RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship
The Final Day - Ueno Park
I met with Tak Arai and Benedict Marshall on my final day to discuss their ongoing research into the future of Ueno Park. Tak has modelled the entire park area in a CAD file, and walked me through the neighbourhood from his screen. He highlighted the natural territories, the local architecture, and the pedestrian routes that connected them together; pointing out potential ways to increase footfall in the area.
Later that afternoon, I went to the site to experience Ueno in person. Wandering around the Shinobazu Pond as the evening sun shone through the water lilies; I took a moment to reflect on this miraculous landscape. This was the perfect end to a truly life-changing trip.
National Museum of Emerging Science
Odaiba has a rich selection of science and technology museums, art exhibitions, and futuristic showrooms that show off the latest in robotic engineering. I visited the Miraikan museum to explore their incredible exhibitions on the speculative frontiers of life, the universe, earth, and bio-tech laboratories. The Miraikan museum also showcases a series of short-term exhibitions, and I was lucky enough to catch the fantastic ‘Design Ah!’ exhibition.
The ‘Design-Ah!’ exhibition is a highly immersive experience that materialises many of the key concepts in this book. The photograph (right) shows a room filled with numerous doorways, each relating to a different species. Children would try and squeeze themselves through the tiny doorways that were designed for cats, dogs, and other mammals - whilst adults prodded the small opening near the ceiling, that were designed for birds and bats.
Gordon Matta-Clark Exhibition
I visited the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, to explore their exciting new exhibition on the late Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) entitled ‘Mutation in Space’. The artist and activist seemlessly worked across the mediums of painting, architecture, street installations, and food - creating provocative artwork that forcefully encouraged social change. One of his most famous
mutations in the form of architecture
(or ‘anarchitecture’), was his artwork entitled ‘Splitting’ (1974).
In this performative piece, he filmed himself literally dissecting buildings by cutting and carving them into fragmented blocks with household tools. He would remove entire storeys, and slice through brick facades to create poetic voids that spilled out - offering unlikely pathways through his architectural interventions. Matta-Clark was also fascinated by nature, and would sketch tree-based patterns and diagrammatic installations.
Under The Rainbow Bridge
A flight of Japanese cormorants dry their wings in the hot sun, directly under the famous Rainbow bridge that connects the Odaiba waterfront to Shibaura Pier. These cormorants are the same species as the domesticated birds that were trained by master fishermen to catch Ayu (sweetfish) in Kyoto.
But unlike their domesticated
relatives, these birds roam freely around the Tokyo Bay area, hunting fish along the Arakawa River.
The bronze statue of a dog outside Shibuya Station marks the spot where Hachikō, a loyal Japanese Akita, used to stand and wait for his owner to arrive home from work.
Ueno Hidesaburō, the dog’s owner, would commute daily to work, and Hachikō would leave the house to greet him at the end of each day.
When professor Ueno suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on May 21, 1925 - Hachikō waited faithfully for his owner to exit the station. He waited for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days - appearing every day, precisely when the train was due at the station. Hachikō is a cultural icon in Shibuya, with other species now capturing the public eye in his shadow.
Staging Nature in Minato
Taking a day to enjoy Tokyo’s fascinating experimental architecture in Minato - I visited Kengo Kuma’s ‘Sunny Hills Cake Shop’. The wooden diamond latticing structure wraps around the building both internally and externally, and as Kuma notes, this was inspired by tree branches and their light-dappling effect. Kuma also stages nature by filling the interal space with plants that weave up the central staircase.
Dog Walking with Daisuke
I met with Daisuke Sanada, a local Lead Architect at SUWA Architects + Engineers. He kindly took me to his superbly designed home in West Toyko, to experience a greener side of the city that still retains the essence of Satoyama.
Daisuke is focused on the art of Japanese craft, and the synergy between natural materials and cultural tradition. This is self-evident in his wonderful home; which is intricately carved into the landscape of an adjacent sloping forest.
Animal Architecture in Tokyo
Daisuke Sanada kindly drove me out to visit a little-known former pharmaceutical house near to his family home. This ancient house had a beautiful thatched roof, and a wooden column that was precariously perched on a small stone. I asked Daisuke why the column was so ominously balanced on a stone, and he explained that it allowed the building a degree of flexibility during earthquakes. Rather than snapping, the column would shake free from the stone, and could then be repositioned when the tremors stop. Whilst walking around the grounds of this ancient house, we noticed this stunning little piece of animal architecture floating on the pond. Daisuke exclaimed, “it’s a duck house!”
