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Yu Konjian – the architect who made friends with the flood

That evening I had the opportunity to observe Yu in his natural habitat. He walked Gen and me to the club through the engraved metal doors and through the courtyard, where the traditional stone floor was replaced with thick glass. Inside, he led us down to a massive table under a transparent floor. As we sat on ornate carved chairs, sipping bright green cucumber juice, I gazed at the moon overhead. The finance ministers were also at the club that evening, so Yu always sat at our tables. Before leaving, he gave me a souvenir: a heavy tome called Designed Ecology: Konjiang Yu Landscape Architecture… After lunch, his driver drove us in a brand new Mercedes minivan to my hotel, where Yu walked home — his daily constitution.

A week later, I visited one of Turenscape’s unfinished projects: Yongxing River Park located in Daxing, a remote suburb of Beijing. Before satellite images taken three years earlier, the river was visible, straightened and bounded by steep concrete walls. Photos of Now were packed with houses around a more generous, winding water path.

When I saw him, the project was almost complete. The park is about two and a half miles long and about two city blocks wide, follows the river. Workers removed concrete along the river bed and dug out soil to widen the river bed. This mud then turned into a large berm running down the center, forming two channels. The river flows from one side; the other channel has large openings of varying depths that act as filtration basins. In the dry season, the filter section is filled with partially treated effluent from the treatment plant. The wetland plants in the pools purify it further, and the slow pace allows the water to filter underground. During the rainy season, this channel is dedicated to flood waters, and the wastewater is treated industrially.

Beijing Yongxing River Road

LANDSCAPE

Gen and I walked along a narrow concrete path in the central berm. Many of Turenscape’s designs have paths such as this hovering over wetlands, so people can step into the landscape all year round and appreciate the change from season to season. The wider riverbanks, recently freed of concrete, are dotted with thousands of small sedges, planted in dense rows to hold the ground like a pointillist landscape. We passed young willows, a native plant by the river that can survive flooding. Elsewhere, the soil is stabilized by reeds, dwarf liliturin and other native plants. Turenscape primarily uses native plants in their designs because they thrive on water, weather, and available nutrients.

In the summer of 2020, during the heavy summer rains, Yu sent me pictures of Yongxing River Park. Since I arrived, the trees and grass have grown considerably. There was a lot of water in the canal, but it was not close to crossing. Turenscape does not yet have data on Yongxing’s flood capacity, infiltration rate, or water treatment services, but Yu called his management of seasonal rainfall that year “excellent.”


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