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Journal of Landscape Architecture

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Beijing's New Urban Countryside Designing with

Complexity and Strategic Landscape Planning

Antje Stokman , Sabine Rabe & Stefanie Ruff

Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Sciences , Leibniz University Hanover

Published online: 01 Feb 2012.

To cite this article: Antje Stokman , Sabine Rabe & Stefanie Ruff (2008) Beijing's New Urban Countryside
Designing with Complexity and Strategic Landscape Planning, Journal of Landscape Architecture, 3:2, 30-45, DOI:
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Beijings New Urban Countryside Designing with

Complexity and Strategic Landscape Planning

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Antje Stokman, Sabine Rabe, Stefanie Ruff

Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Sciences, Leibniz University Hanover

One of the key challenges facing sustainable urban and landscape design is
the land-use management of the rural-urban fringe, a dynamic area where
a range of urban and rural uses collide. By examining the present situation
of one of the worlds most dynamic fringes, the planned second green belt
of Beijing, it becomes clear that rapid land-use change processes are closely
connected to the adaptive and inventive connections between people and
the land. Thus a new management system leading to sustainable development and design of the green belt can only be achieved by designing new
ways of interaction between the different actors and the land. During a Sino-German workshop seeking deeper understanding of land-use patterns
and processes, different scenarios for the future development of Beijings
urban countryside were developed and discussed.

Rural-urban Fringe Landscapes / Green Belt Policies /

Multi-functional Design / Beijing


Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Evolving patterns of Beijings urban landscapes
Maps of Beijing cannot be amended fast enough, and master plans for its
development always lag behind the realities on the ground. Beijing is one
of the most dynamic and rapidly developing cities in the world. Within
three decades, Chinas open door policy has stimulated economic progress
and urban development of unrivalled speed and dimensions. Since 1981,
350 million Chinese have migrated from rural areas to the cities, especially those on the east coast. To keep growth under control, the Capital
Planning Commission of Beijing has been trying to achieve a well-ordered
layout of urban expansion by applying masterplanning and green belt
concepts since 1953, shortly after the founding of the Peoples Republic
of China. However, when observing Beijings contemporary urban landscapes on the urban fringe, one can hardly believe that there have been
any attempts to apply physical urban plans, as the actual dimensions and
patterns of urban growth are obviously not a result of planning apart
from the clear system of ring roads.
Taking an area on the fringe of Beijing as a case study, this paper discusses the distinctive landscape morphological patterns resulting from local interactions between urban and rural land uses, forming a new kind of
vernacular landscape. By using research-based approaches of mapping to
analyse, organise, and present complex interrelationships, this study reinterprets the role of design in strategically linking spatial landscape patterns to social dynamics. It reads and interprets different strategies and
adaptations to local conditions as a self-organising system in which the
basic elements the existing rural villages and land parcels are developed into various land uses. Describing the transition rules that affect
the change of individual land parcels creates an argument that we need to
find new ways of dealing with the complexity, speed and unpredictability of a megacitys urban growth and landscape change. In the worldwide
process of extremely rapid urban development, landscape architects have
to address and make use of contemporary physical and social practices,
meeting local needs by designing landscapes for survival .

art exhibition space

agriculture company
urban street village

distribution sites

palais de fortune

new village

construction workers

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drinking water

drinking water

golf course



densified village

farming entertainment

Figure 1 Location of the Floodscape projects

(NW Europe section of Interreg III shaded)


fish ponds

billiard parlour


Figure 1 Contrasting, interesting and confusing patterns of Beijings urban fringe in

Cuigezhuang County a prototype territory of self-organising and complex urban
landscapes situated in the projected second green belt of Beijing.

Emerging versus planned urban landscapes

The emerging phenomenon of a new type of complex urban landscape on
the fringe of Asian mega-cities has been described by numerous scholars (Yokohari et al. 2000; Friedman 2005, Read 2005). Most of them are referring to Ginsburg (Ginsburg 1990) and McGee (McGee 1991) as the first
to describe the special characteristics of rural urbanisation or rurbanisation in Indonesia and other Asian countries. The spatial characteristics of this kind of urban landscape, although related to the phenomenon
termed Zwischenstadt (Sieverts 1997) or Splintering Urbanism (Graham and Marvin 2002) in Western cities, are considered distinctively Asian.
They are characterised by an intense and seemingly chaotic mixture of
different micro-scaled agricultural and non-agricultural land uses that
can be found in most of todays well-developed economic regions, especially around the central cities and stretching along infrastructure corridors between larger city cores. Generated from dynamic relations, these
territories are the physical expressions of social processes and economic
flows, ordered as a diverse patchwork of parallel operations. They rest on
an emergent dynamic of multiple interrelated actors with individual motives, operating in modular ways in an open-ended process (Fig. 1).
These kinds of self-organizing and complex urban landscapes are typical of chaotic land use by modern urban and landscape planning, as the
expression of unorganised and unpredictable urban sprawl. The concept
of clearly separating urban areas from surrounding rural areas is a fundamental concept of modern Western urban planning theory as adapted by

most Asian countries (Yokohari et al. 2000). The Western concept of a land
use planning system by zoning was introduced to guide urban expansion
by clearly separating designated urbanisation promotion areas from surrounding urbanisation control areas. As the cities grew and their urban
structure became more and more dense, in the early days of the modern
planning movement planners initially used urban parks and green open
spaces within the urbanisation promotion areas as recreation and public
health amenities. As cities expanded even further, planners promoted the
creation of green open spaces, preferably in the shape of green belts surrounding the urbanisation promotion areas, to restrict the disordered expansion of urban areas into surrounding rural landscapes. This model of
land use and greenspace planning has long been applied in Europe and
the United States, and subsequently adopted by Asian countries including China and the city of Beijing.
Beijings master planning overtaken by reality
Since the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, Beijing has become one of the largest and most rapidly developing cities in
the world. It is hard to believe that in the preceding 500 years the city had
seen hardly any dramatic change to its urban outline and main framework, with the urban built up area covering around 62.5 km2 from the
Ming Dynasty around 1420 (Gan 199:359) to the foundation of the Peoples
Republic (Deng et. al. 2004:227). Since then, fast population growth and the
Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008


Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff

City Area, 1975

City Area, 1988

City Area, 1988

City Area, 1975

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City Area, 1992

City Area, 1992

Figure 2 Rapid expansion of Beijings urban area and

ring shaped infrastructure system from 1975 to 2002
(Source: Master Plan of Beijing 2002 2020)
City Area, 2002

City Area, 1996

rapid increase of housing and economic activities have expanded the in2
City Area,
1996 built up area to cover more than 700 km with
sion pattern following the concentric ring roads (Li et al. 2005:1). While the
second ring road on the land of the former city wall was built in the 1980s
and the third ring road in the 1990s, since then three more ring roads have
been completed, with the 6th ring road comprising around 130 km of expressway some 15 - 20 km from central Beijing (Fig. 2).
Faced with the extreme pressure of urban growth, since the foundation of the People's Republic of China Beijing has also applied the abovementioned planning models to guide and structure its urban expansion.
After the first concept of the 1950s to introduce a green belt around the
old city on the land of its ancient city wall was preempted by construction
of the second ring road, the concept of a second green belt to separate the
central city from the surrounding development of new outskirt districts
has been put forward. The Master Plan Scheme on Construction of Beijing City from 1982, which was meant to guide urban development until the millennium and limit the population to 10 million by 2000, first
introduced this idea. However, the population had already reached 10.86
million in 1990, overrunning much of the designated green belt land.
The revised masterplans for Beijing in 1993 and 2004 reduced but still defined the area of the second green belt. Looking at the current state of Beijing, although there have been more than 50 years of masterplanning,
apart from the definite ring road system the urban and landscape structure seems to lack any overall concept. The planned main elements ten
satellite towns separated from the urban core by a green belt within the

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

4th and 5th ring road seem more fantasy than reality. Confronted with
the danger of losing the extension of the second green belt and considering the serious environmental impacts of urbanisation, the planners did
not give up: They invented an even larger green belt plan, which has been
pursued by the municipal government of Beijing since 2002 (Ouyang and
Wang 2002). The revised second green belt is composed of a reduced inner
plus an additional outer green belt, located mainly between the fifth and
sixth ring roads with an average width of 10 km but not defined by exact
borders. According to the study, about 40% of this area is already built on
and this ratio should not be exceeded. At least 60% of the land needs to
be reserved for green cover with at least 70% of the total green elements
being forests (Ouyang and Wang 2002) (Fig. 3).
However, while the planners are busying themselves with plans and
calculations, outside the remit of official planning within the designated
new green belt area the city is evolving according to its own rules. Urban
expansion does not follow an overall planned vision but is driven by unrelated governmental or politically motivated actions and by private economic activities and speculation. There are not enough resources to devise
and implement regulatory policies and tools to control the pace of development. Conventional masterplanning is unable to address uncertainty,
as its assumptions and strategies are too rigid to adapt to fast-changing
and unpredictable external factors. With every solution the planners develop, the urban frontiers appear to be less designed and more evolved.



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Inner city embedding the Forbidden City


Figure 3: Planned city and green belt structure of Beijing

(Source: Master Plan of Beijing 2002 2020)

Outer City area with county cities (C)


Area of 10 satellite towns (S)


Planned area of inner green belt

between 4th and 5th ring road
Area of outer green belt
between 5th and 6th ring road
Municipality of Beijing

Realities spatial impacts of urbanisation processes on Beijings fringe

Seen from the perspective of traditional land-use planning and regulation, the current landscape of Beijings urban fringe may seem alien and
over-complex. The discipline of landscape architecture, however, engages with complex relationships of landscape patterns and processes, recognizing ecosystems as diverse, complex and self-organizing lifeworlds.
It has developed useful strategic models and techniques for both understanding and designing within the complex circumstances of given sites.
Therefore, from the perspective of landscape architecture a joint Sino-German expert and student workshop was organised by Peking University
and Leibniz University Hannover. Taking the existing proposal for a new
masterplan of an area in the northeast of Beijings rural-urban fringe as
a starting point, new methodologies of strategic landscape planning and
design were developed during the workshop and discussed with invited
experts from Germany and China. Instead of transforming the site to accommodate the two-dimensional forms and fixed spatial compositions
of the existing proposal, new ways were to be found to address the places
qualities of life and space with regard to future potential, weaving together its multiple economic, social, environmental and aesthetic dimensions.
This approach implies a shift in design and planning methodology towards devoting more effort to site research and investigation of the forces
behind the making of this landscape.
By conducting field studies and on-site research on the rural-urban
fringe of Beijing, the different forces and the resulting landscape patterns
were analysed, interpreted and made visible by the method of mapping.
Avoiding the failure of universalist approaches toward master-planning
and the imposition of state-controlled schemes, the unfolding agency of
mapping may allow designers and planners not only to see certain possibilities in the complexity and contradiction of what already exists but also
to actualize that potential. (Corner 1999:214). Exploring and describing the

