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Kongjian Yu portrait

Kongjian Yu wins 2023 Cornelia Hahn Oberlander award

Chinese landscape architect Kongjian Yu has been awarded the 2023 Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize for his contributions to the field.

Yu is the second recipient of the prize, which is awarded by the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) for global contributions to the field of landscape architecture.

The citation from the jury called Yu "a force for progressive change in landscape architecture around the world".

It added that he has moved landscape architecture away from "destructive confrontation with nature" and toward "a more optimistic position of cooperation and adaptation".

View of renewed river in China
Turenscape founder Kongjian Yu has been awarded the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander prize. Photo is of Sanya Mangrove Park by Turenscape

Yu, who founded the Chinese landscape architecture studio Turenscape, is known for his work in ecological architecture and his advancement of the "sponge city" concept, a way of urban planning that seeks to manage the way that cities shed and retain water.

Born in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, Yu attended Beijing Forestry University in 1980 and completed his masters degree in 1987.

In the 1990s, Yu was a part of the landscape studio SWA Group in California before returning to China in 1997 to found his own studio, which has completed more than 600 projects internationally in the last 25 years.

Sanya Dong'an Wetland Park
The prize is awarded to those who have contributed to the field of landscape architecture. Photo is of Sanya Dong'an Wetland Park by Turenscape

"I feel greatly encouraged by the jury's recognizing of my efforts and my work for this prestigious prize," Yu told Dezeen. "And it is also recognizing and honoring Oberland's vision and manifesto."

Yu's work has been influenced by the devastation that monsoons caused to cities in China, and in 2014 the government adopted his sponge city concept as a "guiding theory" for future urban development.

Yu also founded the department for landscape architecture at Peking University and still leads the program there.

"Kongjian Yu is operating at an ambitious scope and scale reminiscent of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr, the person who founded the landscape architecture profession in the US," TCLF CEO Charles A Birnbaum told Dezeen.

"Yu, like Olmsted, is an advocate, activist, inventor of new landscape typologies, influencer, and design visionary who takes a holistic approach to human and ecological systems without compromising design excellence."

Thai landscape by Turenscape
Yu created a theory of urban water management known as "sponge cities". Photo is of Benjakitti Forest Park in Thailand by Turenscape

Yu's projects with Turenscape have ranged from small urban parks and gardens to large-scale revitalisations of landscapes within cities and in exurban environments.

The studio transformed a river and surrounding wetlands in Liupanshui, Guizhou Province, creating terraced pools along the river as well as a winding, colourful bridge to connect the two sides of the river.

In Chengtoushan, the studio created a series of elevated walkways over wetlands that contain an archaeological site, a project that was awarded the World Landscape of the Year Award in 2017.

Other large-scale projects in China include the decontamination and redesign of a 168-acre (68-hectare) in Sanya, Hainan Province, and the conversion of a former dumping site into a wildlife preserve and recreation site in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province.

Turenscape has also completed projects abroad, including a number in the United States, such as Chinatown Park in Boston and Hing Hay Park in Seattle, both smaller urban renewal projects geared towards the local Chinese-American communities.

This year, Yu won a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for his contributions to the field of landscape architecture and in 2020, he won the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize is a biennial award and its winner receives a $100,000 prize (£81,898).

Hing Hay Park Seattle
Yu's studio Turenscape is responsible for hundreds of projects. Photo is of Hing Hay Park in Seattle by Miranda Estes

The seven-member jury awarding the prize in 2023 included MASS Design Group senior principal Christian Benimana, West 8 founder Adriaan Gueze and University of Toronto professor Jane Wolff. It was chaired by University of Technology Sydney School of Design dean Elizabeth Mossop.

The inaugural prize was given to American landscape architect Julie Bargmann of D.I.R.T Studio in 2021. It is named after the late German-Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.

Other recent prizes in architecture include British architect David Chipperfield winning of the 2023 Pritzker Prize, the highest accolade in architecture.

The cover photo is by Barret Dohery. All images courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.