Gubei Promenade

Landscape Architecture: SWA Group
Team Members: Ying-Yu Hung, Gerdo Aquino, Hyun-Min Kim, Leah Broder, Kui-Chi Ma, Dawn Dyer, Yoonju Chang, Shuang Yu, Ryan Hsu, John Loomis, Jack Wu, Al Dewitt, Youngmin Kim
Location: Shanghai, China
Design: 2005-2008
Completed: 2009
Area of Promenade: 700 meters in length and averaging 60m in width;
Area of mixed use residential project: 35.6 hectare

 

>The expressive geometries of the glass tile fountain compliment the tree allee and offers respite from the surrounding urban context (left). At over 700m in length and 50-80 meters in width, the public promenade is comprised of 3 distinct blocks (right).

The promenade is bookended by large open space parks running perpendicular to the promenade on both ends. These parks connect the promenade to the adjacent neighborhoods and instills a type of ‘urban nature” that did not exist previously.

A glimpse into the promenade’s central plaza. A layered design of flowering Cherries, Azaleas, a polycarbonate bench and an interactive fountain heighten the activities of this flexible community space.

Choreographed plantings comprised of striking colors, textures and scale strengthen the promenade’s linear orientation and provides ample porous surfaces for stormwater runoff collection and filtration.

Pedestrian bridges cross over vegetated swales designed to filter stormwater and encourage urban ecological habitats. Over 1,100 trees were planted in the promenade, resulting in the ability to sequester 5,465 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 1,100 cars in two months.

Level changes in the promenade serve as transitional elements between primary pedestrian circulation and gathering spaces. A contiguous tree canopy over the promenade provides much needed shade during hot summers, while reducing urban heat island effect.

Three architectural follies offer pedestrians a variety of outdoor related programs such as cafes, restaurants, bars and book stores, to activate open spaces at strategic locations. These follies are also experiments in form, materiality and design expression- contributing to the overall identity of the promenade.

As the feature tree for the entire project, Gingko biloba adds fall color throughout the promenade while its latent ecological value maintains an adaptive disposition to adverse environmental conditions such as air and soil pollution.

The public promenade has become a daily place to gather, socialize, people watch and engage in passive exercise routines. This photo highlights one of the three architectural follies designed and programmed to catalyze a variety of activity within the promenade.

Functional elements such as pedestrian bridges collide with rhythmic paving geometries, a bioswale and a glass-tiled water feature to create a unique identity for the promenade’s western entry.

The project’s landmark water feature is a composition of cascading water over glass tiles varying in shades of green, transitioning from light to dark, to symbolize the effect of an ephemeral stream bed.

Ancient clay roof tiles were the inspiration for the design of the promenade’s porous paving system. Abstracted from the aesthetic of layered tiles, the paving system takes on a distinct pattern while addressing storm water infiltration, pedestrian circulation and multi-functional use programs.

The detailing of the promenade’s landmark water feature plays with the reflectivity of water against the vertical and horizontal surfaces of the glass tiles. Even with the water basins emptied, the fountain provides a sculptural quality and a sense of purpose.

The translucent polycarbonate red bench forms a concentric ring around the central plaza. The 1-meter wide seating surface is highly flexible as a place to sit, lie, stand or crawl. Illuminated from within, the bench becomes visually arresting at dusk and attracts users seeking to extend the evening hours.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the promenade is its ability to combine strong design language with the needs of an ‘everyday’ open space. Contrasting paving patterns blend harmoniously with tree wells, pebble-concealed slot drain system, benches and planting areas.

Project Narrative:

On the world stage, Shanghai can be seen as China’s “window to the world:” a modern-day marvel with a kaleidoscopic history. Among great cities, modern Shanghai is unique in its approach to arts and culture, its embrace for diversity from the influx of transient workers, and its desire to reinvent itself on a daily basis. In addition, as we grapple with the growing threats of global warming and human sustainability, city-living in Shanghai has become a more sustainable alternative for those who wish to tread lightly on the environment.

City streets are the universal collectors and open space for people, a ‘vehicle’ for the exchange of goods and services, cultures and values. A city’s economic and social well being can be gauged from the streets. The street is public, free, and easily accessible; they are where one first immerses oneself into a foreign land. The streets of Shanghai, however, reflect and amplify the speed of the city’s recent evolutions. With the disappearance of the intimate alleyways in Shikumen (traditional Shangainese courtyard housing), a cacophony of multi-lane boulevards, elevated expressways, concentric ring roads and freeways have taken over the urban texture. Perceived as civilized progress, these mono-functional infrastructure behemoths rest precariously on a fragile biophysical system. The dramatic increase in ambient temperature within Shanghai is a result of exhaust from heating, air conditioning, and motorized vehicles, collectively siphoning any chance for the creation of a comfortable public realm.

