Martha Schwartz Partners 是一家国际领先的设计事务所，他们相信城市景观能巧妙地平衡人与自然环境的关系，通过打造可持续发展的城市景观和公共设计，能促进城市各方面的健康发展。与此同时，MSP倡导与客户和利益相关方的参与式设计，允许每个人在平等的基础上讨论项目问题和对设想可能结果的关注，从内向外推进项目，并用他们标志性的、创新的，“打破成规”的思维来投资这一合作过程，他们的景观也因此而闻名，在风景园林领域的贡献不断被认可，获得了许多国际奖项，包括ASLA地标奖、ASLA荣誉奖、英国景观行业协会再生类奖项、芝加哥雅典纳奖最佳全球新设计奖、Cooper-Hewitt国家设计奖和城市土地研究所优秀奖等。
As a leading international design group Martha Schwartz Partners (MSP) understands the urban landscape as the platform upon which human and natural environments can be brought into an artful balance. Designing a project of urban landscapes and the public realm as the foundation for sustainable cities that are healthy across all aspects and sectors of urban life.
MSP evolves the project from the inside out is through the inclusive participatory design charrette with the clients and stakeholders. This design charrette is a high energy rapid brainstorming process that allows everyone on equal footing to hash out the project issues and concerns towards envisioning possible outcomes. MSP invests this collaborative process with their signature, innovative, ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking for which their landscapes are reknown. MSP has continually been recognized for its contribution to the field of landscape architecture. The firm has received many international award recognitions, including the ASLA Landmark Award, the ASLA Honour Award, the British Association of Landscape Industries Award in the Regeneration Category, the Chicago Athenaeum Award for Best New Global Design, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award and the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence.
Mooool focuses on landscape architecture industry. In today’s interview, we introduce Yiwen Zhang, the director at Martha Schwartz Partners. We interview the prestigious design company around the world every quarter with the passion for showing the excellent design ideas.
总策划：陈科君 / Producer: Kejun Chen
编辑：王兰芳 / Editor: Via Wang
Interview: Mooool x Yiwen Zhang
Although MSP and Martha Schwartz are well-known to the public, we don’t know much about the design philosophy behind your work as a master firm?
There may be two main reasons for this doubt. The first is that the firm has been relatively low-key in market publicity in recent years. In the past three years, we have expanded from our London office to three offices in London / New York / Shanghai. We spend most of our energy on the internal construction of the firm and continue to serve the clients around the world. It is undoubted that people who are familiar with MSP firm in the industry know Martha Schwartz, our founder first. But after opening new offices and building new teams over the past few years, we have taken one step closer to being a branded firm. We hope that when we are fully prepared, we will face our clients and the entire industry with the overall image of a team, instead of relying on the name of Teacher Martha.
In fact, MSP has been committed to the design of “composing climate change” since 2010. For more than ten years, we have been insisting on implementing this important concept in every project, and Martha herself is still working on this subject at Harvard. MSP’s current design works are future-oriented designs that can combine art design, ecological design, and urban functions.
So why did you choose join MSP? Which sections are you currently in charge of in MSP?
At present, as one of the five global partners of MSP firm, I am responsible for the firm’s business in the entire Southeast Asia region. Regarding the opportunity to join MSP, in fact, I was born in a family of architects, and I have had an in-depth understanding of architecture, gardens, and urban planning since I was young. After graduating from BJFU(Beijing Forestry University), I worked in different design firms. Later, I went to Sheffield, UK for further study. I stayed and worked in the UK for a couple of years. Finally I returned to China and started my own business. These rich experiences made me understand more deeply what the ideal I am pursuing and what is the suitable career development positioning for me.
The first time I visited the MSP office, and also the first time I saw Martha in the flesh in the London office in 2011, she introduced me carefully to every project that the London office was doing. She is not at all as kindly as a master who can only be looked up to in a book. I was deeply touched by her design philosophy. For the first time, I have so comprehensively and deeply understood the deeper meaning behind her “out of the ordinary” design language. The “unique and exaggerated” design techniques she used in the project are based on a deep understanding of the project itself, including local culture, urban texture, community functions, and the entire ecosystem, as well as the climate change we are talking about. And she created a design language by deeply considering the role that landscape can play in it. For many years after the first meeting, Martha has been offered me a lot of guidance, both during my later studies and work, and I gradually agree with her and the design philosophy that MSP insists sincerely. When I officially joined MSP many years later, we actually knew each other and trusted each other a lot.
