I might be speaking from a critical perspective, in fact, the obsolete dogma and power of authority in our landscaping industry is creeping everywhere today. We take it for granted that, as in all industries, landscape designing is divided into those that are advanced and the rest that are falling behind. The advanced Western countries have so much power in designing, which overwhelm the more undeveloped countries, who have little right to speak. This is a negative picture that is being portrayed today. In the same way that the vast number of creatures, native dialects and heritage are rapidly diminishing, we are losing a large number of precious landscapes. The world is not becoming more colourful, but becoming dull, boring, and homogeneous. This is the picture we face currently. We are killing very precious landscapes, in the name of landscaping.
We always talk about diversity. What is diversity? Diversity is in things that survived time, and remained for thousands of years, collectively forming what we call the "landscape". To a certain extent, landscaping is not a kind of cartography, and it is not generated as quickly as we instil in students at our schools. In Chinese words, we call that “forging”, but landscapes cannot be “forged”. Landscaping is in the wind, the moonlight, the rivers, the tide - a composition of indigenous nature and history, even formed by love. When we speak in this manner, we will see that if today’s landscape design is only a type of skill in construction, instead of being a caring power, an appreciation of elegance, and a will to protect, then our landscape design is flawed and seriously flawed.
I would like to emphasise diversity again, which must be respected in terms of the many differences in the world - differences that are precious and full of vitality. These differences lie in different ideas, different beliefs, and different ways of living. The landscape follows these differences, reflects these differences, and finally represents these differences. The landscape has become a vivid showcase of these differences. This beautiful world is made up of these differences. We cannot by top-down force gradually make the world the same, with the same taste, same voice, same worship, no matter if it be by famous masters, international awards, or a thesis from the most prestigious university. Diversity cannot be just a word - diversity must be given the power to exist, along with a future vision of all humble and different creatures to exist.
When there were no landscapers in the early days, we still had awesome landscapes. Look around at the famous monuments and heritage sites all over the world - they are spectacular. They represent human activities in ancient times when there were no professional landscape architects. Later when landscaping became a profession, the landscapers worked independently in different cultures around the world and created amazing sites. Once a global network begins to establish, people start to get to know about each other’s work and an international communication channel is formed. This is the model of landscape “work” we know today. But is the work done at this time better than the work of the earlier stages? I'm not sure. I feel that in the state of being isolated and unaware of each other’s work, people can concentrate and find their true identity, and their best state of mind. We don’t need every detail to be known by others, and we don’t need to know what others are doing all the time. It is more important to do your own thing with your best effort. Today we care too much about what others are doing or want us to do, too much about the requirements and tastes of "awards" - the tastes of the renowned masters. I think these are not necessarily part of our work - we don't really need to know all of this.
On the other hand, how much of the things we teach to landscape students in schools around the world are about their hometown or about their native culture? How much can be called indigenous knowledge? Without this material, isn't the foundation of landscape empty? If there is no local knowledge, all we have is a kind of broad general global knowledge. In this case, are we not floating on something that is hollow and vague and which has no foundation? I am subsequently not very optimistic about the current situation. We may have to return to the people, the culture and the soil to which we belong. If we don’t do this, we would seem to be floating aimlessly in a boat on which we talk extravagantly about landscape and scenery, but in fact they are all mirages.
The excessive flow of information as a result of the convenience of communication and of travel, are not necessarily good things to some extent. Because of the current Corona virus epidemic, many things have been shut down globally, and travelling blocked to a certain extent. This may be an opportunity for our indigenous knowledge to breathe and recuperate. We need to realise that information itself contains power of authority, and transportation is the corridor of authority. Pervasive power suppresses our creativity - we don’t have a corner to be like a plant that grows from the soil and unfolds into something that truly belongs to oneself. In turn, information overlays and suppresses everything, undermining the will of all the insignificant selves. This is the problem we face today. In fact, landscaping is not that important, compared with politics, economy, the military, climate change. These topics are extremely heavy, and yet landscape reflects all these topics. So, as we discuss landscape today, we are in fact still discussing humanity. The state of humanity is in a way projected through landscape onto the planet. The state of humanity is reflected in the state of landscape. Loss in variety of landscape is the loss of individuality in humanity. To a certain extent, each and every one of us has no place to quietly grow and thrive to truly become oneself.
Let’s imagine that I am a fluent English speaker. Imagine if everyone can speak fluently in English across this planet, I do not think that is necessarily a good thing. There are supposed to be many languages in the world, and people should have the choice to not use a language that everyone understands. The beauty of using one’s own language to express oneself in front of a global audience needs to be appreciated. Yes we do need an interpreter to understand the other language, but most of the time we do not need everyone to know and understand it. In this approach, our curiosity can be maintained, and our precious diversity can be maintained. There will be many unimaginable corners, unimaginable landscapes, unimaginable people, unimaginable languages and sounds in the world. They are living, working, and falling in love in ways you can't imagine. If you know too much then it actually becomes boring. This is the way of the landscape as well as the way of the world.
Innovation is not always necessary, and innovation is not always right. Some people use high tech and lead the way forward with extreme enthusiasm for the future, which is good. However, other groups of people should look back and cherish with warmth what happened in the past - the land and soil would favour the latter. If there is a choice for the land between Yin and Yang, it should be Yin. The land bears our ancestors, carries the legends, and embraces the roots of plants. This is the attribute of the land. The land is different from buildings, from skyscrapers - it is a quiet force and should be our retreat and the cornerstone of humanity. To a certain extent, being more conservative is something to which we should pay more attention today. The future of intelligence may be just around the corner, so the land should return to itself, covered with vegetation, carrying history, legends and mysteries. It bears the coffins of our ancestors, the secrets where we come from and where we are going as the human race. This is my understanding of the land.
Therefore, landscape design is about land, which should not partake in the excitement of the future, or high tech and innovations. It should pay tribute to the opposite, to the ballads, antiquity, life and death. These are the attributes of our vast landscape with which we should be concerned rather than space and artificial intelligence. In contrast, we hold the dreams that lie asleep in the land. These are the poetic attributes, even witchcraft attributes, of landscape.
Do not think that since we have smart phones and fast jet planes that we are getting better. I have some Japanese friends who complain that they have lost the sense of richness in the past - the strong "Japanism" feeling. The situation in Africa is the same, and we should not lose the sense of Africanism. "Africanicity" is certainly not the Africa that we as outsiders could imagine. It is the Africa of Africans, full of tribes and wild animals in nature. Everything in Africa contributes to the richness of the world - it is the most precious and charming continent, this Africa.
So, before we imitate the so-called advanced countries, or let renowned masters come to work in Africa, we must consider one question: does Africa need these things? And if so, to what extent? All of it? It is good to have hesitation and doubt. We don't all need to be the same, even if it sounds glamorous.