Lv Zhong is the Chief Engineer of the Shanghai Municipal Engineering Design and Research Institute, Professor-level Senior Engineer, Vice President of the Garden and Landscape Design Branch of the China Survey and Design Association, Executive President of the Shanghai Sustainable Development Research Association, and Head of Shanghai Studio‧Lv Zhong Landsenses Space Studio.
She has pioneered the theory of “Landsenses Space,” which focuses on the cognitive research of experiential scenarios, emphasising the relationships between people and the place, people and nature, and people and urban values. Her work has been dedicated to the creation of a series of composite experiential public spaces for cities.
Over the years, Lv Zhong has been committed to exploring forward-looking concepts that integrate urban space and regional culture in contemporary China and has taken the interdisciplinarity of urban space and humanities as an academic extension of regional values. She has led her team to participate in landscape planning and renewal projects for urban public spaces in Shanghai and several key cities across the country, building many benchmark works for urban public space. Her works have won many awards for the forward-looking thinking and global vision. She has also been providing decision-making consultation and professional top-level design for the government for a long time, and create excellent demonstration samples of innovative development of global city space.
Just as people and nature are interdependent and form the ecosystem of our existence, urban space and arts also interact, illuminating the city’s brilliance and portraying its appearance. A unique artistic creation not only requires appropriate design, imagination and artistic expression, but also a deep understanding of people and nature and the value of diversity. In this dialogue with Lv Zhong, who created and has been practicing the “Land-senses Space” theory, we discuss the transmission of cultural and humanistic values in urban space and how to put nature and art in dialogue through design.
Urban space, humanities and arts are interdependent, and the community they form interprets the multi-dimensional and rich culture behind the urban built environment and reminds us that the glory of a city lies more in literature and humanities.
Urban form has influences on the development of humanities and arts, while humanities and arts also influence urban form; these two are interdependent and mutually-evolving, and this would eventually form a unique entity that shapes the city’s outer beauty and inner meaning. It can be interpreted from two aspects: 1) Urban space has sociological significance. Social practices and cultural factors usually govern the shaping of urban space, and the essential characteristics of urban society can be revealed by exploring the sociological significance of urban space; 2) Humanities and arts is a way of cultural expression. Integrating art into urban space design can improve the city’s humanistic quality, enhance the city’s attractiveness, and support sustainable development. The community they form is akin to a tree flourishing within the city that adapts to the ever-changing seasons. Firmly holding onto its roots, the tree becomes a vital source of life in the city’s constant evolution and development. While interpreting the multi-dimensionality and richness of the culture behind the space of the urban built environment, it also reminds us that the luster of the city should also lie in the literary and humanistic atmosphere that people create in it.
Sorting out the inherent relationship between the two is a unique artistic and creative process. It takes proper design and unique imagination to create a beautiful and practical urban space full of humanistic care. Its relevance mainly includes: 1) History and culture: focus on the recording and reproduction of urban landforms and landmarks, the protection and utilisation of historical and cultural heritage, and the connection between the landscape and the cultural life of residents; 2) Culture and art: focus on integrating cultural elements in architecture and landscape design, the artistic creation of street art and urban space interaction, and the artistic construction and management of urban public space; 3) Socialisation: focus on the impact of urban space on human emotions, identity, and belonging, the social attributes of public space and the impact on social interaction, and the relationship between urban space and cultural pluralism, social justice and inclusion; 4) Interdisciplinary collaboration: Emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration between artists, urban planners and designers, sociologists and other experts, urban space and public art, digital technology, environmental science, and other disciplines.
The future integration and development of the two should grasp three trends: 1) Using advanced technology to improve the creative quality and sustainability of urban space artistry;
2) Promoting more public space art and social interaction to promote urban cultural innovation and social progress; 3) Creating a global platform for the exchange of urban space and humanistic art creation to promote international cultural exchange and cooperation.
“Land-senses Space” refers to interactions between the built (and natural) environment and people’s visual, auditory, and olfactory perceptions. It is the external image of a city and an important part of its cultural and urban values. Take the redesign of the Suzhou River Waterfront (which is in Shanghai’s Jing’an District) as an example, during the design process, we not only considered the engineering standards required for the “hardware” facilities (such as underground pipelines and flood control requirements) but also paid attention to the “soft” cultural shaping, including organising a public poetry collection activity. The activity collected more than 1,000 poems and selected more than 100 poems to be displayed in the public space to concretise the emotional bond between the river and the citizens. On a visual level, we showcased the text on railings, floor tiles, and seating benches. For the auditory aspect, we invited announcers to recite poems and record them and placed QR codes in the venue for the public to scan and listen to while on the spot. To engage the sense of touch, we transformed poems, old buildings, and maps into engraved words and pictures carved on copper plates, which were shaped by the touch of the blind and enabled them to read and comprehend urban memories. For the sense of smell, we planted many fragrant flowers to evoke a sensory experience for everyone, including the visually impaired, by immersing them in the surrounding scents and environment. In general, individuals of various backgrounds and ages have the equal opportunity to participate and contribute to shaping the public space. This principle of design equity is a concept we have consistently pondered upon and put into practice.