physical attributes of the existing terrain of Beijings urban frontier as

an expression of various hidden forces, during the workshop we visualized these interrelationships within many different mappings, which we
called episodes, thereby implying that a mapping always represents only
one version of spatial reality as a result of exploring, selecting, abstracting
and relating a chosen set of aspects from the factual observation. These aspects can include natural processes such as wind directions, hydrological
and soil conditions, local history and stories, social relationships and economic interactions between different groups of people as well as social,
spatial and economic activities determined by legislative conditions.
To introduce the rich and varied spectrum of experiences of urban
landscape conditions within Beijings rural-urban fringe, selected findings from many different episodes collected during the workshop have
been aggregated within four general episodes, presented in the following
section. Grounded on real observations, these episodes are based on cartographic selection and schematisation. For each episode, based on describing both the spatial and aesthetic qualities within plan and section projections of a model site enriched by photos from typical situations, the
underlying socio-economic processes and interactions shaping them are
visually depicted. Different stakeholders with different backgrounds and
motivations are introduced, creating different social networks that distribute and use the existing resources in different ways. Thus the four episodes conceptualize the fringe landscape as a self-organising system in
which the basic elements, the villages and land parcels, are developed into
various land uses. Each episode, however, is a mere snapshot of a state of
constant flux, with the spatial qualities we see today being partly an expression of a long history, serving as a departure point and framework for
different ways of transformation towards the future.

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008



Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff


working on
own fields

families living in traditional

courtyard houses

working on
own fields



Sell crops on local

market / in market

Every village household grows vegetables in little gardens along the

streets. The sewage canals are open alongside the street.


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The traditional rural landscape is dominated by rice fields on village

community land.




Figure 4 Episode 1 Farmer communities homeland

Farmer communities homeland

The first episode (Fig. 4) describes a contemporary condition that, of the
four following episodes, bears most resemblance to the original state of villages around Beijing; the farmer communities homeland, although it continues to exist, can be seen as the original condition from which the other
community homeland
episodes of urban villages with their manifold facets have evolved.
The traditional Chinese village is very homogeneous. This is equally
true of its physical appearance and its inhabitants, who are all local farmers. It has a compact form and is clearly delimited from its surroundings.
Within the village, one-storey enclosed courtyard houses, all of the same
basic form, are the standard building module, while the clans inhabiting
these buildings are the basic organisational unit. The arable land surrounding the village is mainly owned by families and farmed by their members.
As a result, the land is divided into small parcels and intensively cultivated.
Hardly any land is unused, every landscape element has a function related
to the productive functions of the land (e.g., irrigation ditches, wind-shelter plantings, fishponds), and even the smallest and most odd-shaped plots
in the villages are worked to grow crops and vegetables.

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Although today some villages around Beijing still retain a relatively traditional air, Chinas economic opening has lead to unprecedented diversification. In the wake of rapid urbanisation and new socio-economic constellations, most villages have changed their character completely and
increasingly become part of an overall urban fabric, dynamic places of
highly contradictory, simultaneous developments.
Floating peoples new territory
While in the episode described above all land is intensively farmed by
families, in the second episode (Fig. 5) some plots lie fallow while others are taken over by new stakeholders. The result is a significantly different pattern of land use, mainly due to the new actors and forces that
have come into play since the reform era of the 1980s and 1990s. The basis for this change in population composition and associated social networks are amendments to the Hukou system, a national household registration system that was introduced in 1958 and is still in force today (Wang
2002). It classifies all people into one of two categories: urban or agrarian.


crops to Hong Kong

living in

on food
company land / in factory

rent rooms rent


live on farmland
cultivating it

work on
sites /households
in the city





rent farmland


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In the densified urban villlages village people extend their houses

and therefore densify the village structure to have the maximum space
to rent out to migrants.


large fields and greenhouses or
commercial zones

Densified and transformed by
added spaces rented out to

cultivated by


For people registered as agrarian, in the past it was virtually impossible to

move to a city. For a long time, the system enforced strict residency control and served as a key instrument to restrict population growth in cities
(Pilz 2000). Since the 1980s, however, in response to the increasing need for
manpower in the cities this system has been considerably relaxed, and cities have experienced an enormous influx of floating population attracted by good job opportunities and higher wage economies. This commonly
used term describes national migrants that, however, are defined rather by
their Hukou status than by the temporariness of their stay, as the name
might suggest. Today, Beijing is estimated to have a floating population of
4 million, comprising about one fourth of its inhabitants. This migration
movement has dramatically changed the social and physical structure of
the villages as well as land use on Beijings rural-urban fringe.
With the migrants need for cheap accommodation creating a new
economic factor, the existing village communities have developed a new
source of income that is proving more profitable than farming. Not being
supported by the local authorities and employers, most migrants are mov-

Migrants living in barracks on the fields and farming the land of the
village people.

Figure 5 Episode 2 Floating peoples new territory

ing into existing villages on the city margins offering cheap accommodation in informal extensions of the original courtyard houses. In most of
Beijings urban villages today, migrant workers from all parts of China far
outnumber the local people. In many villages the population has increased
tenfold since the 1980s. A courtyard that used to house one family now accommodates up to ten. As a result the villages have become much denser,
roads and paths are narrow and full of people and shops, and there is almost no vegetation. The farmers have become landlords, making money
from the tenants of the informal structures added to the original courtyards, which in many cases are no longer recognisable. This growth, however, has happened without much infrastructure improvement; water supply and disposal systems are overstrained and the surface water is severely
polluted. Social tensions aggravate these environmental problems.
As the main source of income of the original villagers is renting rooms
and even their arable land to migrant workers, more and more agricultural land lies fallow. In fact, almost no village dweller on the fringes of
Beijing today can be classified as a farmer in a conventional sense. People
Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008


The orchard is a tourist attraction combining scenic organic farming in

a traditional image with an exclusive restaurant.

artists living and

working in studio

rent farmland

in the city

families living
in traditional
courtyard houses

on food
company land / in factory

rent rooms

live on farmland
cultivating it

work on construction
sites /households in
the city

sell crops





visiting exhibition /
buying art
visit restaurant of the

Artists needing low priced working and exhibition space convert farm
buildings to art galleries and build studios nearby.


