Suzhou is home to some of the world's most impressive historical gardens and museums dedicated to ancient Chinese culture, attracting approximately 38 million domestic Chinese tourists each year. In contemporary China, however, Suzhou's leaders are concerned that it may lose its appeal if the city does not evolve beyond its historical image. Suzhou is also a forward-thinking place. It is one of the epicenters of China's high-tech revolution, and has an undercurrent of contemporary culture that few visitors experience. With this in mind, the primary goal of the Shishan master plan was to establish a new cultural district that blends the best of Suzhou's garden city history with contemporary cultural facilities that highlight Suzhou's bright future. Sasaki's master plan achieves this goal by focusing on a vibrant public realm, transit-oriented development, innovative programming, and ecological restoration.
Located at the western terminus of Suzhou's main east-west axis, the Shishan site is accessible and has several strategic advantages. It sits at the center of a new high-tech district and is connected to transit. It is also linked to the rich landscape identity of Suzhou through an iconic mountain and existing lake. But today, Shishan is underutilized and offers little public access to the scenic landscape—in large part due to a dated amusement park on the eastern side of the mountain and a poorly managed tree nursery on the western side. A primary objective of the master plan is to make the site as permeable as possible to allow for contiguous public access to the lakefront and the mountain. Two subway lines and one surface light rail line provide excellent connectivity and accessibility. Higher density and public program is sited adjacent to transit stops, reducing auto dependency.
The proposed development program focuses on contemporary institutions that support and showcase Suzhou's innovations in science, technology, ecology, digital media, and the arts. New cultural facilities are grouped with a variety of additional public uses including a hotel, restaurants, and retail to create an urban lakefront on the "city side" of the mountain.
On the western side of the site, the existing tree nursery is retained as the foundation for a regional park that promotes access to the mountain. Designed clearings within the former nursery provide spaces for recreational landscape programming. Removed trees are replanted elsewhere throughout the site, while remaining forested areas are thinned and integrated with native trees and shrubs. This restored forest ecosystem provides vital habitat for woodland species and works with the larger landscape framework to support multiple habitats within the hills, lake, and wetlands of the site. Despite development, the new plan increases open space by 15%.