The light sculpture project in the cocoon warehouse of Jiaxing Silk Knitting Union Factory also uses the concept of “Land-senses Space”. We designed an evening light sculpture show art installation between the two cocoon warehouses by the canal, connecting the two buildings through silk threads. We invited the Belgian digital art studio DIRTY MONITOR to use light sculpture technology to express the dynamic dimension through projection and music narrative across the visual level of perception, which achieved three-dimensional interaction with the audience and told the “past and present” of Jiaxing Canal culture in relation to the silk. Although the project still has shortcomings: firstly, the design uses outdoor surround sound, which has some problems of disturbing people and thus can only be listened to at specific times; secondly, although the light sculpture projection can produce beautiful visual effects, there are also long-term maintenance problems, such as power consumption and ageing equipment. Hence, we are continuously reflecting on these issues, making improvements and implementing solutions in new practical projects.
Figure 1. Comprehensive Improvement Project for the Connection and Improvement of Public Space on Both Sides of Suzhou River (Jing’an Section)
Source: Lv Zhong
Figure 2. Comprehensive Improvement Project for the Connection and Improvement of Public Space on Both Sides of Suzhou River (Jing’an Section)
Source: Lv Zhong
Figure 3. Light Carving Show at the Jiaxing Silk Knitting Joint Factory Cocoon Warehouse
Source: Lv Zhong
Intelligent design is an important way to integrate art and design with low-carbon transition. For example, the work we recently launched at Xintiandi utilises Augmented Reality (AR) technology. It allowed people to see—on their mobile phones—the transformation of Xintiandi by lights and shadows. The project also uses an “Environmental Nebula” to present local environmental data, triggering people to think about the climate change crisis. At the same time, the visual presentation of cloud colour, fluctuation and frequency and other visual presentation of clouds was closely related to the on-site climate data collection, such as the particle size, temperature and moderate condition of the air. The device had the advantages of not taking up space, zero energy consumption, zero electrical power consumption, and no impact on the living environment of the surrounding residents. Further, people could interact with it and take photos and forward them. Therefore, from a low-carbon and environmental protection perspective, it has great potential in integrating intelligent technologies into the future design of public art installations.
Figure 4. An “Environmental Nebula” of Intelligent Design Works
Combining Art and Low Carbon Concept
Source: Lv Zhong
Strengthening connections between the environment and arts has been one of the key objectives of landscape design. It requires a deep understanding of the local eco-system and a strong command of the design languages. To this end, we need to focus on three aspects: 1) Understanding the natural environmental factors: before carrying out landscape design, we need to conduct in-depth investigation and research on the environment, understand the local climate, soil, hydrology, and other natural conditions, while also considering the ecosystem and local culture, so as to design in a targeted manner and better utilize the advantages and potential of the nature. 2) Using the language of nature: based on the respect and understanding of nature, we should use methods and techniques that are in harmony with nature when solving problems, focus on flexibility and sustainability, and find a balance between environmental protection and economic benefits to better protect natural resources and ecosystems. 3) Creating a nature experience: biological psychology demonstrates a preference towards natural elements. Hence, landscape design needs to provide appropriate experiential strategies so that people can experience and perceive the beauty of nature in an immersive way and express and enhance this experience in the form of art.
The development of new urban areas should start from cultivating industries. Industries in each region should avoid homogenization and realize differentiated and coordinated development.
Policy decisions establish regulations and requirements for urban and community development from the economic, social and environmental aspects. Environmental design needs to consider this during its implementation. Environmental design’s impacts on policy decisions are manifested in two main aspects: 1) The effectiveness of policy decisions is validated through careful investigation and analysis. 2) The effectiveness of policy implementation is evaluated through design research and data analysis, which further makes recommendations for improvement and refinement of policy decisions.
Top-level design is a crucial approach in planning that focuses on the region’s long-term sustainability and diversified development. It considers policy, resources, environment, society, and other factors and defines the vision and objectives of the region while also setting out specific planning measures. Every detail of the plan serves to achieve the overall goal. Therefore, the relationship between planning and top-level design is inseparable, and top-level design is the key and guarantee of excellent planning.