...but it appeared as though a family of Terrapins had moved in. This miniature display of designed cohabitation was a reminder of the enduring relationship between wildlife, and the local cultivators that balance their own personal comfort with a deep respect for the natural environment.
On my final night in Tokyo I took to the bustling streets of Shinjuku, to experience the neon lights, ramen noodles, and late-night izakayas that have made this place a global icon. The entire district is awash with shimmering skyscrapers, flashing signage, limousines, talking robots, Pachinko slot machines, food stalls, and salesmen touting their local businesses to tourists. This place
is the epicentre of extreme culture. A dazzling microcosm of modern prosperity that has human entertainment at its rapidly
Analysis of Omotehama Beach
The Omotehama Museum presents a comprehensive study of loggerhead turtles through history - merging quantitative and qualitative research from numerous local sources. Mina and Yuzi have curated decades of field research to argue for proactive change on the Omotehama beach; starting with the removal of the misplaced concrete tetrapods that block migrating turtles from reaching their natural nesting habitats.
Through ‘The Sea of Trees’
Mount Fuji, Japan
Continuing eastward towards Tokyo, I nervously cycled through the infamous Aokigahara - a 30km2 dense forest that is said to be haunted by yūrei (ghosts).
The forest thrives on the hardened lava that spewed from Mount Fuji back in 864CE. But in recent years, Aokigahara has become synonymous with death. It has become internationally known as “Suicide Forest”, due to the mysteriously high number of deaths that occur within the thick foliage each year.
Mount Fuji, Japan
The sheer monumentality of Mount Fuji is utterly incomprehensible. Nothing compares to this phenomenal place.
I began my journey to its summit at
Lake Kawaguchi - and cycled to the highest tarmaced point of the
mountain - ‘The Subaru 5th Station’.
The views over Yamanashi were breathtaking, so I waited there until the sun set to begin my hike to the summit. With my head torch set, and my boots strapped, my mission was to catch the sun rise over Tokyo.
Summit at Dawn
Mount Fuji, Japan
It was 5.03am when I photographed this image. I was stood at the summit of Mount Fuji, and could see the curvature of the earth behind the glowing mass that was Tokyo. After eight hours of climbing with Duvan (a new Swiss friend that I met along the way), we were now the highest people in Japan. Unbeknownst to us, a storm was on its way that would render us practically blind. As the winds picked up and a red mist of sand descended on us, the rest of Japan was waking up to the news that Typhoon Jebi was on its way. But for this brief moment, I could see the world’s largest urban landscape as part of something much larger.
Drenched in Kamakura
Leaving Mount Fuji in the distance, the penultimate cycle ride was the harshest that I would experience. Typhoon Jebi was battering Japan’s coastline, and the only two direct roads to Kamakura were under water. My new route would take me over Mount Mikuni in torrential rain, with 18% cobbled descents. To top this off, a major road had collapsed, and emergency forces had sealed off the entire area. Fortunately, after some negotiation, a team of very diligent soldiers carried my bicycle through the rubble so that I could continue my journey. As the sun set in Kamakura, the rain stopped and the sky turned a majestic shade of violet.
Arrival into Odaiba
I arrived into Tokyo as the sun set on a clear blue Saturday afternoon. The roads were mysteriously quiet, so I cycle a victory lap of the artificial island of Odaiba under a grid of tron-like street lights. I had cycled over 1200km across some of the most stunning landscapes that I have ever seen - but now it was time to get off my saddle and explore the final mega-city of the trip. Entering through the many suburban neighbourhoods of the Greater Tokyo Area was an eye-opening experience.
After seeing the glow of Tokyo from the summit of Mount Fuji, I had imagined an endless city of skyscrapers and neon lights. But in fact the suburbs were made up of relatively unimposing, low-rise neighbourhoods, with large green public spaces along the arterial routes. Like everywhere else in Japan, these public spaces were spotless, and there was a well-stocked vending machine every 100 metres for me to top up on cold coffee.
Island in the City
I took my camera and walked around the man-made island of Odaiba on my first day in Tokyo.
This fascinating island was originally conceived in the 1850’s as a defense mechanism, to protect the mainland of Edo from sea-based attacks. The name ‘Daiba’ in Japanese refers to the cannon batteries that were placed on the manmade islands.