MSP背后的生态理念：1996年完成的温斯洛农场保护，通过改良土壤修复植物生命，将现代巴洛克花园艺术与农业实用性生态相结合 Winslow Farm Conservancy, Hammonton, NJ, USA: This is a large-scale agricultural project that was designed as a marriage between art and the practicalities of reclamation and ecology. Soils were amended by mixing the harvested wood that had been chipped so to incorporate organic matter and to aerate the sterile clay. This mixture would eventually support plant life.
MSP背后的生态理念：1995年完成的约克维尔公园，将当地特色的地域景观融入城市并展开新的诠释，根据这一主题，运用当地主要植物类型和群落包括：松树林、安大略野花和草地、白杨林、混合草本和蕨类园等，在不同的季节提供多样性，也为鸣禽提供食物和栖息地 Village of Yorkville Park, Toronto, Canada: The landscape design is an interpretation of the 19th Century practice of bringing specimens of the native landscape into the city. Using this theme, the major plant types and communities include: pine grove, Ontario wild flowers and grasses, an aspen grove, mixed herbaceous border, and fern garden. Native plant material is selected to provide variety through the changing seasons, and food and habitat for song birds.
MSP背后的生态理念：1995年完成的约克维尔公园，“空地”项目的主景是新建的封闭玻璃地铁入口和一个突出的大型雕塑岩石，它让人联想起本地的“加拿大盾”基岩 Village of Yorkville Park, Toronto, Canada: Major features of the “clearing” are a new glass enclosed subway entrance, a large sculptural rock outcropping recalling the native “Canadian Shield” bedrock formation.
We have noticed that MSP is committed to promoting landscape design that addresses climate change and we are also trying to promote this matter, so I would like to ask that what caused the change in the office’s design philosophy? When you participate in lectures and forums to promote Martha’s ecological concept of climate change, how do you feel about the market and the industry’s response to this shift?
Before the epidemic, Martha came to China for two consecutive years to give a series of lecture tours on climate change. At that time, many listeners were surprised, because they expected Martha to bring new eye-catching projects to share, but she spent two hours explaining the impact of the climate disaster. In fact, Martha’s attention to climate issues and the firm’s research and practice on related topics are not a changeover, but just follow the trend. When the human living environment is seriously threatened and life safety cannot be guaranteed, it is undoubtedly inappropriate for designers to only pursue visual beauty. Our social responsibility allows us to consider ecological issues first in priority to all others before we can design for the future. Therefore, since 2010, MSP has stuck to design goals and strategies that unify ecological design, functional design, and art design, and has adhered to practice in every project.
If you talk about the feedback from the market and the industry, you can actually tell from the responses of the lecture audiences. The most feedback I have heard from customers in the past few years is that the design of MSP is not that “crazy” and not that “creative”, some clients even told me that if they want to hire a firm that is good at eco-design, MSP is not the best choice. We once participated in the bidding of a large municipal public project. At the bidding meeting, an expert questioned our design: “ The land resources where the project is located are very precious, why do you waste such a large area to build urban forests? It’s not beautiful, just like a nursery.” That expert also said that he understands that we hope to make a design to deal with climate change, but it is unrealistic that planting a “nursery” in this project can fight and change climate change. Objectively speaking, the opinion of the expert is not wrong. However, he ignored the starting point of the whole project that regards building a resilient urban space as the core, and he didn’t care about the dozens of pages of data in our bidding text that demonstrate the oxygen enrichment of urban forests, water capacity and economic value. His comment is one-sided. So I had to respond to him on the spot that I can understand that he dislikes our design, but I do not agree with his judgment on the value of urban forests and his attitude towards climate issues. It is precisely because of the precious urban land resources that we hope to maximize the ecological value of this rare land in the form of urban forests. At the same time, the proper combination of the large area of unhardened surface and topographic treatment can make this site become the city’s large water storage area in the event of extreme low rainfall.