Shanghai’s five new cities (Nanhui New Area, Qingpu District, Fengxian District, Jiading District, and Songjiang District) fundamentally require the introduction of industries, followed by the gradual establishment of public space and transport systems, which are continuously developed and optimized in accordance with the planning blueprint. Firstly, industrial development comes first and needs to be introduced, cultivated and developed incrementally. Industries in each region should avoid homogenization and achieve differentiated and coordinated development. Secondly, rail transport, as an important spatial link between the new towns, is also a key emphasis in planning the new towns. The rail transit station can connect with the commercial complex, take the station as the core to develop the hub of the new city, and build a systematic spatial pattern through the slow traffic system.
Figure 5. Rail transportation
In addition, the planning and design of new cities need to focus on five aspects: 1) Resilient planning: emphasising resilience is essential, and some open space or building space should be reserved in case future expansion or alteration is needed. 2) Disaster management: our focus should be on planning for flood, wind and earthquake prevention, as well as establishing a comprehensive emergency plan and security system to enhance disaster management capabilities and ensure rapid response and adaptation in the face of natural disasters and emergency crises. 3) Connectivity design: attention should be given to the connectivity between regions. The planning requires a green belt running through the five new cities in a loop, organically connecting each region through natural landscapes such as green belts, parks, and lakes, thereby forming a continuous ecological corridor and generating various green clusters based on the radiation of this belt system. 4) Biological conservation: efforts should be made to protect biodiversity and maintain the integrity of the ecosystem, providing space for various plants and animals to survive and reproduce. 5) Construction of park city station: as an integrated transport hub combining rail, public transport, park, and commercial functions, the park city station assists in establishing a comprehensive green transport system.
Figure 6. Park green belt system
Source: Friends of The Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit
In terms of policy-making and top-level design, we need to establish a scientific and effective urban development strategy to ensure the long-term balanced development of the new towns. Policy guidance should also be enhanced to foster social investment, and to attract enterprises, capital, and talent to the new towns, providing overall coordination in planning, land use, and project management to ensure the organic integration and coordinated development of the five new cities. Simultaneously, promoting participatory urban planning that allows all citizens to participate in the planning, construction and management of the new city is vital.
In general, design cannot solve all problems, but designers should pay attention to the root causes of urban problems and the logic of development and change, such as the integration of production and city, the integration of production, living, and ecological spaces and other underlying logic of urban construction. Understanding this logic can assist designers in precisely defining their role in the integration of technology or in making technological judgments in practice.
The purpose of public space is to achieve equity and balance of interests. The key is to move beyond simple economic considerations.
Inclusive design emphasises “diversity” and “equality” and is implemented across four dimensions: multiculturalism, accessibility, community participation, and low-carbon development. 1) Encourage multicultural coexistence and mutual respect by designing and building public places with different cultural characteristics, such as cultural centres, museums, art centres etc. to meet the needs of different groups of people. 2) Design and construct accessible facilities, including wheelchair access, blind guide strips, elevators, and ramps, to meet the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities. 3) Encourage community participation and collaboration to improve democratic participation, transparency, and the quality of construction to ensure the universality and quality of urban public resources. 4) Set sustainable development goals, design green buildings and landscapes, promote low-carbon lifestyles, reduce negative environmental impacts, and focus on ecology, environmental protection, and sustainability in urban planning. Furthermore, inclusive decision-making requires policymakers to consider the needs and interests of diverse groups and to encourage participation from all stakeholders in the planning, construction, and management processes of cities. Overall, building inclusive cities requires designers and decision-makers to think collectively in order to create an environment that is adaptable to different people and situations, and where everyone can participate equally.
Public space projects differ from real estate projects in that they are government-funded and shared by the public. The purpose of creating public spaces is to achieve equity and balance of different interests. Their value lies in the perspective of measurement rather than simply calculating inputs and returns from an economic perspective. From a human perspective, these spaces can offer public areas for social activities, thereby enhancing public satisfaction; from the perspective of the entire biological system, some blank green spaces can provide ecological corridors for the spread and migration of plants, animals, and other species, bringing positive impacts on environmental protection. These are all the values of public space.
Figure 7. Wheelchair path
Shanghai’s historic and cultural districts are an important cultural heritage of the city, carrying the city’s history and memories which not only exist due to the historical buildings but are also linked to the urban environment and social activities. Therefore, the planning and design of historic districts need to reveal the city’s culture and history while displaying the aesthetic value of architecture, bringing into play the value of the ecological environment and public space, and releasing economic vitality through fine commercial planning, diverse natural spaces, and multiple shaping modes.
（1）Carefulplanning avoids homogenization in business and creates a more leisurely ambiance in the neighbourhood. Commercial planning can be approached in four ways: by integrating cultural elements, introducing public service businesses, encouraging new business models, and strengthening cross-industry cooperation. 1) Planning according to the characteristics of the regional imprint. For example, Shanghai style symbol elements can be integrated with commerce to create commercial blocks with local characteristics. 2) Public service businesses such as community-based coffee shops and libraries can be introduced to bring new vitality and cultural atmosphere to the neighbourhood, attracting people to stroll and linger. 3) Encourage the development of new business models, such as those based on the sharing economy and creative industries, to make the neighbourhood more dynamic. 4) Cross-sector cooperation has become a new trend in business development. Establishing cross-cooperation platforms and promoting cooperation between business districts can promote neighbourhood business development.
