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Beijing’s Amazing Urban Forest

Fri, Aug 15, 2008

In the not-too-distant future, parts of Beijing city center will resemble the deep forest rather than a bustling metropolis, since an international architecture competition decided on a new environmentally-responsible streetscape.

Once this year’s Olympics come to an end, pavements will take on the form of a forest floor, walkways will be made from permeable materials, water is to be redirected by catchments at plaza level and from surrounding roof tops and solar panels will generate electricity for adjacent buildings and pedestrian areas.

Organized by one of Asia’s largest development corporations, New World China Land Limited from Hong Kong, the most recent designs will see the Chongwenmen Street in New World’s recently built commercial center transform into an urban forest.

The design brief requested a number of quality parks, plazas and gardens to be reintroduced into an area that is currently relatively unsightly and mainly concrete.

Toronto design firm, WaHa Studio, invited SITE New York to collaborate on the design which includes a Canadian and Chinese team of architects and landscape designers. Their plans will introduce a more organic feel to the bustling city center:

“The burgeoning growth of central Beijing has either destroyed or disrupted a large number of the city’s original one-to-three story residential neighborhoods – especially in the most vulnerable and historic Hutong areas. Large-scale developments have imposed an imbalance between commercial expansion and the maintenance of traditional communities. It has also increased air pollution, visibly exposed the gap between rich and poor, exacerbated the level of street crime and decreased the amount of leisure and garden space within the central city.”

“The urban forest concept has been influenced by an observation that the existing site is roughly shaped like a growing tree, with a crown of extended branches. It can also be seen as similar to a river, with many tributaries, or linked to the cardiovascular system of a human body. In addition, since the entire Beijing street system is based on a classic grid, the paved areas in this design are used for a special iconographic significance. These horizontal surfaces have been dematerialized and fragmented into casual, ribbon-like patterns, reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy and landscape painting. While intentionally ambiguous, the plaza imagery is proposed as a nature-based and culturally referenced source of symbolism for a rapidly expanding metropolis.

It certainly sounds impressive but with all that foliage we wonder how they’ll manage to keep the re-growth under control. At least it will provide a few green-fingered residents with work!

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