▼北京大兴机场森林公园投标——目的是鼓励用森林化的方式去做城市景观，形成一个小的生态系统，而非简单树木孤植。因为树木种植的意义不仅在于美观、遮荫等，而是树木的地下根系之间相互的连接，促成微生物在地下进行物质转换，对于土壤修复十分有益。另外，MSP认为吸引人群的地标性设计与生态森林并不矛盾，森林里设置的大量活动空间，以另外一种纬度来供人们使用，从而产生经济效益，而不是简单直白地创造一个光怪陆离的区域性目的地 Bidding for Beijing Daxing Airport Forest Park-The purpose is to encourage the use of forest-based urban landscape to form a small ecosystem, instead of simply planting trees alone. Because the significance of tree planting lies not only in beauty, shade, etc., but also in the mutual connection between underground roots of trees, which promotes the material transformation of microorganisms underground and is very beneficial to soil remediation. In addition, MSP believes that the landmark design that attracts people is not in contradiction with the ecological forest. A large number of activity spaces set in the forest attract people to use in another way, thus generating economic benefits, instead of simply creating an exaggerated and weird regional destination.
Responding to climate change is the direction that everyone should work for, though no one has the ability to change the fact that climate change immediately. However, as a well-known design company with a sense of social responsibility, MSP will adhere to responding to global climate change as our primary design principle under any circumstances.
Will you encounter the same problem when facing commercial development projects?
We now adhere to the concepts of resilient cities and climate change. In many large-scale public construction bidding projects, we can rely on large-scale public green spaces to realize some ideals in ecological design and spare more space to create. But in commercial projects, it is even more difficult to promote such a concept. In the design of commercial projects, more attention should be paid to balance the needs of operation and commercial management, and the operation considers short-term economic benefits and the occupancy rate of shops, the unobstructed view, and the accessibility of the flow of people. Sometimes even if we only plant one extra tree and the client will think that we have blocked his golden paved facade. Therefore, whenever we report a plan, there is always conflict with the commercial management team of the development company. Personally, I always think that this kind of conflict is completely unnecessary. Like the old saying: gold will always shine. We can imagine that if we open a luxury flagship store or an online celebrity restaurant in a prime location in the city center, will there be lack of flow because of the block of the tree?
In a lecture before, someone asked me what we would do if we faced such a conflict of ideas with the clients when we were doing commercial projects. First of all, we will try our best to balance and meet the needs of the clients both in design and operation, but when there is a fundamental conflict between concepts, or when we find that the clients are not willing to understand the design principles we adhere to, we often choose not to compromise. We also especially hope that since the clients have chosen us, they can fully recognize and trust our professional skills and judgment, so that we together can work towards the same goal and complete excellent works.
▼不变的设计原则：MSP近期落地的四川自贡项目 Constant design principle: Sichuan Zigong project recently completed by MSP
What new projects have been completed or will be completed in MSP recently, and what ecological strategies have they adopted?
Let’s take the project Shunde Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Happy Coast that we completed at the end of 2019 as an example. The typical significance of this project is that it is a cultural and tourism commercial complex in an urban space firstly. Secondly, the planning and design of the whole project highlights the characteristic of Chinese and Western integration. Thirdly, in the process of designing and completing the entire project, the client’s own professionalism, respect to the designer, and good collaboration between the relevant professional consultants are all essential cornerstones for the successful final implementation of the project. So I think it is very meaningful for reference and discussion.
Shunde Happy Coast is planned as an open commercial block. We take the construction of a vibrant waterfront life as the starting point, a low-carbon city as the goal of block building, and the design principle of integrating Chinese and Western culture and inheriting Lingnan culture, giving the project the greatest value of humanity and social economy. Firstly, the core concept of the whole project is to use the pattern of open blocks to create a continuous and complete sponge grid. The entire sponge grid covers the whole landscape spaces, and the management and reuse of surface water is made into a self-operating complete system. Water preservation, storage, water purification, and water use all work in this system sustainably. And then we started to consider the specific design language and design theme, and finally determined the theme that was inspired by the local natural landscape and traditional Lingnan gardens and extracted the “rock”. The three levels of “urban boundary,village, waterfront” which naturally formed in the functional division of space provide diversified and rich spaces for project operations.