（2）Diverse natural elements make the space experience novel and contribute to a more sustainable environment.We can integrate natural spaces into commercial areas, introduce agricultural tourism and planting experiences, and develop green stores and eco-restaurants. The interplay between commerce and nature can effectively enhance the economic vitality and value of ecological spaces. 1) Establishing indoor gardens, rooftop gardens, and other green spaces within neighbourhood commercial and office areas can enrich the experiences of working, shopping, and touring, and boost the neighbourhood’s diverse vitality. 2) Agricultural tourism and planting experiences can allow visitors to get close to nature and understand agriculture, while increasing tourism revenue, promoting agricultural development, and strengthening ecological and environmental protection awareness. 3) Developing and building green shops and ecological restaurants that provide environmentally friendly and healthy products and services can not only meet consumers’ demand for a healthy and environmental-friendly lifestyle, but also promote urban sustainable development.
Figure 8. Integrate natural space into commercial space
（3）Diversified models allow for the specification and segmentation of social activities, making the city more attractive. Realizing the multifaceted values of space requires consideration of various dimensions such as “infrastructure & culture”, “technology & art”, and “social & experiential”. 1) It’s not only important to pay attention to ‘infrastructure’ elements such as physical facilities and landmark buildings, but also to emphasise the inclusion of cultural elements such as brands, libraries, and music to enhance the quality and connotation of the space. 2) By introducing technological tools and integrating artistic elements, we can redefine the function and form of the neighbourhood. For example, we can combine virtual reality and augmented reality with neighbourhoodcommerce to create a more engaging shopping experience or add digital fun elements to the ecological space. 3) Spaces should be designed to facilitate social interaction and community sharing. For example, restaurants and coffee shops can create a more social atmosphere, and platforms that support social groups can be provided.
Design should not only focus on visual aesthetic value but also pursue inclusive and practical value. As representatives of public opinions, designers need to integrate and think differently across dimensions to make comprehensive and inclusive designs.
Shanghai prioritises detail-oriented design and is committed to creating “beautiful neighbourhoods” through urban renewal projects and other renovation activities. By replacing functions, these initiatives foster business renewal and support a virtuous economic cycle. Many spaces have been tastefully renovated and showcased on online platforms like “Xiaohongshu”. However, it’s important to remember that the images presented on social media platforms don’t fully capture real life. More importantly, it is important to pay attention to the actual use and experience of urban spatial construction and renovation. While landmark designs are easy to distinguish, it’s harder to visually measure the value of non-landmark designs, despite the efforts put into them. That’s because their improvements often lie in the smallest details of everyday life and are shaped by constraints related to the site, scale, funding, and public opinions.
Design should focus not only on visual aesthetic value but also on inclusive and practical value. At present, the installation of elevators, standardized parking spaces, community gardens, and ageing-friendly renovations in old residential areas all have inclusive features. The project site is not an attraction nor labeled as such, but it is exactly the kind of space most people live in. Currently, the “two old and one village” renovation (i.e. the renovations of old districts, old housing sets, and “urban village”) implemented in Shanghai also reflects this idea. Some public spaces, such as treatment centres and rehabilitation gardens for older people with memory loss, are under construction. Although their design may not create rich aesthetic effects, it has achieved maximum humanistic care under limited funding conditions.
At present, various local governments generally respect the insights of designers. However, as representatives of public opinions, designers should not solely consider their own perspective but rather adopt a multi-dimensional and comprehensive approach in presenting their design. Moreover, the designers should withstand scrutiny such as: Why is the development done in this way? What are the positive implications of the project development and green space design for the industrial development and the introduction of commercial projects on adjacent sites? Will the design lead to repetitive work, such as refilling and excavation? Does it possess forward-thinking and precise positioning? These are all important factors that influence the decision.
Design emphasises a people-oriented approach, but designers should not solely focus on a single group of people. The key to a warm and inclusive design is to maintain respect and understanding for various groups of people. Children, the elderly, people with disabilities, colour blindness, colour weakness and other groups need to be understood and supported in their barriers to travel and differences in their perception of space. Faced with diverse groups, designers should provide supports to them by using rational concerns and emotional aesthetic design elements. Furthermore, designers also need to consider from the perspective of decision-makers and anticipate challenges at earlier stage to ensure the smooth implementation of the projects.
Discussants: Yunqing Xu and Shih-yang Kao
Research Assistants: Xiqi Dou, Qinyu Zhang, Yitong Dong