Battery Three, Battery Six
According to historical studies in civil engineering, the Bakufu intendant Egawa Hidetatsu originally planned 11 battery islands to be built across Tokyo Bay. These fortress islands were designed to protect the bay area from large ships, but only six were ever fully realised. The ghosts of
Japan’s military past still rest on the water, but the batteries are now symbols of wildlife conservation. The perfectly square ‘Battery No.3’ is now a tranquil public park that overlooks Odaiba beach.
And ‘Battery No.6’ is now a veritable wilderness that has been dedicated to wild birds. It has been left to flourish, and is completely inaccessible to the public.
Loggerhead Turtle Crisis
I met with Mina and Yuzi, a locally famous marine conservationist couple that spearheaded a campaign to fix Japan’s coastline mismanagement. They founded the Omotehama Turtle Museum, and invited me to stay with them to learn about the local loggerhead turtles, and the giant concrete tetrapods that are buried across the coastline.
Mina took me to Omotehama beach to see the hatchling houses that have been built to save the plummeting loggerhead turtle population. However, as Mina explained, the houses now act as giant food-banks for predators, and actually make life more difficult for the turtles. Some local conservationists still dig up nest sites and relocatie them in the hatchling houses, in a vain attempt to manage the escalating crisis.
Cycling Mount Gozaisho
Riding through the Satoyama landscapes of Koka towards the coast of Hamamatsu - the day began with a challenging but peaceful ride over Mount Gozaisho in 38°C.
It ended in a dark and dangerous slog across the flat plains of Toyohashi during a treacherous thunderstorm. After 182km of stunning rural scenery, I finally made it to the Omotehama coastline.
‘Satoyama’ is a Japanese word that refers to the agricultural bufferzones between arable flat-lands and mountain foothills. These bufferzones were once a signature feature of the Japanese landscape, as villagers developed a close relationship with their surroundings over centuries of cultivation, coppicing, fertilization, and forest maintenance. With these landscapes now in decline, ‘The Satoyama Initiative’ was established at UNESCO in 2009, to promote their recovery and conservation.
Lost in the Bamboo Forest
Continuing my investigations into the complex symbiotic relationships between wildlife, architecture, landscape, and philosophy -
I ventured out to the Arashiyama Forest, to learn about the history of a majestic natural material that is popular in all of these spheres: Bamboo.
Bamboo has a rich history in Japanese architecture, and contemporary practitioners such as Kengo Kuma are returning their focus onto the creative functionality of this diverse material. I lost myself in the forest, and was able to catch a glimpse of the
species that thrive in amongst the tangled bamboo roots - namely, the slightly terrifying yellow and black banded Jorō spider.
Day 68 (Night)
A Night of Cormorant Fishing
As night fell on Arashiyama, I took a boat out to the Katsura River to watch the old master fishermen preparing for a long night of traditional cormorant fishing. The fishermen use trained cormerants to catch river fish; leading them out on leashes, under a large flame to steer them towards the fish. The birds dive to catch their prey, but the fish remain in their throats due to a snare that the fishermen then pull in order to steal their catch.
My journey through Kyoto took me to the highly revered Kinkaku-Ji Buddhist temple. As one of the most famous buildings in Japan; the glistening Kinkaku-Ji pavilion is covered with pure gold leaf, and is topped with a thatched pyramid of shingles that form the roof. The architecture blends three distinct styles across its three storeys, from the first floor ‘Chamber of Dharma Waters’ (in Shinden-Zukuri style), to the second floor ‘Tower of Sound Waves’ (in Buke-Zukuri style), and finally to the third floor ‘Cupola of the Ultimate’ (in Zenshūyō style). The magnificent gardens that surround the pavilion are a classic example of Muromachi Period garden design (14th century) - which greatly emphasized the correlation between architecture and landscape.
Hiking Mount Arashiyama
A troop of japanese macaques live high up in the mountains of Arashiyama in the peripheries of central Kyoto - so I hiked the winding route to go and meet them. A small observation deck has been erected to capitalize on their presence, but rather than caging the animals, it is the admirers that go behind bars. The deck acts as an informal feeding station - but both the
monkeys and the humans are free to roam.
Amazing Infrastructure in Harie
My second trip with Seita Mori took us to Harie, ‘The Village of Living Water’. This village is locally famous for its incredible communal infrastructure that connects individual kitchens to the village’s canal system. Each Kabata (flooded kitchen) is filled with carp that swim around and purify the water in the process. The local residents clean their dishes and store food in the water, feeding the fish in the process. A perfect example of mutualism between nature and culture.
