Landscape Architect Profile | John Yuen, Landscape Architect, Grant Associates

As part of Landscape Architecture Month, we will be profiling some landscape architects from around the world. We had the chance to catch up with John Yuen of Grant Associates.

John Ho-Shun Yuen BA (Hons) MA (Dist) – After completing his Master degree at The University of Sheffield with distinction and Bachelor degree in Landscape Studies at The University of Hong Kong with First-class honours, John joined Grant Associates in 2018.

John loves to explore the potential of green infrastructure, productive landscape and ecological landscape design and planning. His passion and talent in Landscape Architecture are recognised academically and in various design competitions.

His working experience in Hong Kong with landscape design consultants and the statutory authority allows him to understand and manage expectation and culture of both the landscape profession and developers, especially in Asian Context.

WLA | What made you want to become a landscape architect?

“Living in a dense and compact concrete jungle makes public space a vital element in my home city, Hong Kong. Being brought up in a truly international city, with ever-shrinking and limited living space available to residents, made me aware of the importance of landscape design and drove my interest towards designing space that can be enjoyed by all people and can benefit wider society. Hong Kong also has vast wealth disparity, and that triggered the desire in me to help design public space that benefits all. 

People truly need public space and open green landscapes now, connecting them more richly to nature – and this will be an even bigger priority in a post-covid world. For me, the art of landscape architecture is its response to the urbanised world, the diverting society and the changing environment.”

WLA | Describe your approach to landscape architecture?

“I aim to be a professional landscape architect who cares about sustainability, engaging the community and urban public space. I want to bring changes to peoples’ lives, to society and to benefit the environment through my design.

For me, there are two sides to landscape architecture. The first is ecological planning, covering productive landscape, master planning, green infrastructure, wetland and water sensitive design. I believe that landscape architecture can bring positive impact to people and the environment, and this is a core part of our practice at Grant Associates.  I’m an analytical person and believe design decisions should be supported by a clear rationale and informed by layers of information and analysis. Ian McHarg’s Design by Nature has been a big inspiration to me: I’m passionate about analysing habitat connectivity, water flow and green mapping to decide where and how to best connect landscapes with nature.

The second side is creating public spaces that are readily available and accessible to all. I care about how people use spaces – and academically, this has been a big personal focus for me so far: my thesis [Defensive architecture in Urban Public Space: Case Study of Hong Kong – a Landscape institute Award 2020 Student Dissertation Finalist] explored how homeless people in Hong Kong react, and adapt to, defensive architecture – and the impact this has had on individuals and communities. I’ve also examined how 400,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong have made use of the limited public space by building temporary spaces.”

WLA | What is the most rewarding part of being a landscape architect? 

“As landscape architects, we have the opportunity to create places for all to enjoy and connect with: public space is, by nature, very democratic, a place where happy memories can be created for everyone, no matter whether they are rich or poor.

It is really rewarding to witness the realisation of a project, to visit the space and see people using it. For many designers and artists, it’s not possible to see how your product is being enjoyed by the user. We have the opportunity to personally appreciate what we help to create, and to participate and interact with other users.

Through my time at Grant Associates so far, I’ve been involved in a number of big scale projects, designing green infrastructure, from the Sentosa-Brani masterplan – which aims to integrate the two islands in Singapore, to the masterplan strategic framework for a 700ha site in west Dublin.

Sentosa-Brani masterplan | Image Credit: Grant Associates
Sentosa-Brani masterplan | Image Credit: Grant Associates

Green infrastructure can make a big long-term impact to the environment by actively connecting and preserving habitats. It’s satisfying to know that, while you can’t necessarily see the impact, biodiversity is being enriched through design that priorities environmental sustainability.”

WLA | Where do you see landscape architecture in 10 years?

“Climate resilient and biodiversity rich landscapes, and water-sensitive productive landscape, will demonstrate the ability for landscape architecture to meet the needs of people, other species and the wider environment.

The industry will make more use of technology and big data, measuring travel habitat, spending habits, personal preferences, habitat data and climate data to make informed design decisions – while VR and advance modelling and communication technology will help to encourage better, and more transparent, community participation.

There will also be greater emphasis placed on quantifying the impact and carbon footprint of builds – and a bigger move towards justified landscape development, with more focus placed on carbon sequestration, the value of landscape and greening in both the health sector and real estate, and biodiversity net gain.

Looking ahead to a post-covid world, I believe that landscape architecture will become much more closely linked to mental and physical wellbeing, and will play a key role in the fight against climate change by helping to reduce flooding and enriching biodiversity.”