Born in China. Previously a landscape designer practicing at Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, currently a PhD student at UW, and potentially a teacher somewhere in time. Always a homo viator.
I am trained as an architect, landscape architect, and artist with academic and professional experiences with international institutions. This transcultural foundation has informed my ongoing research interest in the ‘sense of place’. This focus is two-fold. Firstly, my work emphasizes place identity, site specificity, place-based ecology, typology, meaning, and collective narratives. Secondly, within these frameworks, there emerges a more immediate and situational relationship between us and the environment, highlighting the perceptual and embodied aspects of the space we experienced. I investigate this topic via two methods: (1) the material and immaterial qualities of landscape architecture (light, tide, weather, sound, seasonality) and how the geometrical space registers these elements dynamically through time; (2) interdisciplinary theories that acknowledge bodily relations with space, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, environmental psychology, embodiment and affordance in cognitive psychology, enactive architectural experience in neuroscience, and conciseness of place in East Asian aesthetics. This interest in embodied experience was initially developed in China where I grew up and when the concepts of framing, hiding and revealing, sequence, threshold and atmosphere were investigated often in studios. I also taught a seminar and studio at RISD called “a garden as meditation” which was based on these landscape design strategies and inspired by Yin Yang philosophy. These experiences began to cohere in my design and research, and resonate with phenomenological thinking and empirical understandings of perception in the Western world. For example, my Master’s thesis “Embody phenomenal transparency” revisited Colin Rowe’s 1960s theory “phenomenal transparency” and expanded its application to landscape architecture. I sought to demonstrate how it can act as an experimental design tool to create intentional ambiguity with overlapping yet clarified spatial structures in current collage-like urban context and activate fluctuating spatial readings via the succession of landscape phenomenon in time and thinking-body of space.
My professional experience covers a wide range of scales and types in architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture, in various project phases from initial site analysis and engagement to the full design and construction process. My work at STOSS investigates the user’s experience via patterns of occupation and aims to foster livable, resilient and equitable communities, such as making waterfronts accessible to people in low income neighborhoods while also protecting the areas from flooding. At Reed Hilderbrand, my work explored historical layers, tectonics and natural habitats to create site specific interventions. I have collaborated interdisciplinarily with architects, ecologists, engineers, artists, communities, cities, and developers. These collective experiences provide me with a cohesive understanding of the disciplines and enable me to reflect upon theory and practice. I have come to realize that many design factors are prioritized at the cost of felt perspectives, and I would venture that this is due to a lack of tools and language to investigate the user's embodied experience effectively. Beyond all the significant efforts we made in design practices to make our urban environment livable, there still remains challenging questions: how can we deliver spaces that are engaging for people to use and inhabit, on a routine basis, via their direct experiences? How can we empower individuals’ embodiment to foster inclusion and sense of belonging? How can we activate life-enhancing encounters and awareness among the homogeneous time flow of modern life?
In 2022, I decided to pursue my research on embodied landscape experience via the PhD program at U of Washington, Seattle. Currently, I envision my research as a mix of interdisciplinary theoretical research, analytical and ethnographic investigation on selective cases, and projective experiments via speculative design intervention involving prototyping and critical analysis. I am excited to see how my research evolves as I collaborate with different advisors and peers, and as challenging contextualized issues and divergences arise. In the future, I see myself as an innovative and driven researcher, an experimental and passionate educator, who maintains side practice in landscape and public art for embodiment and reflection. I hope to encourage a new pedagogy that challenges conventional thinking and design process, to bridge theory and design by exploring innovative tools, and to integrate research and practice via speculative experiments. My PhD journey will prepare me well to contextualize my research for real world issues such as those faced by under-privileged groups---who deserve to be more connected to their environments---or therapeutic interventions, eventually helping to create places that foster and enhance our identities as meaning-making beings.
I tremblingly hope that eventually this may enable each unique existence of us to achieve the personal way of being in this world.
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