China’s eleventh five-year plan stipulates the promotion of technological innovation as a primary objective for the country. Hall and Castelles (1994) speak of four essential criteria for cities and districts to be highly technically innovative: proximity to universities; proximity to industry; the support of a proactive government; and a location in a country of rapid change. They refer to such a place as a technopole.
The Xiasha new city centre project has all the essential criteria to become such a technopole. Can urban planning be applied at a fine scale to enable the potential success of this district as a technopole? Can this industrial backwater become a place of creative potential, with an environment capable of attracting the smartest research personnel to work and live?
The best ideas are often born in unexpected situations, not in the laboratory. Opposing the trend of large isolated research facilities, we proposed a fine scale network of R+D (research +development) passing through all parts of the new core district. By maximizing the interface of R+D facilities with other city programs and contexts, such as residential, recreation and commercial environments, the potential for increasing unpredictable relationships is maximized. Linked by a continuous public space, sometimes in the form of a lane, other times in the form of a public galleria, the R+D network can be a place of great potential for information exchange, inspiration and cross-fertilization.
Situated on the R+D network at highly visible locations are centres of teaching and research, joint ventures between universities and private enterprise. These types of initiatives are common in leading scientific research countries but are rare in China. The sites are an opportunity for architecture to re-enforce the identity of the city as a technopole and university town.
Adjacent to the new city centre is a new university district with thirteen newly built campuses. This provides the potential for the new centre to become a university town, infused with the energy, optimism, and freedom of youth. Students introduce alternative culture in the form of social, hospitality, retail, intellectual, and leisure programs. Unpredictable events occur at different times of day and night and throughout the year according to university calendars.
In an attempt to undo the isolation of the university super-zone we propose the construction of carefully threaded physical and programmatic links between the two districts. These links are an extension of the green network and commercial networks of the new city centre. They provide active commercial pedestrian paths and green bicycle and pedestrian paths between the city centre and the university district.
Xiasha’s “mother-city”, Hangzhou, is the home of the most famous lake in China, West Lake. Built over 1000 years ago, the lake includes an array of liesure-oriented features including a two-kilometer long causeway, water-filled islands and hilly promontories. Learning from the West Lake, we have proposed the excavation of ex-swampland in the central part of the site to create an extensive lake with islands, an escape from the city.
The Xiaha Networks City project creates a range of hybrid zones. Each is a combination of two standard land use categorisations. Developers of these hybrid sites are required to include minimum amounts of each of the two designated land uses on their site, irrespective of the size of their land-holding. For example some sites are required to have minimum of 25% of their total floor area as residential and a minimum 25% commercial. The remaining 50% is free to be either residential or commercial. This guarantees a minimum degree of diversity in each district. It also creates a workable degree of freedom, enabling developers to satisfy the market demand. Although simple, this refinement of zoning is not yet common in China.
The combining of networks of residential, commercial, R+D and green creates a city of programmatic and formal diversity. Each programmatic network acts upon the other, either along their boundaries, or in an overlapping, hybrid, zone situation. Each network is also continuous, connecting to other parts of the city. Together, the diverse programs of the networks enable the sustainability of positive activity in the city at different times of the day, both midweek and at weekends. Each network contributes to the creation of a place of cross-fertilisation and innovation. The network of housing ensures that people have the option of living within a walking distance to their work; an attractive alternative to the super-zoned metropolises nearby. The sports-filled park network, the lake and the university town characteristics can make this technopole an excellent place, not only to work, but also to live.