Hata Rice Terraces
I met with Seita Mori, an incredibly well-informed landscape engineer based in Kyoto - and he took me to the village of Hata, to explore the unique rice fields and ecologies that have formed there since World War II. Unlike the traditional grid-like layouts of rice fields found in the area, Hata’s rice terraces ripple sporadically across the horizon, and require a unique water circulation system that relies on collective intelligence and communal cooperation to distribute the water evenly.
Nara Sika Deer
The relationship between Sika Deer and the city of Nara is a phenomenal example of the power of cultural species. These spiritually cleansing animals roam freely around the city, completely unfazed by the crowds that flock to see Nara’s famous landmarks.
The deer have learnt to bow (a sign of deep respect in Japanese custom), to communicate that they want food. The locals treat the deer as communal pets, offering food and water if they are ever approached. This stunning display of mutual respect is even extended to the wider infrastructure of road networks - as cars wait patiently whilst the deer skip across their path. The deer are still conceivably wild animals, but their relationship to humans has evolved alongside centuries of cultural integration.
Adventures in Gion
Arriving into Kyoto after a short cycle from Nara, I was amazed at how many statues of Tanuki I could see perched in gardens and on window sills. Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) have a strange cultural reputation in Japan - with many local people telling stories of their mischievous ways. The animals are depicted in Japanese folklore as ghostly supernatural creatures that can fool people by way of shapeshifting.
I continued eastward, to Japan’s former 8th century capital - the ancient city of Nara (formerly, Heijo). The city is a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and Shintoists, famous for its incredible array of temples, shrines, and pagodas that nestle into beautiully manicured landscapes.
Tōdai-ji, one of the most observed temples in Japan, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of The Great Buddha.
Exploring Osaka’s Food Culture
Dōtonbori’s soaring street-food hoardings are as surreal and colourful as the public food preparations below.
From Kani Doraku’s mechanical crab, to the giant inflatable blowfish that dangles outside Zuboraya - Osakans know how to sell a dish.
Naniwa Yodogawa Festival
The Naniwa Yodogawa Festival is an annual event that takes place on the banks of the Yodo River in central Osaka.
After a long day of intense heat, tens of thousands of people gathered in traditional brightly coloured yukata (lightweight kimonos), to enjoy a feast of fireworks and local
The Long Road to Osaka
With the long sweeping roads of rural
Honshu behind me - I was now in the mega metropolitan triangle of Kyoto - Osaka - Kobe. I went to Dōtonbori, a bustling central district in Osaka, where I met with the owner of the Lucky Owl cafe; the first of many strange owl cafes to spring up in the area. I questioned the owner on her methods of captivity and domestication, and she was keen to assure me that the birds are regularly taken to larger enclosures where they can fly around. I remain unconvinced
that this subculture promotes a healthy relationship with animals - but I visited these tremendous birds in her cafe to try and understand the appeal of the place. The experience was a bizarre and bittersweet menagerie of wide eyes, ruffled feathers, and blunted beaks. A lesson learnt in the dangers of archaic designer captivity.
The Long Road to Osaka
With 185km of road in front of me, in 39°C heat, I slowly pedalled along Honshu’s southern coastline towards Osaka. Cities and villages blurred into peri-urban landscapes and rural fields - which then blurred into rice paddies, wetlands, and industrial parks. The array of stunning Satoyama landscapes along this route was awe inspiring - and the gradual ebbs and flows in urban density felt so cohesive at this pace.
Korakuen Garden features a wonderful maze of streams, bridges, and serpentine pathways - where I got lost in the thick forest that envelopes the central lakes.
Glimpses of the famous Okayama Castle, nicknamed ‘Crow Castle’ because of its bold black exterior, can be spotted seemingly rising out of the sculpted tree canopies beyond the Asahi River.
Eager to explore and compare Japan’s
cherished landscaping masterpieces - I
cycled to Okayama, to visit the beautifully tranquil Korakuen Garden.
Korakuen Garden is one of the ‘Three Great Gardens’ of Japan, and features groves of plum, cherry and maple trees, tea and rice fields, perfectly cut lawns, and a small crane aviary. This immersive wilderness is filled with tiny pavilions hiding in the trees.
