This project lies within one of Chengdu’s six urban growth corridors and contains one of the metropolis’s ten new city centres. The site is in the eastern part of the city and stretches between the second and outer ring roads where it touches Chengdu’s 1km wide eco ring park. To the south the site borders a green farming finger/wedge whose strategic significance remains undecided.
Within the metropolis’s five other growth corridors the city is applying the standard Chinese planning orthodoxy of enormous-scaled mono-functional land-use zoning. At the metropolitan scale the planning may appear reasonable; however at the neighborhood level this approach is creating environments which are socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable. In the midst of this development the city has selected our proposal for an urbanity of finer-scale zoning organized into a structure of continuous networks for this eastern growth corridor. Construction of roads and infrastructure has commenced on the site and negotiations for land sales have commenced.
The competition brief, matching the metropolitan plan, called for the design of 12 km2 kilometers of high-density dormitory suburbs with a central business district. Our proposal stretches the CBD into a continuous commercial network across the entire site. This results in a city with the potential to support a plethora of urban life, all within walking distance of residents. Combed with the ubiquitous enclaving of Chinese housing, the city becomes a mix of quiet enclaves and dynamic networks. Highly sought-after quiet, green, clean and safe private living environments coexist with active, complex and unpredictable public urban environments.
Urbanisation in China is still accompanied by terra nullius and tabula rasa attitudes. However, already emerging on the site, in the villages to the southeast, is a local tourism industry featuring teahouses, restaurants, flower markets and small inns. By designing a park network which engulfs the existing villages with the tree-lined lanes connecting them, dams, and stands of mature trees, it would be possible to maintain and develop this cultural and economic phenomenon within the new metropolis. The new city would be enriched with diversity while the social and environmental upheavals of this urbanisation could be lessened.
Working with Melbourne landscape architects, Sinatra Murphy, the major east-west park network was developed into three continuous programmatic bands: an ecological band; a linear plaza band with 3km long Wisteria pergola; and a band of sports and recreation. The ecological band links the ecological parkland, on the east, with the rail corridor parkland to the west. Unfortunately, as is common in China – the landscape contract was cancelled without discussion and, in this case, given to a large multinational company. Since then the contract of the multinational has been cancelled and the job given to a local design operator.
Following the government’s desire to accentuate the unusually hilly character of the site, the proposed street network runs counter to the topography. Two street grids are superimposed: a grid of large straight streets, and a grid of curvaceous smaller streets which run against the contours and weave three-dimensionally. Bicycle routes throughout the site remain flat along the existing tree-lined lanes in the park network.
A commercial network is situated on every second street, producing a network of quiet streets and one of active streets. This commercial network is suitable to accommodate programs of retail, offices, and alternative housing typologies.
At the intersections or overlaps of two commercial network bands the zone is widened to accommodate larger programs throughout the site. Here it becomes a small pure zone which excludes residential use but allows the emergence of places of potential disturbance such as music venues and light manufacturing. Increasing the FAR and widening the commercial network in the metro station vicinity enables a maximum level of activities in the place of the highest accessibility.
The commercial network is hybridised with green wherever it overlaps the park network and vice-versa. The parks gain a range of potential commercial programs and at the same time the commercial environments gain and are benefited by a range of park programs and characteristics. The overlap allows for the continuity of both networks, the green and the commercial, to be maintained. Throughout the site wherever the green network overlaps itself, plazas and active areas of sports are planned.
The government-requested north-south axis is manifested in three bands: a 2.5 km long row of landmark towers whose podiums house the district’s biggest entertainment and retail programs; a linear labyrinth of buildings housing the city’s smallest programs; and a linear parkland suitable for festivals and events. Stretching the length of the site, a linear grid of married/grafted trees creates a continuous living structure and promenade. The axis passes through the metro district and continues into the next stage of city development, linking both sites.
Chengdu has demolished all but two lanes of its small-scale urbanity for which it was famous. The 2.5 km long building labyrinth is a strategy to reintroduce formal and programmatic complexity and to reintroduce areas of intimate scale to Chengdu. The labyrinth is part of the commercial network and will likely house a growing segment of the city’s population who reject or cannot afford the housing enclave option.
After winning the competition, BAU were engaged for a further six weeks to hastily develop their design – more than is usually afforded the urban designers. The project was then adopted by a local design institute that immediately documented the work for state approval. The opportunity for BAU to mature the design, or even to take an ongoing advisory role in the evolution of the district, has regrettably not been forthcoming.