May 10, 2013
Yinqi Dai is an artist. She doesn’t paint landscapes, however, she creates them.
Her canvas is the land. Her brushes — pen, pencil and 3-D imaging. Her paints — a vast palette of plants, flowers, trees and stone.
“When I went to school in China, I majored in Art — oil painting. I wanted to find a career related to drawing,” said Dai, who will soon graduate from Temple’s Landscape Architecture program. “I looked at landscape architecture master plans and city plans and I found beauty there. There is art in those plans — it’s just a different canvas.”
Dai moved from Shanghai, China, 6 years ago with her husband, Patrick, who was a graduate student at the University of Colorado at the time. He completed his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts and is currently a professor at Penn State Great Valley, so there was a bit of moving around in those first few years of acclimation, she said, while also adding an addition — her son Ethan, who is now 4 — to the family.
“When I came here, I really didn’t know how to speak English and that was the biggest challenge — English is completely different from Chinese. Shanghai is a very big city and everything is very close; you get to know your neighborhood very well. Moving here, it was very different from what I was used to,” said Dai, 31, of Downingtown. “I’d initially stay home; I was afraid to go out and that was so unlike me. My husband suggested I watch movies, TV and the news and that was a good first step to pick up the language, the culture.”
Dai began to take English language classes at Holyoke Community College (in Massachusetts) but she wasn’t content with just sticking to those classes, she said. She came to Temple in 2010 with an Associate’s degree in Natural Resources.
“Coming from such a large city, I had a particular interest in urban design — I loved the idea of creating communities in large cities. Temple’s Landscape Architecture program is very well known in the region, it was the right choice for me,” she said. “I’ve really experienced a great deal of change in my mindset in the last few years. I used to be a bit of a wild girl back home. Now I’m a good mom who likes to study.”
The balancing act between school and home has not been an easy one, Dai said, but it has been rewarding.
“My son was born in 2009; he was six months old when I started the program. He’s my first priority of course, so I start my homework as 11 p.m. and finish up around 3 a.m. each night,” said Dai, who was part of Temple’s Best-in-Show winning Philadelphia Flower Show team in 2012. “Of course it’s hard work, but if you’re serious about it you do whatever you have to do to do your best work.”
For the Flower Show, for example, Dai said, she had to leap right over any language barriers that were left and memorize the names of every part that went into the building of the structure she was creating. In Elkins Park, for one project she has been exploring preserving the existing beauty of local parkland while exploring future commercial possibilities in the region. For another project in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the focus was creating greenways to develop community connections that served multiple functions — environmental, aesthetic, and economic.
Her talent for creating designs that are both beautiful and functional has not gone unnoticed. Dai was the 2013 recipient of the “John Collins Drawing Award.” Named after legendary landscape architect John Collins — the creator and first chair of Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture — the recipient of the John Collins Drawing Award is chosen by a panel of landscape architects nominated by the PA/DE Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
“I was extremely honored to receive the award because I don’t want to simply draw pretty things. I want my designs to be functional as well,” said Dai. “Temple’s program has a great design-build component to it and that’s what I want to pursue. I don’t want to just design the future, I want to build it!”