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Beyond the Classroom

Illinois Students Win 2nd Prize in 2017 Ruichang L&A Design Star Competition

How do our students spend their semester breaks? Some of them create winning entries for prestigious landscape design competitions.

Yang (Summer) Xia (MLA ‘19), learned about the 2017 Ruichang L&A Design Star Competition in Archdaily. She quickly partnered with Sijia Yang (MLA ‘19) and put together a team of fellow MLA and BLA students (Xinyuan Lu, MLA ’19; Yi Yang, BLA ’18; and Wei Zeng, BLA ’18). They enlisted Professor Conor O’Shea and PhD student Kyung-Kuhn Lee to provide advice.

The team spent about one-month meeting with Conor and Kyung-Kuhn after studio classes to study the site and develop their ideas. Over fall break, they completed the graphics of their design. “Finishing the graphics in 7 or 8 days was a big achievement,” Summer says. “It was a tiring process!” They submitted their design at the end of November and anxiously waited for the results.

In December, 2017, they received word that their design, “Land Beyond: Integrating Productive Landscape into Eco-Industrial Necklace,” was selected as one of eight finalists from a total of 372 entries. Yang Xia and Xinyuan Lu traveled to Ruichang, Jiangxi to present the proposal on behalf of the team to a panel of distinguished judges. Their design won second place.

Summer and her team found the post-industrial challenges of the design site to be very similar to those in other post-industrial towns. Located in Ruichang, Jiangxi, along the Yangtze River, the site used to be a commercial port and an industrial site for ship making and strip mining, but now the government is seeking alternatives for local economic growth–primarily through tourism. It is also located on a bird migration route, though many of the migrating birds are in danger because of ecological destruction. The competition organizers requested “tourism + designs”–tourist sites that integrate industrial heritage, ecology, art, creativity, and education into their designs.

After studying the site, Summer’s team identified a “necklace” of smaller sites for their design interventions. Sites along the necklace would be connected to each other and interact with each other. They would incorporate the industrial “skeleton” of the sites, and transform the sites into tourist attractions, as well as ecological and productive landscapes.

Some examples of their proposed design elements included:

  • Abandoned industrial infrastructure transformed into overlook platforms
  • Industrial infrastructure reimagined as hostels
  • Wetlands with habitats
  • An aeration tank in a strip mine quarry
  • Agriculture and aquaculture with activities
  • Commercial district with farmer’s market
  • Amphitheater
  • Children’s playgrounds

Their design description expresses their vision “to develop a resilient, resistant, and adaptive environment to reach a balance between human development and healthy ecology.”

Summer was surprised that her team did so well, considering how quickly they put together their project. The judges were impressed with the many creative ways their designs addressed the challenges and opportunities that post-industrial sites face.