The Rural Drought
This once fertile industry is embedded into the religious, political, sociological, environmental, and geomorphological underpinnings of Japanese culture - but is losing ground as the complexities of farming as a
full-time profession is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
In the midst of Japan’s hottest summer on record, farmers battled with temperatures of 41.1C as they ploughed their scorched fields. But Japan’s agricultural crisis has
become a generational problem more than a seasonal one, as 6 in 10 farmers in Japan are now over the age of 65.
Cycling to Onomichi
This 60km long bridge connects Japan’s main island of Honshu to the Shikoku
island, passing through six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea en route.
The bridge is famous among cycling enthusiasts due to its vast cycling network - which glides elegantly through stunning satoyama buffer zones, merging the natural island topographies with mega-
Ōkunoshima was reportedly removed from maps during the Second World War, as the Japanese army secretly produced over 6,000 tons of poison gas on the island in a bid to win the war.
74 years on, and the island has become an unlikely paradise for an enormous colony of rabbits. With no keystone predator on the island to regulate their population, the island is now famous for its abundance of fluffy residents.
Wild Sika Deer have adapted to urban life on Itsukushima island, and have lost their fear of humans. And whilst they do not speak our language, they do communicate their wants and needs via their body language and territorial marking. The Sika Deer queue patiently for food outside the local restaurants that line Itsukushima’s northern coast. The restaurant owners regularly greet the deer, and feed them leftovers with a bowl of fresh water.
This symbiotic relationship promotes a closer integration with the local ecology, and reflects the island’s rich history as a sacred Shintoist retreat.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
After the A-bomb was dropped over Hiroshima in the summer of 1945, American newspapers reported that “For seventy-five years nothing will grow”.
They were wrong. That Autumn, as the survivors of the blast began to clear the charred ruins from their city, they noticed new buds sprouting from the scorched earth. The ground had returned to life, and provided the Japanese survivors with something tangible to nurture, as they rebuilt their homes from nothing.
The Road to Hiroshima
Travelling from the small southern island of Kyushu, to the main island of Honshu, I drifted through towns and villages until I finally reached Hiroshima. After 12 hours of rolling hills and twisting highways, I arrived at the central Peace Memorial Park, where I spent the afternoon collapsed in the shade. That evening, I ventured into the bustling city centre to learn the art of Okonomiyaki, and get a taste of Hiroshima’s vibrant izakaya scene.
The First Ride: Kitakyushu
After cycling 60km from Fukuoka to Kitakyushu, I stopped for a break at the border between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu. The strip of cafes and retail units that line the crossing are bustling with tourists, buskers, and entertainers.
The networks of cycle-friendly roads are incredibly comprehensive, and car owners are very respectful of cyclists in Japan.
Strange Scenes in Kitakyushu
The slightly surreal and unfortunate sight of performing monkeys in Kitakyushu was a shock, given the historical symbolism of the species in this region. The Japanese macaque was once seen as a sacred mediator between gods and humans.
However, since the rapid urbanisation of the country, macaques are now largely confined to mountainous regions that are not ring-fenced for agricultural purposes, and are seen as mischievous crop stealers.
After visiting almost every bike shop in Fukuoka, I finally decided on this charming FUJI Ballad Racer (フジ自転車), in British Racing Green.
With temperatures already soaring to 39°c,
I spent the day preparing for the long roads ahead, by stocking up on food and mapping out my cycle routes.
Sailing to Fukuoka
The city of Fukuoka was glistening behind a thick morning fog, and I could just about make out the famous Yahuoka(!) dome on the skyline (the largest geodesic dome in the world). I was so excited to explore Japan’s rich history and traditional values of wabi-sabi and satoyama. And I was in awe of all the support that I had received from local professionals, and from people back at home.
The midpoint of the East of Eden travelling project was a momentous day. I left Korea and ferried across to the island of Kyushu, to embark on my cycling journey through Japan. My first glimpse of the shores of Kyushu in the distance was on a hazy Thursday morning.
Located in the nature park of Taejongdae in southern Busan, the Yeongdo Lighthouse rests against the cliffs of Yeongdo-go
island. I climbed the lighthouse to look over Korea’s bustling network of ships that sail in and out of the port every day - trading goods and ferrying tourists to and from Japan. Seoul and Busan have proven to be wonderful rolemodels in constructing sustainable urban terrains, and healthy nature-cultures.
