In early April, Sasaki Principal Tao Zhang delivered a TEDx talk at the annual 2017 TEDxFuzhou conference in the southeastern Chinese city of Fuzhou. His talk was one of the twelve presentations that were organized around the common theme of “boundaries.” Four speakers from the U.S and eight speakers from China shared their life stories and ideas about boundaries from eclectic perspectives, ranging from cutting edge augmented reality technology, nanophysics, design, to traditional Chinese medicine. About 350 people joined the live audience at the conference and the real time stream attracted over half a million viewers during the event.
In his talk, “From gated territories and urban fragmentation to permeable public realms,” Tao discussed how often misaligned physical and perceived boundaries can be both challenges and opportunities for mitigating urban fragmentation caused by gated territories in contemporary Chinese cities. By examining the history of Soviet Union’s influence on China’s urban planning since the 1950s as well as the land policy that contributed to mega blocks and gated communities in recent decades, Tao asserted that many common assumptions in land planning and design that cause barriers should be reevaluated.
He then explored how meaningful design interventions beyond removing physical walls and fences can help unify economic and social enclaves through the creation of a strong permeable public realm. He used Sasaki’s historical project Greenacre Park as an example of a privately owned pocket park functioning as a prototype for intimate public space in New York, and the Chicago Riverwalk as a demonstration of how neglected water edges can become opportunities for vibrant public destinations. He argued that by looking outside of site boundary, a carefully curated new urban social frontage led to the success of Sasaki’s Suzhou Creek Regeneration plan in creating a larger perceptible public realm beyond the original design constraint of a narrow waterfront. Lastly, Tao discussed boundaries as biologically active edge conditions for wetlands and ecosystem services.