Set within the Changning District in western Shanghai, Gubei is a bustling urban community with growing groups of international families and young professionals. Many are attracted to this area due to its relaxed lifestyle and the district’s dedicated effort in providing multi-cultural facilities for its residents. 700 meters in length and averaging 60m in width, the Promenade and the East, West Entry Parks are the centerpiece of a 35.6 hectare mixed-use residential project. The linear site is divided into 3 blocks separated by two north-south neighborhood streets, with a development program of high-rise residential towers, varying from 15-28 stories in height with 2-story ground floor commercial uses. The project maintains an open space ratio of over 60% with an FAR of 2.9.

Design Strategy

Providing a contiguous pedestrian open space that is safe, multi-functional, sustainable, fun and exciting for all ages involved the layering and integration of 5 distinct considerations: cultural infrastructure, environmental sustainability, healthy living, interpretive nature, and inventive design. These considerations, brought to life in built form, created a dynamic urban environment that raises the bar for successful dense urban living.

1: Cultural Infrastructure

Acting as a piece of cultural infrastructure, the promenade recalls moments of the city’s history by re-interpreting pieces of the past into design elements incorporated into the open space. By mimicking the aesthetic of traditional clay roof tiles, the promenade’s porous paving system takes on the curving shape of the clay tile and incorporates the tongue-and-groove locking mechanism to ensure the stability of the units. The porous paving system also provides for storm water infiltration and creates a functional walking surface.

2: Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability takes many forms. For the promenade, it became obvious early on that this large tract of land had the potential to strengthen the urban forest and thus reduce the urban heat-island effect. Over 1,100 trees were planted in the promenade, resulting in the ability to sequester 5,465 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 1,100 cars for two months. The shade created by the tree canopy, along with evapo-transpiration, lowers the ambient temperature by 5-10 degrees in the immediate context. Ginkgo biloba, Cinnamomum camphora, Zelkova serrulata, Liquiambar formosana, Acacia farnesiana, and Osmanthus fragrans, coupled with diverse shrubs and groundcovers serve both the goals of sustainability while also creating seasonal character, varied scale and biological diversity.

3: Healthy Living

Creating a platform to promote health and well-being was a prime consideration during the programming phase of the project. With an estimated 17,000 residents, the flexible open spaces of the promenade provide public space for outdoor exercise, social interaction and passive, stress-relieving activities such as Tai-Chi, reading, dining and people watching. On any given weekend, one can participate in community events, see children roller-blading and riding bicycles, and observe families enjoying the company of others.

4: Interpretive Nature

Nature deficit disorder is on the rise with children living in highly urbanized areas. This disorder is caused by a lack of exposure to nature during childhood that develops into a limited respect to their immediate natural surroundings (e.g. no concern or care for what is natural landscape). The promenade reintroduces “nature” into the park by incorporating bioswales and lush vegetation to capture and treat storm water while nurturing a regenerative ecology that could support urban wildlife habitat for birds, insects and amphibians. As an ecological initiative, the integration of natural processes within the design of the promenade serves as an educational precedent for the community.

5: Design Invention

The promenade’s design features a creative use of materials to explore common outdoor programs such as seating, retail kiosks and fountains. The promenade contains an inventive system of benches made of a translucent polycarbonate material that is highly functional, durable, and artistic. Coupled with an interactive fountain nearby, the seating becomes an iconic light sculpture attracting people to participate in community events during cool summer nights. The retail kiosks are designed as architectural follies that have individual identity via their shape, function and materiality; a grand fountain made of glass tiles becomes a sculpture in its own right, providing visual interest when the water is turned off. Wood paving surfaces rise vertically to become large-scale seat walls, barriers along the glass fountain, and finally ascending as roof surface for the architecturally folly.

Toward the Future

Gubei Pedestrian Promenade has the potential to become a catalyst for the greater whole, where the success of the project can inspire other developers and public agencies to see the value of such an urban amenity, which not only benefits the public, but elevates the real estate value of the entire district. Contrary to the common trend in Shanghai where handfuls of small pocket parks have become quickly appropriated and replaced with programs catered to the needs of private development, this project serves as a successful case study for cities undergoing rapid modernization: to be mindful of setting aside public open space as a counterpoint to continually increasing urban building density, and to steer the future of city planning and urban restructuring into a new direction.