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Connecting With Nature Through Agricultural Design

An Liu stands beside the Helper under construction. Photo credit: Jason Adkins
An Liu stands beside the Helper under construction. Photo credit: Jason Adkins

Written by Partnership for the Future intern, Niyah Harris


An “Sledge'' Liu is an architectural designer who uses materials that otherwise would be in a landfill to create stunning and impactful works of art. Liu recently created a statue called the Helper in BMAD’s Design Build Contest. Liu and his sculpture won first prize in the contest. His mission to use sustainable materials is inspired by his admiration for nature and the resources it provides us with. Liu’s goal in creating the sculpture was to get people to appreciate nature for what it is.  

Liu’s love for using design to connect with nature started at an early age. As a child, Liu grew up with his grandparents. The land behind his grandparents’ house is where they used to grow trees. The land his family once owned was bought by developers, and concrete buildings took the place of what was once a refuge for Liu. This shift inspired his architectural practices, “Without connection to nature, we will lose our humanity.” 

One day Liu was taking a walk when he discovered a bunch of wooden stakes in a dumpster. These were the wooden stakes that inspired Liu’s design of the Helper. After collecting about 26,100 spikes, Liu started to have trouble figuring out how he was going to use the spikes in his design. “At first I was trying to force myself to use the spikes for the previous scenarios of design that I do. But it didn't work very well,” Liu said. He had to think about what he could do with the sticks in different ways that he hadn’t before. Liu's connection to nature inspired him to speak directly to the wood for inspiration. “It's like it's a conversation between nature and our humans,” said Liu. The wood metaphorically told Liu it wanted to dance, yell, and to help. Fittingly, Liu would need assistance from the community to complete the Helper. 

“Community engagement is a big part of the Helper project, from the design to the construction,” said Liu. “Generous funding from Sally Brown made this project possible, mentors from VCU Arts, Storefront for Community Design, and other communities and support from SMBW, DPR Construction, Richmond Community ToolBank enhanced the quality of the project in many ways. And many, many helpers!” The “helpers,” as Liu calls the volunteers, renewed his appreciation for the bond between humans and nature. “That connection and doing something beautiful, meaningful, also, impactful, I would say, to address something that is so urgent is so necessary”, said Liu.
 
An Liu’s Helper will live in the courtyard of The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design through the fall.