한반도 비무장 지대 / 韓半島非武裝地帶
Views of North Korea
Korean Demilitarized Zone
The infamous hermit kingdom is home to hundreds of endemic species that, like their human citizens, are hidden behind Marshal Kim Jong-un’s iron curtain. The neutral demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula is a dangerous habitat for large mammals, as it is littered with landmines and razor-wire. Despite this, ecologists have noticed a rise in the number of endangered mammals along this 160 mile green buffer zone.
한반도 비무장 지대 / 韓半島非武裝地帶
Korean Demilitarized Zone
took a bus to the famous Korean
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula.
Due to strict controls in the area, and a lack of human activity, the 4km strip has reportedly seen a swell in the number of rare species that inhabit the area, including Red-crowned Cranes, Asiatic Black Bears, Amur Leopards, and Siberian Tigers.
Toward the northern peripheries of Seoul, residents can hike up this mountain to capture incredible views of the mega-city in a wider context. The mountain lies in the Bukhansan National Park, a veritable wilderness of endemic fauna and rough trails.
As I climbed through the forest, I came into contact with wild cats, and friendly ajumma, offering snacks from their backpacks.
Walking Along The Cheonggyecheon
Another example of a picturesque green corridor in the city is the ‘Seoullo 7017’ - an elevated sky garden built atop a former highway overpass. Designed by MVRDV, the sky garden is a marvellous example of a multi-tiered walkway that blurs the boundary between nature and culture. The 1km garden stretches over a busy junction, and provides a safe haven for pedestrians and approximately 24,000 plants.
Cheonggyecheon is a massive
post-industrial urban renewal project that sees the return of a stream that once flowed through the heart of the city. The stream was artificially restored in 2005, and pedestrians can now walk along a peaceful 7 mile channel that weaves down to Jungnangcheon.
Hiking Namsan Mountain
Home to the city’s famous YTN observation tower, Namsan lies in the heart of Jung-gu, just a short walk from Itaewon’s bustling nightlife.
Residents regularly trek through Namsan Park on foot or by bike to capture stunning panoramic views over the city. Queues form at the peak, as visitors curate their perfect selfies and prepare to dine in the tower’s elevated restaurants.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
I visited the ‘Dongdaemun Design Plaza’, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and Samoo in 2009, to explore the local exhibitions and archives on display.
The plaza itself is stunningly immersive, and completely reconfigures traditional
dichotomies of ground/object, interior/exterior, and public/ private spatial conditions.
Meeting Professor Kim
I met with Kim Jun Sung, a prominent architect and professor at Konkuk University, and he kindly gave me a tour of his offices. His practice emphasises a close weaving of natural and artificial materiality, and this is very evident in their work. The offices, designed by professor Kim, are offset against a wonderful sloping rock garden that envelopes the site. The smooth concrete frame of the building contrasts its jagged, cliff-like context.
Green Corridor Walk
The urban centre of Seoul is being re-wired in the post-industrial age with a series of beautiful green corridors that provide naturalised pedestrian routes around the city.
The Gyeongui Line Forest Park is a thin corridor that follows an obsolete section of the Gyeongui Railway Line, and provides a safe haven for city commuters to cohabit in harmony with other species.
Exploring The Baiyangdian Wetlands
Xiong'an New Area
I travelled to the lake to document the
conditions, and explore the lives of the stilted communities that still live within this marvellous wetland terrain. What I found was a vast landscape in a state of flux. A pre-city in chrysalis.
Baiyangdian Lake is set to become the central feature of one of China’s next great mega-cities; with the CPC approving plans to build the ‘Xiongan New Area’ by 2035.
The new city will join the northern cluster alongside Tianjin, and Hebei, as China
pushes on with it’s masterplan to develop a web of interconnected and easily commutable urban areas around the capital of Beijing.
Determined to explore more of Beijing’s everyday life at street level - I met with
Oliver Fisher again to continue our walk across the city. More serendipitous public events presented themselves to us, as we discovered various captive animals displayed in plastic containers (such as dogs, a tortoise, and snails) outside shops. The child in the photograph was in awe of the captive birds - laughing hysterically whenever he heard their caw.
Jade Flower Island
Following the design of imperial gardens, I headed to central Beijing, to the iconic Beihai Park. The park has been a source of inspiration for many great architects over the years, and is still being referenced by leading practitioners today, some 800 years after its original formulation.
Ma Yansong (MAD Architects) often refers to artificial and natural elements coming together to inform the city - and Beihai Park is a wonderful example of this notion.
