Following my first post entitled "Being an Urban Designer in China: Between Dream and Reality," which was about my work environment in China, many readers were waiting for the next one about my professional experience, notably the urban projects on which I worked.
Among all these projects, one particularly touched me and for several reasons. The project in question was the planning of a "Livable Healthy City" of 117-square kilometers. The scope, the quick pace, but also the competition associated with this gargantuan project are the reasons why it represents one of my most enriching professional Chinese experiences.
One of the details of this project was that we were competing with three other companies: a company from Beijing, one from Sydney, and Tongji Institute and University based in Shanghai. In China, it is indeed more and more rare that large urban projects are subjected to the competition process. It's a pressure, but above all, an additional excitement that lasts throughout the completion of the project. On the logistical end, we had three months to design this project for a "healthy and livable" city, and I was part of a team made up of five designers. When they announced the surface area of the project, I immediately cast doubt on my math abilities (in China, the units are in square kilometers, so you have to do a little conversion), and then, after having asked for a confirmation, I began to realize. Three months (including overtime) in order to create a little city (compared to the scale of the country): a new dimension, a real excitement, a new challenge, in short: "When do we start?"
The project site is located in the Henan Province, 15 kilometers west of the Zhengzhou city centre. The Xingyang agglomeration (where the project is located) has more than 590,000 inhabitants and extends to around 908-square kilometers. It is considered the garden of west Zhengzhou.
An urban project in China evolves according to different successive stages:
- An examination of the site surface and depth;
- The redefinition of the client's request;
- The elaboration of the key concepts and stakes;
- National case studies, but especially international ones;
- The completion of the development plans drawn up and then digitized, close-up and detail of each area;
- The selection of reference images;
- And finally the integration of the aerial, "bird's eye view" images of the future project, completed by a specialized company.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to describe for you the total project, which was reproduced as a brochure of 150 pages, so here are the major steps.
Following a detailed examination of the site, of the raised territorial imbalances and the redefinition of the client's order (creating a "sustainable" city), our project was articulated around different strategies in function of multiple urban components:
- Economy: Promote a sustainable and healthy development through the establishment of industries connected to health and the medical environment;
- Housing: Develop a community for retreats, a dedication to well-being, ecology, the promotion of sports, and a series of communities linked to health in order to create a model for a healthy living space;
- Health services: Create a veritable regional medical centre with a wide scope;
- Education: Establish academic entities that offer a wide range of training for all ages and levels;
- Culture, entertainment and recreation: Build a large space for cultural and scientific gatherings;
- Transportation: Create a veritable urban railway crossing that is connected to an efficient mass transit network;
- Public spaces: Make ecology the foundation of the city through the rational arrangement of urban places, parks, water systems and other constitutive elements of public space;
- Environment, energy and ecology: Optimize industrial development through new energy economies, but also through a raised awareness about these new so-called renewable energies.
For each of these themes, we completed a case study as the basis for the rest of the project.
The framework was the following: "A main axis, two secondary axes, a beltway, five zones."
- One main axis: A north-south axis with the principal function of urban development, made up of businesses, offices, conference centres, medical services, housing and other urban elements;
- Two secondary axes: A ring composed of landscape zones, recreational zones, ecological parks in the wetlands, and a modern tourist space;
- One beltway: An ecological urban beltway
- The central zone of the modern garden city: It is composed of an urban development zone, which includes administrative and commercial offices, health services, academic buildings, housing with gardens, and other components;
- A so-called rural, agricultural and pastoral zone: It centers on the rural landscape, the organization of visits to natural and agricultural lands, which are connected to housing;
- Green technologies industrial park: A park that is based on innovative and creative industries that respect the environment, connected to ecological parks in the heart of the wetlands;
- Health services and well-being zone: In combination with the existing environmental landscape (the river), build a neighborhood dedicated to well-being and health (village zone);
- Landscape space dedicated to tourism and recreational activities: Make use of the existing wealth of the landscape to create a veritable recreational playground, integrating tourism, landscape and other functions.
Let's move on to one of the parts that was most exciting for me, the planning. Each team member had to complete their own "zoning land use planning" (the equivalent of the PLU), made an argument for their choices, and then after numerous exchanges, we defined a single and unique summarizing document.
The planning, as well as the road network and public spaces, among other things, were also mapped.
Based on the project's surface area, we defined 3 phases of development (short, middle and long term): of 14 square kilometers, 45 square kilometers and 117 square kilometers.
The different phases were studied carefully and explained through numerous maps representing the urban development strategies (framework, green spaces, public facilities, road network, master planning, and more).
Each phase was also subject to a detailed analysis of each zone, of each "area" illustrated through reference images, allowing the client to more easily visualize the project from an architectural point of view.
Finally, as for all projects, we asked a private company to integrate bird's eye view images. Here's the bird's eye view of the entire project (117 square kilometers).
Once the project was completely over (sometimes we had to work on the weekends), a part of the team had the heavy responsibility of presenting our work to the government members of the Chinese province in question (Henan Province). We did not have to wait long for the result: we finished in second place. It was the project of the Tongji Institute and University that they chose. It is worth noting that we unfortunately did not know of the competing projects. The government noted our work, especially for the quality of the project design. They briefly reproached us for not having taken into account certain elements, certain directives that we simply did not know of. In China, like everywhere else, the "gong xi" (network) is extremely important. The government of Henan province was used to working with Tongji Institute and University, so the latter had received more precise information and directives than the other companies.
Despite everything, the entire team was happy. Even though our project was not chosen, this remains an enriching experience for all. At the time, urban projects based on environmental and medical projects were rarely built in China. Today, many projects integrate this environmental and ecological dimension. Finally.
Does this process differ from the planning process you are familiar with for your area? Does your city have the same approach to planning as China? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.