Since the beginning of the 21st century, Beijing has made huge strides to solidify its position as one of the world's great cities. It is modernizing rapidly—skyscrapers are rising out of fallow fields, a new transportation system is extending the reach of the city, and environmental initiatives are improving air and water quality. Fresh ideas are emerging, while still embracing the rich traditions of the past. Near Songzhuang, a sleepy village on the outskirts of Beijing, a rich opportunity exists to create an urban district dedicated entirely to the cultivation of new ideas. The National Creative Cluster (NCC) is envisioned as the country's preeminent knowledge hub, making the district a center for China's innovative home-grown talent, and a destination for the world's most creative thinkers. Sasaki's master plan for the NCC focuses on five structuring principles that underscore and support the overarching philosophy of the district: to bring industries with shared values and complementary skills and technologies together to help spark new ideas.
Acting as an incubator, the success of the district is tied to its openness, where people can interact in both structured and spontaneous ways to exchange ideas and have constructive dialogue. To attract a talented workforce, the NCC will also provide institutes for continuing education, museums and galleries for inspiration, entertainment venues to encourage social interaction, and bold landscapes to help recharge the mind, body, and spirit. The district's diversity of industry, people, and spatial relationships are aimed to foster creativity and encourage an endless stream of new ideas.
The first principle of Sasaki's master plan is to integrate the urban form with the surrounding landscape. This is accomplished by creating a series of green wedges, interspersed within the urban clusters and forming a series of community parks. Second, a transit loop creates a connection to the existing core of the Songzhaung Artists Village. Recalling the vital connections between trade and ideas, the loop encourages the movement of both people and ideas between the creative hubs at NCC and Songzhuang. Third, the plan creates a series of concentrated hubs organized along the loop, forming clusters of activity. Each hub is designed to have a unique identity, forged by a careful mix of programmatic and landscape elements. The landscape is the focus of the fourth principle of designing a landscape that is both beautiful and functional. These landscapes encourage biodiversity, filter stormwater, and provide seasonal interest and color. Finally, the fifth principle ensures that the landscape forms a strong connection between humans and nature. Innovation and creativity at NCC is fueled by the ability to walk on the generous trail system, grow vegetables on a rooftop terrace, or socialize with others in neighborhood parks.