Exploring The Art of The Microcosm
One of the main features of a traditional Chinese Garden is the presence of Gongshi (Scholar’s Rocks). As noted in this book, Gongshi conform to strict rules regarding height, sound, perforations, elegance, openness, age, and origin.
Taking a second trip to the Yuyuan Garden, I sketched the rocks, and absorbed myself in their form - imagining impossible mountains and deep caverns hidden within its core, just as the ancient Chinese scholars once envisaged.
I met with Oliver Fisher, an architectural designer (see ilustrations p.16) in Beijing, to discuss China’s attitudes toward urban co-habitation, whilst we walked around the city’s central districts.
We came across many serendipitous public displays of ‘nature-cultures’, for instance, a man was illegally fishing on the Houhai Lake, using his scooter as a fishing box and speedy getaway vehicle.
A visit to Beijing’s outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Imperial Gardens was a master class in nature-culture building.
Covering 1.1 square miles, this traditional Chinese landscape garden design composes artificial features such as pathways, pavilions, bridges, and temples - to form a harmonious relationship with the
surrounding hills, and the man-made
Yuyuan Garden 豫园
The traditional Chinese Garden has been an inspiration for much of my research into the relationship between Architecture and Wildlife - so it was a joy to finally visit one of the finest examples at Yuyuan Garden, in the Old City of Shanghai. The Garden was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan, and features a series of winding pathways that form a maze of natural compositions, centred on semi-enclosed pavilions and rockeries.
Meeting at Foster+Partners
I spent the morning with Emily Phang, the partner in charge of Foster+Partners’ Shanghai office, discussing Shanghai’s green spaces. Emily directed me to a wonderful site adjacent to the Lupo Bridge on the Huangpu River - where Houtan Park was re-establishing a ‘living landscape’ on a former industrial site.
I met a local gardener (pictured), who was eager to point out the many benefits of the park’s rejuvenated ecosystem.
1000 Trees Project
As a key architectural precedent that
reflects the sentiment of the East of Eden
project - I was eager to see how Heatherwick Studio’s ‘1000 Trees’ project was shaping up in the heart of Shanghai’s creative district. The site is still under construction, but I could hear birds tweeting from the trees, in amongst the scaffolding and mesh fabric hoarding. The project actively recomposes the local ecology, and brings the notion of a Shan Shui city to life.
The Long Museum
After a short flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai, I visited The Long Museum in West Bund. The Long Museum, designed by Atelier Deshaus, is a stunning example of homegrown Chinese retrofit architecture - integrating the old Laobaidu coal bunker on the site as part of a new industrial-style gallery space. The museum hosts a private art collection, founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. The artwork depicted is by Sui Jianguo, and is entitled ‘Mao Suit’.
Guangzhou Sculpture Park
The Sculpture Park in Guangzhou hosts a wonderful array of politically-charged sculptural installations, which comment on China’s rich social histories. The park is a manicured garden that blurs natural and cultural aesthetics, and encourages visitors to wander through its immersively-staged wilderness, to uncover hidden artworks.
Crowds in Guangzhou
After almost a month of travelling through Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Guangdong, I spent my final day in Southern China taking stock of the research that I had gathered from local conservationists, biologists, designers, and residents. Wandering through the city, I was struck by the pace and efficiency of the commuters that crowded the main transport hubs. There was a real sense of development and prosperity, and so many entrepreneurs were eager to share their stories with me.
After shutting down their ominously
named ‘performance zone’, following a global backlash on circus-like animal shows; I went to visit Guangzgou Zoo, to see how they have modernised their enclosures, and to compare their approach to the integration of natural aesthetics, with Taipei Zoo’s high standards. Unfortunately the cages were poorly naturalized, far too small, and visitors were encouraged to get incredibly close to the animals on show.
Fairylake Botanical Garden 仙湖植物园
Fairylake Botanical Garden covers an
immense 1,350 acres (almost twice the size of Central Park, Manhattan) - and
rests in the heart of Shenzhen’s densely populated Luohu District. The garden presents a greener side to the popular image of a rapidly industrialised Shenzhen of the Special Economic Zone.
Since its founding in 1983, the garden has become a base for scientific research and ecotourism - promoting further knowledge on native Chinese flora. The pedestrian infrastructure (as pictured) is designed to sweep around existing topographic features. This allows visitors to immerse themselves in the tree canopies, with minimal impact at ground level.
The art of the microcosm is a common theme in traditional Chinese philosophy - so I visited the ‘Splendid China Miniature Park’, where hundreds of mini replicas of famous Chinese landmarks are on display. The park is saturated in propaganda, and acts as a reflective ‘Window into China’.