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Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff


Figure 6 Episode 3 Urban pioneers experimental field

have not only become landlords, but some have also, at least temporarily,
moved to the city for work, or found employment in local factories or agricultural companies where they can earn more. These companies, usualUrban
field sell their crops as far away as Hong
ly owned
and managed
by city people,
Kong, which again leads to new interdependencies and commodity flows.
With industrial-model, modern agricultural companies arising, the parcelling of land has also changed and plots have become much larger to
permit intensive farming.
In conclusion it can be stated that migration, new sources of income
and the weakening of the clan structure have fundamentally altered both
the physical and socio-economic structure of the villages as well as the
patterns of land use (Heberer 2003). As urban and rural land use and life
styles have mixed on the urban edge, both the original and floating rural
residents have now become urbanised and are no longer dependent on agriculture to make a living.


Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008


organic farm with
garden +


artists' studios and
exhibition space


Urban pioneers experimental field

In the third episode (Fig. 6) city people, including non-Chinese residents,
appear as a new group. The increasing variety of stakeholders is also diversifying the range of activities on Beijings outskirts. As family-based
farming as a source of income has declined new, more unconventional and
experimental land uses have emerged. Because land on the urban periphery is still cheap and local landowners are increasingly willing to sell off
property, they are meeting the needs of city dwellers searching for cheap
land and space for various activities that have been priced out of the city
centre. This demand brings both a further transformation of the existing physical structures and patterns and the emergence of new socio-economic networks.
One such new development is Beijing Crab Island Natural Resort, an
organic farm that attracts huge amounts of visitors. As a model project
sponsored by various state environmental protection agencies it combines
organic farming with recreation and amusement, including a restaurant
and accommodation, angling and even plots of land for rent where people


in the city


farmer families
living in new houses

in the city

rent land


in the city



work in villas


work on construction
sites in the city


playing golf

City people play golf in golf resorts.


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Rich city people move to luxurious micro residential districts

developed on the urban fringe, protected by fences and
security guards, with private parks and facilities.








can grow their own organic vegetables and fruit. Also catering for city people who venture to the urban fringe for a weekend outing is The Orchard,
a European- and North American-inspired restaurant especially popular
with expatriates. Set in an oasis-like environment with fruit trees and
small ponds, it offers organic menus with ingredients grown on site. Although close to a village, The Orchard has an isolated character. Its owner
however, a famous Chinese rock musician, aims to let the village people
also benefit from The Orchards success. As a model project, he has started
to renovate a traditional courtyard house in the village, intending to rent
it out to affluent city people or foreigners and thus showing a way for the
village people to make higher rents than they can from migrants.
Another new use that adds to the heterogeneity of Beijing's urban
fringe are art spaces that have emerged on former factory sites close to old
villages. This development is a result of the gentrification of established
art districts closer to the city that is driving artists and gallery owners
out to the periphery (Kgel 2007). The former factories, shut down by the

Figure 7 Episode 4 Playground for the established and rich

municipality due to the pollution they caused, have been gradually taken
possession of and remodelled. With world-famous artists like Ai Weiwei
living and working in these areas and galleries springing up everywhere,
this development draws many visitors to the rural-urban fringe not only
from the adjacent city but even internationally, as Chinas art scene is becoming increasingly famous. Playground for established and rich
The multitude of actors and interests described above results in a physical pattern and appearance which is initially barely comprehensible. As
the mapping shows, however, the intertwining of village people and migrants in the village on the one hand and city people outside the village on
the other is relatively low. This will change in the next episode.
Playground for the established and rich
In the last episode (Fig. 7), the physical structure of the traditional village and physical patterns of agricultural land use have entirely vanished.
All agricultural land has been replaced by governmental forestation. This
Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008


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Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff

ecological measure is in accordance with the effort to establish the ecological function of the second green belt. Crop farming has been largely
pushed back, since it is regarded as consuming too much water and thus
aggravating Beijings severe water scarcity. Likewise, animal husbandry
has been almost completely abolished. Instead, large amounts of land
have been forested.
Within these new forest spaces luxurious villa compounds, but also
golf resorts or even software parks, have sprung up, looking like ornamental inlays as they have a completely insular character without cross-links
to their surrounding landscape. They are connected to a new large-scale
road infrastructure, which provides fast access both to the city centre and
its Central Business District (CBD) located along the third ring road and
the airport along the fifth ring road.
Other new types of neighbourhoods are the new villages. They mainly
house former farmers who were resettled when their old villages were demolished. While the different building clusters within Beijings second
green belt are relatively self-contained physically, they do trigger new socio-economic interrelations. Former farmers, now living in new villages,
still rent rooms to migrant workers, who in turn work in the city on construction sites, in households or as self-employed entrepreneurs such as
car cleaners, fruit sellers, or shoe repairers. To some extent they also work
and even live in the villa compounds as gardeners, maids, cooks or cleaning personnel. Some buildings within the new villages are also owned
by city people who cannot afford one of the expensive villas in the compounds described above.
Most of the city people who appeared as urban pioneers looking for
cheap places to live in the previous episode, here attain an established status and are looking for expensive, exclusive properties. They reside in the
most luxurious villa compounds with aspirational names such as Palais
de Fortune or River Adagio, and play golf in fancy resorts.
Apart from the officially sanctioned developments in Beijings second
green belt, a black market of illegal land and housing transactions has developed, with local communities trying to sell land that is not designated
for development according to municipal land use regulations. Although
many of these developments have not been exposed there are a number
of illegal construction sites that have been stopped and fallen derelict.
They bear witness to the tremendous dynamics of Beijings urban growth,
which can hardly be guided, let alone regulated.


Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Design scenarios and prospects for Beijings urban countryside

As shown above, Beijings masterplanning has so far been unable to address the complex landscape changes on the citys rural-urban fringes,
which ignore the visions and rules of the municipalitys land-use maps
and regulations. What can strategic landscape planning, from a landscape
architecture point of view, look like when it promotes urban development
that responds to these multilayered societal structures and their spatial
expression on the city margin, carries them forward and simultaneously
develops good open space quality, in both the aesthetic and the ecological
sense, for an entire metropolis?
Rather than separating the open space within the urban fringe from
the built-up area that needs to be restricted as described by Ouyang and
Wang 2002, the episodes described above show how the multiple issues of
different connections between the use of built-up areas in relationship to
the use of the open spaces are kept in conjunction. However, they not only
permit a glimpse of a seemingly chaotic situation but also show that the
patterns and processes of Beijings urban fringe are based on a set of underlying logics. The method of mapping helps to discover new ways of seeing and understanding these complex urban patterns and processes and
hence becomes part of a creative design process. James Corner states that,
surprisingly, the strategic, constitutive and inventive capacities of mapping are not widely recognized in the urban design and planning arts,
although mapping can serve as an active and creative agent of cultural
intervention. (Corner 1999: 217) Recognizing the diversity of logics and exploiting the potentials of the existing episodes, new strategic episodes can
be invented in the form of design scenarios, which are tied to one of the
existing episodes, entering at different stages, forming new links or combining different urban formations.
To develop different design scenarios for a designated area within the
Second Green Belt based on the method of mapping was the task of a fourweek cross-cultural student workshop in September 2007, during which
a group of 20 students of Landscape Architecture from Peking University,
Leibniz University Hannover and ENSP Versailles worked in intercultural
teams on a workshop entitled Designing with complexity Beijings new
urban countryside. As a case study to understand, discuss and develop spatial strategies, the area of Cuigezhuang County and the small-scale site of
Hegezhuang Village were chosen, situated in the northeast of the city on
the margin between the 5th Ring and the airport the landscape patterns
and images of this area are shown in Fig. 1. At the same time the Gradu-

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ate School of Landscape Architecture of Peking University had been commissioned to conduct a research project by the Beijing Municipal Bureau
of State Land and Resources to develop a new spatial strategy for this area,
replacing the existing proposal for a new masterplan. The students design research and ideas contributed to their research and at the same time
prepared the ground for discussion within the concurrent Second SinoGerman High Level Expert Workshop Applications of Landscape Planning
and Design towards Sustainable Urban and Rural Development in China.
The design approach
Observing the conditions made up of set-piece fragments and parallel
worlds of disparate social and spatial concurrences in an alien culture, how
does one arrive at ideas for spatial strategy-making and proposals for new
spatial layouts? Planning tradition is characterized by a belief in a linear
working process, starting with the large scale before coming down to the
small scale, and completing a comprehensive data analysis before starting
to design and develop ideas. Within the STUDIO URBANE LANDSCHAFTEN and its theoretical and practical focus in the field of innovation strategies in landscape design (Seggern et. al. 2008) a methodological approach was
developed that involved a non-linear working process to enable the students to develop ideas on large-scale and complex sites. During the workshop process we worked at several different scales simultaneously (village
scale, county scale, city scale) and at the same time used different approaches to conceiving space towards the development of design scenarios:
EXPERIENCE the intuitive perception
The experience of different situations within space takes place on the 1:1
scale of human perception. When designing in complex spaces it is important to use our intuitive abilities to generate ideas out of coincidences of
personal encounters and perceptions in combination with personal experience and interest. Based on their initial impressions, the students had
to design their research strategies for exploring the site very quickly following their individual motivation. Their personal way of addressing the
site, their conversations, observations and interactions with people and
space played a crucial role in the search for ideas. The productive energy
generated from an understanding of people acting in response to the most
diverse needs and motives as well as the appreciation of existing spatial
qualities thus became the driving force of the design process.

REPRESENTATION depicting processes and relationships

Abstract depictions (mappings and graphics as socio-spatial presentations
of different episodes) stimulate, through a process of selection, reduction
and schematisation, productive reformulation of what is already there.
Findings from personal experience in combination with additional information from different sources formed the basis for representation of different episodes within the workshop. These representative descriptions of peoples ways of life, social contexts, ecological processes and resultant spatial
expressions in the area became the main instrument for generating ideas,
leading towards multifarious design approaches and their justifications.
RELATION the analysis of context and connections
Interpretations and design ideas for a specific site always have to be considered in terms of their significance and consequences for the adjacent
areas, the entire metropolis, while the specific context of China must also
be taken into account. With all parts of the city being connected and interacting, changes to a place or an area must be related to the larger-scale
context, and as the site of the workshop was part of Beijings planned
Green Belt, its overall concept had to be considered. The overall aim of the
workshop was to design an urban landscape as part of the Second Green
Belt that was not intended to serve the purposes of growth regulation, the
spatial division of city and countryside, but that could create many new
relations and interconnections between ecological, social and productive
functions for the metropolis of Beijing.
FABRIC shaping the physical structure and appearance
Breaking down the ideas to the smaller-scale study area of county and village, served to ascertain the ideas manifestation within a unique, striking physical fabric which contributes to the special character of the area.
Instead of the common land use planning practice in China, designing
abstract colour-coded blocks of building development, transport/utilities
and open spaces, at this stage a plan was sought that conveyed an image
of the aesthetic appearance invoking a sense of the special qualities and
possibilities of an urban landscape on the city margin. The presentation
can no longer be abstract at this level; it must deliver ideas that make the
spaces qualities visible to the relevant stakeholders, but by the same token be open enough to respond to the unpredictable dynamics of a planning process (Langner/Rabe 2008).

