Situated on the banks of the Yangtze River, Wuhu emerged as a treaty port in 1876 and has since developed into an international commercial center. Today, this legacy remains in the form of distinctive colonial era buildings scattered throughout city’s urban fabric. The unique architectural style of the Customs House, the British Consulate, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral are artifacts of Wuhu’s rich history, but have become isolated relics in the center of the city.
Many foreign settlements in China like Wuhu arose in the 19th century primarily because of their strategic location as ports, becoming an integral part of a global network of commerce and trade. Wuhu was built predominantly on higher ground above the river for tactical reasons, but also to intentionally signify the self-defined elite status of the colonial power. Over time, this state of privilege created both physical and psychological barriers. The ensuing segregation impacted local residents through income and other social inequalities, but also in the form of a broken open space network and limited accessibility to the waterfront.
In 2017, Sasaki was commissioned by the City of Wuhu to re-envision the urban core. A key strategy of the plan was link the center of the city back to the riverfront, while also integrating the scattered heritage architecture as key elements of the city’s history. Pedestrian connections create an intentional sequence which integrates new civic program into the historic buildings, while new infill buildings activate the public realm along this important connection to the water. Additional narrow roadways and pedestrian corridors penetrate into this once enclose core, creating a more intimate urban experience and improving the walkability of downtown Wuhu.
To anchor the restored historic buildings which have been repurposed for cultural uses, the public space adjacent to them was also completely reimagined. The plan uncovered the potential of Fanluo Mountain as a unique topographical element in the center of the city, creating a museum campus on the hillside that establishes a civic presence in a landscape that was once inaccessible to many of Wuhu’s citizens. A new elevated crescent plaza adjacent to St. Joseph’s Cathedral mitigates the grade change between Fanluo Mountain and the riverfront, and becomes a new center of gravity for the cultural corridor. A series of the viewshed studies ensured that sightlines to the historical buildings, and to the river, were carefully protected. Urban design guidelines were also established to regulate improvements to historic façades, and to guide future development to focus on creating a more coherent experience between new and old.
Wuhu’s renewal plan is a series of cultural and public realm-led strategies which provide new opportunities for a more walkable urban core. This approach celebrates the importance of the public realm as a powerful tool to connect the needs of a contemporary city with its people and its history. By embracing and acknowledging the evolution of the city, the plan fosters a more inclusive and accessible urban core for future generations to enjoy.