Our People: 5 minutes with Chin-Jung Chen
Senior Associate Chin has wide experience in public realm projects from conceptual design through to construction, across the UK and Asia.
Chin’s sizeable project experience includes the design and implementation of the award-winning mixed-use Bristol Harbourside development; the Themed Gardens at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore and the detailed design of a mixed-used commercial development in Shenzhen, China. Chin is especially interested in the creation of playful experiences that combine architecture and landscape architecture and working with different disciplines, and has participated in several competitions, including winning competitions like Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester and Bird Island in Kuala Lumpur.
At the 2021 Chelsea Flower Show, Chin, alongside Grant Associates’ director Peter Chmiel, was awarded the prestigious show’s top prize for the pair’s Guangzhou Garden, an ambitious design that looked towards the future potential of ‘landscape cities’.
We speak with Chin about what led her to becoming a landscape architect, where creative motivation is found and what the future holds for the profession.
When and why did you first become interested in landscape architecture?
I majored in Architecture in Taiwan and came to London to study for a Masters in Architectural Design, yet it was actually during these studies that I developed a real interest in the interface that exists between inside and outside spaces and blurring the boundaries between the two. After graduating, I joined Grant Associates in 2006 and then made the decision to study Landscape Architecture at Kingston University while working to consolidate my knowledge in landscape principles.
What attracted you to join the team at Grant Associates?
It was an easy decision to make as this isn’t a typical landscape architecture practice; the ethos is very much around strengthening the all-important relationship and space that exists between inside and outside settings and creating inspiring places.
I was initially attracted to the practice because of its Earth-centred vision; it’s always had a unique and pioneering outlook, thinking wider and holistically about the wider impact of landscapes and now, of course, taking the bigger picture into account with the ever-growing impact that the climate and biodiversity emergency is having on our world.
We have a really nice team of people; when I joined 15 years ago there were around fifteen of us in the Bath studio and we very much felt like a family - there are now over 40 of us in Bath, plus our team in Singapore, yet we still work very closely together, whether that’s in the office or remotely.
What projects are you most proud to have worked on, during your time at Grant Associates?
I always start with Gardens by the Bay as, even ten years on, it has remained such a high point of my career! To be given the chance to participate in such a big competition, win it and then to help build it, as a Graduate, was simply an incredible experience.
Winning Gold with The Guangzhou Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was, of course, a huge highlight for me and everyone involved in its creation.
It was such a big task to deliver our vision to represent Guangzhou City for a ‘landscape city’ in a 20x10m plot and the build process was different and challenging, but we had great contractors who collaborated with Peter and I throughout the run up to the event to bring our design to life.
Chelsea is very different from other landscape architecture work in that you are designing for impact; you want to immediately provide an intense garden feeling and a memorable experience for visitors to the event. Winning the award took a long time to sink in; the prize is given so early in the morning that it felt quite surreal at first when we won!
Paradise in Birmingham has also been a fascinating regeneration project to be involved in; with such heavy footfall and structural constraints to consider in this key area of the city, our challenge has been to ‘bring the green’ throughout the site, helping to support the aim of creating a civil heart in the space.
It’s been a great opportunity for us to bring flexible greenery into Birmingham and both MEPC and Birmingham City Council, who we have been working closely alongside, recognise the value of public realm and are committed to Birmingham becoming one of Europe’s greenest cities.
Where do you turn to for creative inspiration?
My designs are often inspired and influenced by nature and the site context. I will spend time researching a site, its history and its surrounding context to find that special ingredient, and will look to weave this all into the different elements of the final design.
What trends do you see influencing the future of landscape architecture?
Covid-19 has definitely had a big impact on landscape architecture in terms of perceptions of the importance of public realm and open spaces; this has really been recognised now after these spaces were so relied on during the pandemic.
Many architects designing today are increasingly aware of - and excited about - public realm possibilities and that is certainly a trend that I see growing: I anticipate we will see much more of a focus on architecture sitting side-by-side with the landscape context in which it will ultimately sit from the start of the creative process, with public realm and spaces very much driving forward designs, considering how the building can be part of the landscape and peoples’ experiences.
We find ourselves in quite a prestigious position here at Grant Associates; taking the lead in the design on many projects, we have the ability to help influence and shape the direction of new places with nature firmly in mind from the beginning. The landscape environments that we are now envisaging are increasingly having a direct impact on the architecture that will sit within this context, and it’s becoming a really cohesive process between two connected disciplines.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in landscape architecture?
To be a landscape architect, you need to have a good eye for finding the opportunity that exists within any setting and then be able to work closely with architects and other key partners to optimise the design and create a unique, future-proofed space. Seeing projects through from initial conception to final delivery is a lengthy process and requires the ability to build relationships, work flexibly and evolve your creative approach with time.
Lively minds making a liveable world…
Our continued success at Grant Associates is due to the talent and commitment of our multi-skilled team.
The practice currently employs over 70 people, from over 17 countries, across our two design studios in Bath and Singapore. The majority are qualified landscape architects, working together with architects, 3D modellers, BIM and visualisation specialists, horticulturists, designers, IT and other technicians.
We are always interested to hear from talented and enthusiastic people who would like to join our dynamic teams in both offices. Take a look at our latest vacancies and get in touch.