nature-based infrastructure – including constructed wetlands, greenways, parks, canopy tree and woodland protection, rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, bioswales, other measures – that acts as sponges soaking up and storing rainfall instead of relying exclusively on traditional concrete reinforced riverbanks, dams, pipes, drains, and other conventional engineering solutions. Since being adopted as national policy in 2013, more than 70 cities in China have implemented the “sponge cities” concept with the goal that by 2030 80% of the cities would be able to absorb 70% of their rainfall.
Yu is aware that his work alone cannot be deployed at a scale equivalent to current environmental challenges. Through his teaching and administrative work as Professor and Dean in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Peking University, he is building the intellectual and professional capacity to meet these needs. He has helped to train over 1,200 graduate level landscape architects and is the chief editor of Landscape Architecture Frontiers (formerly Landscape Architecture China), a bi-monthly publication that is the only entirely bilingual Chinese periodical exploring contemporary landscape research and practice.
For both the quality of his design and his tireless advocacy for the leadership role that the profession can and must take in addressing the global challenges of environmental degradation and climate change, the jury is pleased and honored to award Kongjian Yu the 2023 Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.