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008


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Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff

Figure 9 RELATION Productive Landscapes: Beijings Second Green

Belt as farmland

Figure 8 from top to bottom:

EXPERIENCE Productive Landscapes: Typologies due to social life
standard and motivations.
Floating farmer lives in this informal settlement close to the village,
rents farmland from local people and sells vegetables in the village.
Floating family ten- and seven-year-old girl and boy living with
her family illegally in the fields.
Floating workers work for a food company that sells products to
Hong Kong, living temporarily in the village.

The following two selected workshop design proposals describe very different scenarios that clearly found a productive connection between landscape and life on the margin of Beijing with added value for the whole metropolis.
Agriculture and life productive landscapes
Addressing the fact that the original farmers within Beijings rural-urban
fringe nowadays have other sources of income so that most of the formerly productive farmland today lies fallow or becomes afforested, Eva Nemcova, Fu Jia, Liao Hui Li and She Yi Shuang asked: Who could be the new
farmer? Through this question and their knowledge of people and their
highly diverse needs and social status, they devised new landscape typologies for work, housing and recreation based on the idea of the productive use of the land.

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Figure 10 FABRIC Productive Landscapes: Masterplan

EXPERIENCE Exploring the territory the students discovered that although most of the farmland was not being used by the original local
farmers any more, different people are taking over parts of the land, inhabiting and making productive use of it (Fig.8).
REPRESENTATION - The existing typologies described in the Urban
Pioneers Experimental Field episode as The Orchard and Beijing Crab
Island Natural Resort as well as the unofficial housing of migrants on
leased farmland in the Floating Peoples Territory episode provided the
teams inspiration for designing new building types with references to
landscape and farming. By mapping different typologies of land use originating from the transitional situation of the project area between agricultural and urban culture, the students showed how a relationship between
people and the still productive landscape in the project area can be established in an urban way derived from various motivations.
RELATION - Starting with the assumption that a growing urban population will have to be fed from ever-more remote sources, even from

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Figure 11 FABRIC Productive Landscapes: Typology Large Scale Fields

Figure 12a Farmers Small Field: units of 2,500 m2 for self-sufficiency, with a dwelling and business connections to sell produce

Figure 12b Weekend Garden: 100-m2 gardens with small weekend cottages for city dwellers

Figure 12c Everybodys Garden: a large garden divided into 36 units each of 100 m2, open to the public as the name suggests

abroad, and that, with the loss of its agricultural use, the landscape will
deteriorate both aesthetically and ecologically, the authors designated all
the remaining open spaces within Beijings Second Green Belt as farmland (Fig. 9), invoking Chinese policy that, because of the food shortage,
had placed protection orders on agricultural land in many places. Their
design is a strategy to revive agricultural areas in an urban spirit for food
production, accommodation and employment creation. Aesthetic added
value for the city in the sense of a Green Belt as local recreational area can
be richer in a cultivated landscape than in an area comprising only woodland with very limited access. Ecological, aesthetic and functional diversity can emerge through the most varied institutional forms of organic
farming and in variously sized parcels of land (Fig. 10).
FABRIC Large Scale Fields are leased by commercial food producing
enterprises. This model is described in the Floating Peoples New Territory episode as Company Fields/Commercial Zones. These companies use
modern techniques for effective land cultivation, water-saving irrigation

and harvesting. They employ and qualify migrant farmers who cultivate
and harvest the land for a wage. What is new, however, is the idea of a typology of small dwellings, financed by the company, for itinerant workers
and their families, arranged around public community courtyards. Especially designed to fit into the fields and equipped with the latest technology of decentralised water treatment systems that recycle nutrients to use
in agriculture, these miniature villages become an interesting feature of
the productive landscape, serving as official housing for immigrants, who
are usually only tolerated (Fig. 11).
The Mixed Fields typology consists of small parcels of land, each with
a small house and paths in between that are accessible to the public. Apart
from food production, they are intended to meet both the immigrants
need for accommodation and to grow their own food, and the wish of
prosperous city residents for a weekend cottage with access to the countryside and healthy self-grown food. At the same time they are also regarded
as a direct marketing strategy for agricultural produce close to the city.
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Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff

Figure 13 FABRIC Dynamic Landscapes: Masterplan

Figure 14 FABRIC Dynamic Landscapes: Section guiding principle with trees and buildings

