Landscape Architecture Education and Experiences at MSU
Jiajun Ni, BLA class of 2020, Landscape Architecture, School of Planning, Design, and Construction, shares his experiences at Michigan State University.
My name is Jiajun Ni and I am an international student from the south-central portion of China, in the Yunnan Province. It was a great honor for me to graduate and become one of the Landscape Architecture alumni from MSU. It was an unforgettable time to study with so many amazing classmates and professors. It was also that period that changed my life through my professional skills, design ideas and most importantly, my worldview, which is a character of inclusiveness.
The first two years in MSU was a difficult time for me as I started very slowly studying in English. It took some time for me to get used to the English-based classes and some American college cultural experiences. Fortunately, we had a lot of drawing practice that kept my motivations on this major. In the first half of the sophomore year, I suffered a lot from learning the design process. Especially when my time management was very loose, which affected my focus on projects even if I had a lot of ideas. Although some of my project grades are not very ideal, I think those experiences helped me to build up my own basic ideas about design through these years: manage time, be independent, and keep motivated.
- Manage Time: Time management is a necessary ability for studying design as most of the projects may take months to finish. This ability not only means that we should start early in a project but also keep on track and avoid the situation where we leave the project to the last days without knowing what to do. I had some school exercises to complete in my second year when I had really bad time management for my daily life. Although I had a lot of ideas for my design, I was not on the right track for the whole time and had late submissions.
- Be Independent: I think this is the most significant quality that a designer should have as it improved my learning abilities and helped me understand what “designer” really means -- have independent aesthetic judgements, independent thinking ability and some exploring spirit. In fact, design can be very subjective sometimes as we put our own ideas into the design. Although we are continually absorbing inspirations, we choose where we get the inspiration from, we have the judgement about what we like. In the meantime, some explorations can be very useful since I tried many new digital programs I had not used before until my fourth year, which not only improved my project qualities, but also added a lot of interests into my learning processes.
- Keep Motivated: I tried to apply to some graduate schools when I graduated from MSU. [Editor’s note: Jiajun was accepted for graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, starting in the fall of 2021, and he will follow the path of another successful MSU Landscape Architecture student, Joe James, who graduated from RISD also.] The most frequent question I met in my application process is: “What is your motivation to study landscape architecture?” I was bothered by this question at first as it was very frequent, and I just repeated the answers again and again. But later, when I calmed down and ask myself this question, I felt confused. I met some people who were fighting for their lives in China with a design job, but finally they quit because there was an imbalance between the efforts and the payments. Sometimes it can also be applied to college life as we often regard the projects as homework, not a shining star in your future portfolio. Therefore, I kept asking myself, “What am I really seeking in this major?” I want to share a saying that I saw in a recent article: “Young people should have more idealism, and less realism.” I totally agree with this point since at least we will not feel laborious under the projects, and we will also know what we are fighting for.
The project I want to share is my final project illustrating my college life: A Lost Identity – Riverfront Revitalization in Ecorse, Michigan (Figures 2, 3, and 4). This project was finished online with my two excellent teammates: Paige Okeefe and Victor Pineda. Due to the pandemic, we had to meet in Zoom, which significantly increased the difficulty of our cooperation. But I appreciate that everyone was very professional, and I learned a lot more about how to work with others.
The project is about revitalizing the vitality of Ecorse, Michigan, along the Detroit River, as the city had suffered from a big loss of population, high crime rates and a poor financial situation. We found the city itself was hampered by old industry patterns and did not take advantage of its riverfront areas. Therefore, we tried to exploit the full potential of the riverfront area by building substantial event spaces to let the local people create their new cultural identity.
In closing, my time at Michigan State University was an uplifting experience that allowed me to grow and gain professional skills. I wish to thank all of my classmates and instructors in the program.