Yungsheng Su is a visionary thinker and in full control of the specialist vocabulary of urban planners, as well as the concepts of environmental technology. However, he also likes to use some graphic illustrations to convey his ideas. “A city is rather like a child”, he says. “It grows up all by itself. But if you want it to develop in a certain direction, you have to teach it.”
Su, an urban planner from Shanghai, would like the future for cities to be green. He wants to change from using fossil fuels to renewable energies. And he want to get away from large-scale planning, he wants to encourage planning at the neighbourhood level. This makes him a pioneer in his own country. In the past 15 years, he has been involved in planning 50 cities, including working on ideas in many African countries. He is now in Germany to gather more information about green technologies and on planning at “community level”. And to share his knowledge.
Exchange between Darmstadt and Shanghai
In the Architecture Department building in the Lichtwiese campus, Yungsheng Su is sitting at a long, white table opposite Annette Rudolph-Cleff, who heads the Designing and Urban Development Research Group. The two met in 2010, when Rudolph-Cleff visited Expo in Shanghai with students and colleagues from the IWAR Institute of TU Darmstadt, and took part in a workshop at Tongji University.
They have kept in touch since then and have much in common, including views about contemporary urban planning, an interest in “green technology”, and curiosity about each others' countries. Su spent a week in Darmstadt for the first time in 2013, to teach at the “Mundus Urbano” Masterclass, an international and interdisciplinary course of studies on “International Cooperation in Urban Development”. On that occasion, he worked with 22 students from 19 countries to develop approaches to resolve ever-present urban problems such as traffic and the environment. “It is my job to give other people something to think about, until they can surpass themselves with their own ideas”, says Su. Germany is also an ideal place to get a sense of things. “Traffic planning here is efficient and does not take up much space in city life. You only have to think of the tunnels or the Wuppertal overhead railway.”
Su also used his stay in Darmstadt to swap information with colleagues from natural sciences and engineering. He is particularly fascinated by the the opportunities provided by solar technology. “A city is naked, in my view. It needs a skin of energy and water to protect it, it needs an energy skin.” From his window, he looks out on two pavilions from a competition some years ago, when Darmstadt architecture students took on this idea of an external envelope used for energy, and created a prototype (and won awards). TU Darmstadt has already been involved in plans for social housing with a solar-active external envelope.
Success in international design competition
To reciprocate, a group of students from Darmstadt turned their attention to Su's home country during his visiting professorship. They entered the National University of Singapore's “Designing Resilience in Asia” competition, presenting concepts for improving the situation for an island that keeps being swept by typhoons. And, as Yungsheng Su made clear, it is not just a matter of having the right technology. There are other things to think about: Who is actually going to pay for it? And: What is everyday life like in a fishing village? How can the inhabitants help one other? How much interference with the landscape is acceptable?
Yungsheng Su was able to contribute his cultural understanding and experience here. “Without him, we would not have had these results”, says Annette Rudolph-Cleff, who together with the students, presented the project in Singapore at the end of June. And the results were outstanding. The Darmstadt party won the award for “Overall Design Excellence” – as well as a “commendation” for their two study projects.
Three questions for…
Managing Director Corinna Caspar-Terizakis
Head of the International and External Affairs Unit, Coordinator of the Strategic Partnership with Tongji University
How do you explain the closeness of the relationship between TU Darmstadt and Tongji University?
The partnership with Tongji has grown over the years, with historical coincidences playing as much a part as interest in the other's research – for example traffic problems or engineering issues such as railways and bridge construction.
1916 saw the first Chinese students coming to Darmstadt, as well as the first professors from Darmstadt teaching in Shanghai. In 1980, the two universities concluded an agreement to fund research and teaching. Since March 2013, the partnership between TU Darmstadt and Tongji University has been supported by the German Academic Exchange Service in the “Strategic Partnerships and Thematic Networks” programme, to the tune of almost one million euro from the Federal Ministry of Research.
What are the benefits of the partnership for TU Darmstadt?
The exchange of information at all levels of a scientific career. This broadens horizons and makes people realise that successful joint research is not just about specialist knowledge – intercultural expertise also has a role to play. At the same time, the partnership also acts as a best-practice example for TU Darmstadt in establishing further selected strategic partnerships in the context of the University's internationalisation strategy.
What have you personally learned from the partnership with Tongji?
I have gained a deeper insight into the way the Chinese operate. Personal relationships are very important to the Chinese. They take their time, look after their guests, and are very friendly. But when it comes to negotiations, they are utterly determined and unwavering.