The Mixed Fields are in the public domain and offer places to buy direct from the farmer or to practise horticulture as a hobby. The typology
is subdivided into the Farmers Small Field, Weekend Garden and Everybodys Garden (Fig 12). While the Farmers Small Field is intended to
serve mainly as a garden for self-sufficiency, using the migrants farming
skills to create an attractive, small-scale productive landscape that is also
for recreational use, the Weekend Garden and Everybodys Garden are
intended to attract city dwellers by offering them leisure activities and
the experience of growing and harvesting their own food either by a plot
that they manage by themselves (private Weekend Gardens) or by the
help of maintainers. Everybodys Garden is a place for hands-on farming, run as a business by one person but carried out by many. The productive areas of the Mixed Fields offer leisure activities for city dwellers,
amusing themselves with sowing and harvesting, and at the same time
create new job opportunities for the migrant farmers a kind of experimental field for new urban ways of farming, creating new social relationships and landscape performances.
RELATION The links between the separate farming plots form a
green infrastructure of trees along the access roads, recreation paths and
the rivers and ditches. This network of woodland and wetland offers broad
protection from sandstorms for fields and dwellings, creates ecological
corridors linking to the river plain, and provides access by linking different recreation areas within the agricultural green belt of Beijing. Synergies between the Large Fields and Mixed Fields agricultural lots and the
green infrastructure create a large-scale public park landscape, the Productive Park, with ecological qualities and aesthetic/design enhancement
for the city population: a new concept of the new good old days between
traditional farming culture, modern cultivation techniques and healthy
city life for Beijings Second Green Belt (Fig 13).

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Woodland and life dynamic landscapes

Yan Lu and Benot Fangou approached the study area with a narrative
methodology that addressed the diversity of the existing dynamics, and
developed a spatial framework that makes use of these dynamics and sets
them in new relationships.
EXPERIENCE The two students took a journey from the city centre
to the site on the rural-urban fringe and thus physically experienced the
changes in appearance of and striking contrasts between different parts of
the urban fabric along an urban-rural transect.
REPRESENTATION In mappings, the design team depicted the
processes and resultant tensions between natural dynamics (such as
the dry yellow dust-bearing wind that blows through Beijing from the
north everyyear and the dramatic fluctuations in water conditions from
drought to river basin flooding) and the dynamics of urban development
processes (such as the streams of commuters into and out of the city and
building development pressure from the airport to the north and the
Sixth Ring to the south of the planning area). They seized on these extremes, described in the Playground for the Established and Rich Episode, in the juxtaposition of villages and residential developments with
governmental forestation, as their design principle, making connections
between the residential districts and the woodland.
FABRIC The two shaping elements of the space (buildings and trees)
were allowed to grow towards each other in the masterplan: the wood
spreading from the north, from the river, as a windbreak against sandstorms and as a natural limit to development from the airport and the
buildings spreading from the south, in the traditional concentric growth
from the Fifth Ring, from which the villages were most strongly reshaped
due to their proximity to it. The students play with the classical oppositions
of city and countryside but suspend them in the moment where woodland
and buildings meet and create a new spatial unity (Figs. 13 & 14).

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Figure 15 EXPERIENCE Dynamic Landscapes: urban woodland

incorporating the functions of shelter and business

RELATION How can a wood be of use to a city and its people, above and
beyond protecting them against sandstorms and creeping development?
Chinas economic need for timber is immense, and commercial forestry
would thus be the first conclusion, but looking more closely at the existing woodland on the city margin reveals multifarious informal urban uses
that, in creating a programme for woodland, open up additional, completely new possibilities in combination with the commercial use of timber.
EXPERIENCE On the edges of the woods one finds astonishing informal adaptations: shepherds driving sheep and cows through the woods,
beekeepers who set up their hives there, tethered horses stabled there,
even barbers and traders trying to make a living on the edge of the woods
along the through roads (Fig. 15): an urban wood, then, that helps to
improve the climate and at the same time incorporates the functions of
accommodation and business, a multifunctional wood for inventive people looking for a place to work and survive within the urban fabric.
FABRIC - The students incorporated these images in their design and
found a strategy for defining a green forest space to shape the urban layout in which further building development will still be possible: not the
clear spatial separation of city and countryside but mixed forms that pick
up on the existing tensions and create space for new possibilities (Figs.
16 & 17). The exact specification of the proportion of development land
and maximum woodland area in concentric alternation derived from Beijings Ring System lends this planning its strict regularity. The concept is
open enough to allow a dynamic of informal appropriation of landscape
as commercial and recreational space and nevertheless sets clear rules. Yan
Lu and Benoit Fangou compare their strategy with an apples and water
metaphor. Apples and water are in themselves good and important, but
mixing them creates something new and sparkling: cider.

Discussion of workshop outcomes

With the students taking their episodes as a base for the formulation of
new spatial strategies addressing different topics, the resulting work can
be seen as a series of design scenarios for an area of Beijings rural-urban
fringe. Their designs tell about their constructive involvement with each
other in their intercultural teams, their debates, and their explorations of
the potentials of the complex site from their different perspectives. The results bring to life an idealist way of seeing the urban landscape as an evolving, open and productive system of creative urban practices. The students
interpret the existing urban landscape as a framework for new social, cultural, economic and ecological activities that will materialise within new
urban landscape patterns. They show how to encourage opportunism, risktaking and challenge and thus mobilise different actors which, as in chaotic systems, also operate catalytically on a micro-scale and ultimately affect the whole. Each groups scenario contains a logical storyline related to
their topic but of course different scenarios could also be related to each
other and interwoven towards new and more complex scenarios.
The explorative work of the student workshop served as an eye-opener and stimulator, unfolding new potential and opening up creative discourse with the research group of Peking University, the Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources and the invited international experts on
landscape planning. Using the richness and resonance of the invented
scenarios, the workshop created an environment of informal discussions
within an open and creative atmosphere. Unlike abstract land-use maps,
the designed scenarios with their plans, images and sketches are able to
evoke new ideas and dialogues about what to do, why to do it and how
to do it. While acknowledging that political and administrative circumstances will ultimately determine how a plan can be pursued, the scenarios could be developed towards feasible planning strategies, commitment
packages and policy agreements.
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Beijing's New Urban Countryside A. Stokman, S. Rabe & S. Ruff