But it was the emergency exits to the outside world, and the strange transitional zones, that broke the glossy immersion and gave a real insight into China today.
Following on from my research into the Mai Po marshlands -
I headed to the ShenZhen Bay area to see how the Government of China are addressing the flyway region. The ‘Bay Park Mangrove Nature Reserve’ (adjacent to Hong Kong’s Mai Po) is closed to the general public and is fenced off, so I could not enter. However, the neighbouring Ecological Park was open to visitors, so I could see glimpses of this ring-fenced wilderness from a distance.
Crossing The Chinese Border
Crossing the Lo Wu border into Shenzhen, my first experience of China was not as I had imagined. Shenzhen is a bustling network of electronic scooters, boomboxes, street food stalls, and informal hardware markets. The average age in Shenzhen is 29, and its youthful enthusiasm is all encompassing. Animals play a big role in the central markets, mainly as food, pets, and symbols of prosperity.
To round off my journey in Hong Kong, I spent the day in Lantau, visiting the Tian Tan Buddha Shakyamuni. At the foot of the stepped hilltop monument - cattle can be seen roaming freely, and grazing on the small patches of grass that line the streets. The local cattle are considered sacred in
Buddhist tradition, and tourists flock to photograph them. The cattle are spiritual cleansers, and bring good karma.
Under The Bridge
Just off the coast of Lantau, a new and exciting mega-infrastructural project was nearing completion. The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge (HKZMB) was designed to connect the three cities, with a bridge-tunnel system that consists of a series of interconnected cable-stayed bridges, undersea tunnels, and artificial islands.
I met with Janet Walker, a local Dolphin Conservationist, and we took a boat toexplore the bridge, and the fragmented dolphin habitats that were now under threat. Whilst passing under the bridge, we noticed local fishermen isolated on the giant pillars.
The bridge was not designed to accommodate fishing, or to threaten the rare pink dolphins that live in the silted waters - but its emergence has done just that.
Exploring The New Territories
The vast island of Lantau has been relatively under-developed in the wake of Hong Kong’s rapid urbanisation. And it still retains fragments of the old stilted fishing villages that once fed the city.
Having researched the ongoing land reclamation projects in the area - I took the ‘Ngong Ping 360’ gondola lift to explore the region from above. I photographed the techno-scapes that now feed the city in a very different way.
Heading into the dense urban centres of Wan Chai, Mong Kok, and Tsim
Sha Tsui - I spent the day navigating my way through the public spaces that act as meeting points and wayfinders.
I was surprised by the strong presence of Palm Trees that seemed to sprout up from every available nook and cranny in the city. The overtly cultural landscape of towers and cross-roads made their presence feel even more
exotic, and slightly surreal.
Following the advice from conservationists at the WWF, I visited the experimental Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.
Kadoorie is a wonderful and bizarre hybrid environment, somewhere between a wildlife reserve, an exotic arboretum, and a zoo. It is filled with interesting biological and artificial technologies that sense, record, and cultivate miniature ecosystems and landscapes.
Hong Kong Aviary
An infamous family of Yellow-Crested Cockatoos have moved into Hong Kong’s Central neighbourhood, dispite resistance from local park managers. On a mission to spot them, I visited the curvaceous Edward Youde Aviary, where sightings have been recorded just beyond the aviary’s woven walls. The aviary is home to some eighty
species of indigenous birds from Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. And the invasive Cockatoos have nested next door.
Natural History Museum
Hong Kong’s Natural History Museum is filled with fascinating installations to educate and edify a range of audiences. One particular installation featured a series of animal heads , to allow humans to imagine life through the lens of a fish, a bird, and a bee. The animal heads use mirrors and curved optics to speculate on what life is like for these tiny creatures. Technologies that decentralise human perceptions are incredibly powerful tools.
Meeting with WWF Hong Kong
After travelling to the famous ‘Victoria Peak’ via the funicular railway, I met with the local WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) organisation to discuss Hong Kong’s wildlife conservation efforts. Their valuable insights provided me with new research paths to explore around the Pearl River Delta, such as the vast Mai Po Marshlands, and the experimental Kadoorie farm and botanical gardens that are situated in the foothills of Lam Tsuen.
The WWF organisation have a local research base in Mai Po - where migratory birds rely on the network of marshlands to rest and feed before embarking on the next leg of their journey.