In the third step, on the basis of the core concept and design language, we have specifically designed and implemented various ecological design measures in the project, such as setting up permeable pavement to the greatest extent, setting up ecological floating islands along the water bank, arranging rainwater gardens linearly in the commercial inner street, and filter planting ponds as much as possible in the main node square. Many sponge facilities were found to have conflicts with some commercial interfaces during the final landing process. We are very grateful to the client team for working with us to make the greatest degree of retention while retaining the core concept of the original design as much as possible.
In the end, many clients visited the project. The feedback given to me was that people did not realize much speciality when they first saw the drawings, but it was very touched when they arrived on the site. The collision and fusion between the modern and traditional design languages that the project finally presented, the layered spatial structure, and the original detailed considerations all left a deep impression on the visitors.
▼顺德华侨城欢乐海岸——在商业街区放大海绵城市效果，模糊景观与建筑界限 Shunde Happy Coast: Enlarge the sponge city effect in the commercial district, blur the boundary between landscape and architecture
在坚持生态都市主义的同时，将艺术化的设计手法跟城市空间相结合：北七家科技商业园区，运用矩形的带状图案，变幻组合成一套独有的线性美学，营造出多样化的高绿化率功能与景观空间，让人流连忘返 Beiqijia Technology Business (BTB) District, Beijing, China: A rectangular, shifting ground plane pattern of strips form an aesthetic tactic that is rigorously applied forging a unique and memorable identity for the entire site.
立陶宛维尔纽斯广场，通过结合创新的可持续性和城市规划策略，以景观抽象呈现当地地形地貌的变化，创造一个“涌动的景观”的整体设计叙事，重新激活步行街和广场 Vilnius Plaza, Vilnius, Lithuania: combined with innovative sustainability and urbanism strategies. These physical topographical changes through the landscape were abstracted to create the overall design narrative of a “surging landscape.”
厦门时代中心，这个“撇石”概念象征着在平静的反射湖中掠过石头的行为，以这种方式产生越来越多的涟漪，这些不断扩大的同心涟漪向外辐射，代表着龙湖前行的思想、理念和哲学 Times Central Sales Center, Xiamen, China: Symbolizing the act of skimming stones across a calm reflective lake in such a way that creates ever-increasing ripples. These expanding, concentric ripples radiate outwards across the site in representation of the thoughts, ideas and philosophies of Longfor moving forward.
Last time you attended the 4th Waterfront Space Planning Seminar, many international pioneer firms also participated in it. Did they advocate the same idea for these landscape problems?
Yes, I have actually participated in many large-scale seminars in China before. I also spoke on behalf of MSP at various academic or business exchange meetings, sharing our current core design concepts, and we are also working with many international colleagues for communication and continuous discussion. Recently MSP together with many other international design firms that have already set up in China organized the international design agency alliance which is actively promoting the design of climate change, and sharing international advanced practices and measures, from planning to implementation with the profession in China. I believe that with everyone’s common dissemination and efforts, this topic will gradually become the core idea in promoting a new round of urban planning development and landing design, rather than just appearing as a supporting role or special article in a design text.
I have asked so many questions about the MSP firm, and here are a few personal questions about you. What do you think is the most impressive thing about this experience of studying and working abroad?
I think it is the differences between Chinese and Western cultures and ideologies. This difference in root causes a lot of different behaviors and ways of doing things. When I first worked in a local design firm in the UK, I was involved in many small urban renewal projects at that time, in the historic cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. It may take several years for such projects to be approved after the British planning and design is published, because there is no unity of community opinions, and their implementers will never force the implementation of the project to achieve the purpose of transformation. The result is a long and endless wait, and the plot has never been updated.
In the process, I learned to look at this matter more objectively and from both sides. From the good side, the city’s managers truly respected every user, the design serves for the user, and every community member should be respected, democratic voting and standardized processes and transparent and clear rules finally make the results acceptable to everyone. But at the same time, from the other side, such a process directly leads to low efficiency, the city’s infrastructure cannot be updated quickly, and ultimately the members of the community do not get any benefits from it. Thanks to years of experience in study, work and life at home and abroad, I am now able to view problems more dialectically from multiple perspectives and propose reasonable solutions to solve problems and achieve the ultimate goal more objectively.
We found in your resume that you did not join MSP immediately after returning from the UK, but joined the Xband to do the “Green Park” project. Can you talk about this experience? How do you look back on this kind of rural development project?