Figure 16 & 17 FABRIC Dynamic Landscapes: scenarios of multifunctional and dynamic urban woodlands

Fringe landscapes are complex, and existing planning policies are trying to
compartmentalise land uses to a specific, clearly classified and static category without considering the equivocal, synergetic and dynamic interactions that present themselves on the edges of cities. Most existing strategies and tools used in urban development are built on the belief that the
formation and transformation of a city can be controlled. Beijings masterplanning efforts show that planning has so far failed to think ahead in
addressing the future of its fringe landscapes although the plans seem
rigid they continuously have to respond, often in ad hoc ways, to the real
development forces. Many European researchers have criticised existing
urban masterplanning practices as being too deterministic, inflexible and
largely unrealistic in their attempts to predict a two-dimensional urban
pattern at the expense of economic, cultural and social concerns (Giddings/
Hopwood 2002, Loeckx et al. 2004; Healey 2007). Internationally, too, many researchers and practitioners in urban and landscape design (Gallent et al.
2007, Friedmann 1996; Gregory 2003; Seggern/ Sieverts 2006; Whitehand 2005; Yu/
Padua 2006) conclude that we need to move towards a more responsive strategic design praxis for large-scale urban landscapes, one based on using existing processes towards new potential in empowering human creativity
and resourcefulness. To address the general theme of transformation as
the persistent urban condition, planning needs to develop methodologies
that can mobilize wider support by building new partnerships, reconciling competing interests, and setting up new connections that may lead to
new creative synergies. At the same time, it needs to create a spatial vision,
a sense of place, showing how to create aesthetic and spatial qualities of the
urban and landscape environment that become visible to relevant stakeholders as a place, not just as an abstract colour-coded land-use map.

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008

Taking the case of a specific site within Beijings rural-urban fringe during the Sino-German workshop Beijings New Urban Countryside, we
developed and discussed new urban landscape scenarios based on an approach of mapping complex existing social practices and spatial forms.
By using our intellectual capability to fix assumptions and develop ideas
prior to detailed analysis, the applied method of design research implies
a process of developing knowledge through design practices of probing,
reflecting and arguing, springing between scales and switching between
methods of gaining and testing knowledge in an interpretative, non-linear way of sense-and-place-making. Formal planning procedures favour
hierarchical, systematic, technical and linear logics by first setting superordinate land-use guidelines that small-scale projects have to follow.
However, we believe that planning also needs to apply creative processes
of exploration and discovery on different scales at the same time, generating new meanings, perceiving new patterns as well as revealing and discussing new strategic options. To combine a top-down strategy of regulative power with a bottom-up strategy of activating peoples actions seems
the only way to develop the economic, ecological and aesthetic productivity of Beijings green belt, which will otherwise not withstand the huge
pressure of urban growth.
To address todays urban challenges, the role of urban and landscape
planners should be to investigate the forms of urban evolution and the
processes that create or engender outcomes. On the basis of recognising
and extracting the processes of urban landscape development, strategies
can be developed to influence and cultivate the processes themselves and
thus create productive and attractive urban lifeworlds.

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The international expert workshop and research in Beijing was funded
by DBU (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, reference number 25670-42)
and the accompanying international student workshop by Leibniz University Hannover and Peking University. All diagrams of the four episodes mappings were drawn by Anke Schmidt (Studio Urbane Landschaften). Many thanks to Christina von Haaren (Leibniz University Hannover)
and Kongjian Yu (Peking University) for their strong support of the work-

shop. Very special thanks to Dihua Li (Peking University) for organising

the workshop and to Hille von Seggern (Leibniz University Hannover) and
Timm Ohrt (Ohrt von Seggern Partner, Hamburg) for their teaching support. And of course we would like to thank all students and experts involved for their excellent contributions, which formed the basis for this


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Antje Stokman studied Landscape Architecture at Leibniz University Hannover and Edinburgh College of Art. Since graduation she has been researching and lecturing at Hannover University, TU Hamburg Harburg, TFH Berlin, Peking University
and Tongji University Shanghai, China, concurrently gaining
practical experience as a landscape architect in many international projects with Rainer Schmidt Landschaftsarchitekten.
Since 2005 she has been Associate Professor of Ecosystem Design and Watershed Management at Leibniz University Hannover.
Sabine Rabe studied Landscape Architecture at Leibniz University Hannover. After several years of practical design experience in the lad+ landscape architecture diekmann office she
has been working as a freelance designer since 2005, and as Scientific Assistant at Leibniz University Hannover. Her focus in
teaching and designing is on urban landscapes and large scale
Stefanie Ruff trained as a gardener and studied Landscape Architecture in Berlin. She has gained professional experience in
Berlin, Sydney, Beijing, Amsterdam and Shanghai. She gained
her Masters degree in International Urban Studies from Bauhaus University Weimar and Tongji University Shanghai. Currently she is based in Berlin.
Antje Stokman, Sabine Rabe and Stefanie Ruff are members of
Studio Urbane Landschaften, an interdisciplinary network for research, teaching and practice at the Faculty of Architecture and
Landscape Sciences, Leibniz University Hannover.

Antje Stokman, Sabine Rabe, Stefanie Ruff
Studio Urbane Landschaften
Institut fr Freiraumentwicklung
Fakultt fr Architektur und Landschaft
Herrenhuser Str. 2a
D-30419 Hannover

Li, W., Ouyang, Z., Wang, R. 2005. Land Potential Evaluation for
large-scale greenbelt development at urban-rural transition zone a
case study of Beijing, China. (accessed: 16 September 2008)

Journal of Landscape Architecture / autumn 2008