Like many cities, Beijing went through a major transformation in the late 20th and early 21st century, growing far beyond its traditional urban boundary. Driven by dependence on the automobile, urban sprawl became the default development model, further disconnecting people from their community and contributing to a decrease in quality of life and economic productivity as people wasted time in traffic jams. But Beijing is a forward-thinking city. An ambitious public transit strategy links outlying areas back to the city center and creates opportunities for transit-oriented development. Despite these transit links, however, creating a thriving urban district over 20 kilometers from the core of Beijing requires a bold vision. Sasaki's plan for the development of the Beijing Technology Business District at Gonghuacheng aims to integrate the best aspects of ancient China and contemporary planning and design strategies to create an innovative community that contributes to Beijing's bright future.
Existing uses on the site include fallow agricultural fields, and highly engineered concrete edges along the Beishahe and Nanshahe Rivers that offer little habitat value. On the western third of the site, a one square kilometer area in the shape of a perfectly symmetrical square marks the location of the former Gonghuacheng Palace, dating to 1421 and the height of the Ming Dynasty. Although the four palace gates and a small section of the wall are all that remain, its significance in Beijing's history is profound. More recent buildings on the site include a transit station. A harbinger of the site's future, transit was built in advance of the development to appeal to investors, attract a talented workforce, and connect future residents with the amenities of greater Beijing.
Five overarching principles influence Sasaki's design response for the district. The first establishes a transit-oriented development model. Clustering higher density development adjacent to the existing light rail station increases the district's connectivity to Beijing. The second principle is the development of a mixed-use approach to land use. This combination of different uses in close proximity to each other fosters collaboration and reduces the development's carbon footprint. Third, the design encourages biodiversity and habitat creation. The Shahe Reservoir adjacent to the site has been documented as an important stopover for migratory birds, with some 270 species known to frequent the area. Landscapes incorporate a wide range of habitat needs, including wetlands, meadows, and woodlands. Along these lines, the fourth principle is to use the landscape as a functional tool. Open spaces are designed as water-receiving landscapes, collecting and treating all stormwater on the site. Finally, the fifth principle focuses on remembering the ancient history and cultural heritage of the site. A park system traces the footprint of the historic palace wall, and a museum and library occupies the high ground where the palace once stood, providing a home for artifacts. These facilities are at the center of a vibrant arts and cultural district, creating a juxtaposition between modern and ancient life which offers a microcosm of Beijing's distinctive blend of old and new.
As contemporary cities grow, a common issue around the world is how to repurpose agricultural land and resources for urban development. With social, economic, and ecological implications, this topic is...