This is the entrepreneurship experience I mentioned earlier. It can be said that this is a very valuable experience in my career as a designer. I am very grateful to my fellow villager and Mr. Zhu Shengxuan for their guidance and help in the process. At that time, Mr. Zhu’s team did not actually have this brand of village companions. When I came back from the UK I learned that Mr. Zhu and his team were doing rural revival in China. This topic aroused my great interest. On the one hand, I am a native of Shanghai, I lacked a deep understanding of the Chinese countryside. On the other hand, I happened to choose the topic of rural tourism planning when I was a graduate student in the UK. Therefore, my determination to combine theory with practice made me decide to follow Mr. Zhu to the country.
In retrospect, the entire entrepreneurship process was full of hardships and emotions. In the 3 years since the start-up of the village companions brand from scratch, our start-up team has taken over the entire development process of the first batch of projects of village companions in the absence of financial support and lack of professional staff. Everyone must participate in all aspects of the process, such as design, land acquisition, financing, bidding, construction management, operation preparation, investment promotion, etc., as well as deal with complex issues that designers can’t even imagine… Everyone was joking about each other that we are New Youth who go to the mountains and the countryside in the new era, and our words are full of pride and honour.
At that time, I was mainly responsible for the product of Green Paradise. Because my child was just born and I, who grew up in a big city, hope to give the child a childhood back to nature, so I took the initiative to create the product of Zhouzhuang Green Paradise. I think the revival of the countryside is a compulsory course, not an elective course. Although I am no longer mainly involved in the specific affairs of village companions, I still often communicate with Mr. Zhu and visit the project frequently. Rural rejuvenation is a long-term obstacle, and this is a subject worthy of continued study. The partners of the village companions are still working hard to explore, and there are more outstanding brands and partners who have joined the army of rural revival. I believe that a path suitable for the Chinese countryside will be found. At the same time, combined with my current thinking about ecology and climate change, I think that our rural development has the opportunity to achieve truly sustainable development. We must not simply use the copy of the urban development in the past two decades in the countryside, except for keeping the cultural characteristics of the countryside, more importantly, we must protect the ecological characteristics of the countryside and fully consider the conservation of the ecological environment, the use of low-carbon technologies and materials, and minimize the impact of construction on the environment.
▼易文在乡村复兴领域的作品-乡伴绿乐园 Yiwen’s works in the field of rural revival – Xband Green Park
First of all, the answer is yes. I feel that the development of modern landscape architecture/landscape disciplines has not yet formed a particularly clear genre. This is what we lag behind in architectural design. In fact, I have communicated this issue with many contemporary Chinese landscape architecture masters. I think they can represent the highest level of this discipline in China. Take the teacher Ma Xiaowei, whom I have studied for many years with, as an example, it is clear in his works that he combined his understanding and respect for natural landscapes with site design, and made the greatest use of topography to create a rich, varied and hierarchical space. At the same time, he integrates his understanding of Chinese traditional gardens and culture into the shaping of space and the control of details, and the completed works are very exciting and connotative.
The success of a design firm depends on the scale, financial data, and development. However, the success of a designer largely depends on his adherence to his design philosophy. The reason why Martha is recognized by disciplines and industries is not because everyone likes her design, but because she has always insisted on being herself, and insisted on combining urbanism and naturalism to deal with urban public space issues. So we say that such a designer is a master and a pioneer in the development of the discipline.
With the strong country cultural confidence, I believe that more and more Chinese designers will find out their own design philosophy. Altogether, these are the cornerstones of the development of contemporary Chinese landscape architecture. And I am willing to participate in it and do my best to speak for Chinese modern landscape design on the international stage.
I hope this interview is also a spread of ecological awareness.
I also thank MOOOOL for the invitation and recording. Regarding MSP, I hope this interview can deepen readers’ comprehensive understanding of our firm. Regarding the future development of landscape design in China, I hope this article can arouse everyone’s common thinking about the future development of disciplines and professions. Most importantly, I hope to awaken everyone’s attention to climate change, especially those of us who are professionally related, to work together to save our common living environment.
Thanks to Yiwen Zhang for the deep cooperation in this interview, as well as the coordination and assistance of everyone involved.
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