Questions For A Designer: Yutong Wu
A diverse array of backgrounds, experiences, and worldviews come together to shape Marvel’s designs across public and private spaces. This series aims to offer insight on the colleagues and teammates that are essential to Marvel’s success.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in landscape design?
I enjoyed creating new things since I was a kid, so I always knew I wanted to be a designer in the future. I grew up in Guangzhou, and like many other cities in China, there has been a lot of urbanization in a short period of time. Living and seeing the built environment change around me made me start thinking about how design could make our living environment better by creating high-quality urban spaces for everyone to enjoy. For me, I really enjoy working across multi-scale and multi-disciplinary projects to respond to new design challenges.
After finishing my undergrad degree, I decided to continue my studies at the University of Pennsylvania. During my two-year program, I was able to explore many different topics, and I met Yadiel [Rivera-Díaz], who was my second-semester mentor, where we worked together on an urban design project in Queens. I reached out when I graduated in May 2020, it was a difficult time with everything going on in the world, so I was grateful to get this opportunity at Marvel. After spending the time exploring the city, and learning about the history and different communities, I was able to really see why people like New York so much and why everyone can find their own space in the city.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m primarily working on three projects: Rainbow Mall, 1 Java, and Pelham house. I have also worked on supporting a few residential projects.
For me, Rainbow Mall is unique because of the adaptive reuse–creating a new pedestrian corridor through the center of the former mall. The design gesture of cutting through the building and incorporating a public space that connects the downtown area with Niagara Falls is really interesting and I am excited to see how this project continues to evolve. As a team we have been focusing on creating that sequence of plaza spaces that feels inviting and integrates well with the urban context while working with the existing building structure.
For the past year, I have also been working on the renovation of Norris Square Park in Philadelphia. I feel a strong connection to this project, having gone to Penn and knowing how important that space is for the local community. We were asked to imagine the park’s future, which could provide more safe and healthy spaces for all age groups. Throughout the design process, we held many community engagement sessions and even showcased our designs at a meeting in the park last summer to gain immediate feedback from people who are currently using the park. We even had parents who brought their children by to see the design. Construction started and the first phase should come to life in the summer. It’s also going to be the first time a project I designed will be built, so I’m incredibly excited.
Marvel’s work incorporates resilient practices and sustainability. How do you approach landscape design with resiliency and sustainability in mind?
Resiliency is a hot topic in landscape, and when doing landscape design, the most important thing is thinking about long-term effects. You’re not only designing for this moment, you’re thinking ten, twenty years down the line and incorporating those variables into your design.
Our current project, 1 Java, a resilient, mixed-use development, will have an entrance and lobby a few feet above the existing sidewalk, above the predicted height for flood elevation in 2050. Our landscape design helps mediate that height difference while achieving the resiliency goal. The overall landscape concept refers to the existing coastal habitat and plant communities, and we are working closely with the client and sustainability consultant to select native and adaptive species for all the landscape areas across the site. It’s not just about how water will rise around the site, it’s about how people’s lives and activities will change, so the programming must reflect how spaces will be used down the road.
We’re currently kicking off the CD phase and I’m excited to see where this project will finally land after the whole team puts so much effort together.
What are the benefits of being part of a multidisciplinary firm that can cover all aspects of a project, from architecture and landscape architecture to planning and interior design?
I think it’s great to have people from many different backgrounds who can bring their unique design perspectives to a project. It’s all about finding that balance between each aspect of the project and finding a solution. As a team, you get to understand each person’s specific role and how it helps support the project. I believe landscape always plays an important role in connecting the building with the ground, filling the gaps with a landscape experience. Being able to have all disciplines in one studio allows us to collaborate and react seamlessly to each other’s designs.
Marvel works to initiate those design conversations across all disciplines. We have things like MAD reviews, where we sit together and see all the projects going on in the office. I’ve been able to give notes and receive comments on my own projects from every side of the team, incorporating a diverse array of voices. This is one way Marvel is giving a great example of how this conversation can happen.
What do you think are some of the issues cities must face and overcome in the next ten years?
I think each city has its own challenges and opportunities, but having a pedestrian-friendly environment, where walkers and bikers are put on equal footing with cars can be critical to making a city better for the general population and reduce carbon emissions. The pandemic has also shown the importance of outdoor spaces as a place to enjoy and engage with other people, but only if enough open space is provided for different communities. Advocating for inclusive urban landscape is the key to attracting new population and increasing overall diversity in the city.
Thinking about climate change and other environmental crises, there is a lot that urban and landscape designers can do in developing solutions such as sustainable planning, green infrastructure implementation and ecological habitat restoration that provide long-term socio-economic and environmental benefits.