Yu follows University of Virginia emeritus professor Julie Bargmann as the second winner of the bi-annual $100,000 award, which was first established in 2021 in order to celebrate practitioners whose work addresses various social issues while improving the overall trajectory of the public realm.
Yu is known throughout the landscape profession for pioneering the ‘sponge city’ urban design concept in China after 1995. He said in a recent interview that its roots stem from his childhood experiences in Jinhua. Its rise in influence peaked in 2014 when it became a part of the government's official urban development policy, and it is currently projected to impact more than 80% of all mid- to large-sized cities in the country by the end of the decade.
The Prize's jury citation praised the work of Yu’s award-winning practice Turenscape, while stating its output has conversely "managed both to take advantage of China’s convulsive urbanization and to challenge it."
The impact Yu has also left through his teaching position at Peking University was also mentioned as another critical factor in their decision.
Yu has to-date completed over 600 projects in more than 200 cities in Asia and the United States in addition to his prolific activities as the author of more than twenty books and founding editor of Landscape Architecture Frontier magazine. This influence has helped garner a reputation as an overmodest "Olmsted of China." Yu, who also won a 2023 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, studied for a Ph.D. at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and practiced with SWA Group in Los Angeles before returning to his home country in 1997.
"He has striven to direct landscape practices away from a destructive confrontation with natural forces toward a more optimistic position of cooperation and adaptation," the jury citation reads finally. "Through books, lectures, and letters, he has courageously reached out to large and small city mayors and party officials to foster his more collaborative approach to natural systems at the urban scale and to promote his National Ecological Security Pattern Plan, intended to safeguard biological, cultural and recreational resources by protecting the ecosystem services on which they depend."
A video interview with Yu can be viewed below, courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
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