Trans-alpine landscapes : Transecting a Chinese high mountain in transition
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The dissertation Trans-alpine Landscapes explores the changing landscapes of a high mountain in China affected by ongoing urbanization. Mount Gongga, the highest mountain of the Hengduan mountainous regions in Southwest China, is the main case for this study. A trans-geographical exploration brings in other alpine geographies—the Swiss Alps and the Norwegian Scandes—as the comparable references. The project evolves around empirical readings on landscape spaces and practiced landscapes along a series of travelled routes, between valleys and peaks that are intertwined with urbanization. Its main method is the transect walks, which have been employed both in the urbanizing east and the lesser developed west of the Gongga massif. Urbanization is understood not as demographic and spatial changes from countryside to city; urban functions and emphases have extensively expanded to encompass previously remote mountainous landscapes, and this forms the phenomena of extended urbanization. In the Hengduan, the new emphases are on transportation and tourist infrastructure, facilitating the rise of a travel culture for leisure and outdoor activities. The project deploys a landscape-informed approach by revealing landscape changes, challenges and qualities on the ground, in contrast to the more widespread tendency in the discipline of landscape architecture to read by plan. The photographic and the cartographic mappings along routes and pausing areas of regional, sub-regional and local scales are the tools for reading alpine landscapes. Through travels and transect walks, I found the east side of Mount Gongga more heavily developed and the west side in dilemma. I also found stretches of route around the mountain that were fragmented and suggested a more holistic reconsideration of route with light-footprint pausing areas. The walks also helped me register the multidimensional qualities of the alpine environment, and they prompted me to suggest the curation of a series of slow speed local routes to carry on these qualities for people, both local residents and visitors. The dissertation argues that landscape architects can take the role of curators, circle out slow and light approaches to landscape changes as well as construct representations of the alpine landscapes. The in-flux landscapes could then be transformed into educational, experienced, and ephemeral spaces.