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Shifting the Gaze

The population movement from the countryside to the cities brings China to face an increasing and fast urbanization. In recent years, for the first time the population living in cities has overcome the one living in rural areas, and this tendency will continue to develop in the next years to follow.

This fast growth of urban areas is bringing along a new set of opportunities as well as many potential problems and posing new questions. Cities are becoming more and more the space of negotiation between the residents and the newcomers. At the same time, big urban agglomerations spread into the countryside. The countryside itself is not the space we used to know, defined by fields, green grass and dotted with rivers, but has become a sort of in-between space, neither city nor countryside. An endless periphery with lack of identity in the need of finding a new one.

The design and management of the landscape, from city centers to the outer peripheries, from post-industrial sites to the suburbs or the countryside are complex issues and architecture students cannot avoid coping with them. The case studies inside the urban fabric are endless. Different situations can even occur at different time of day and night, changing completely the perception and the use of a building or of a specific area, changing its program and its degree of intensity.The same approach must be applied to the idea of resources. Urban agglomerations are also the biggest consumer of energy and the biggest producer of pollution. There is a strong urgency to develop new sustainable urban models that integrates notions like lower or higher density, infrastructure, public space and social interaction, green areas and urban parks.

There is a strong urgency that these models implement from the very beginning sustainable issues like low impact energy buildings, renewable energies, public transportations, studies of the cycle of water and the cycle of food. Thus, new models of urbanization have to be research and developed and new paradigms have to be imagined.These models have to be research through projects of architecture and urban design and not through sheer data analyses and dull land-use planning  and zoning.

The studio “Through the water into the land” held the Fall semester 2013-2014 at the Zhejiang University starts exactly from this vision and deal with these issues. The focus here is on Hangzhou, a city by the West Lake and south-west of Shanghai. Hangzhou is also a city set by the Grand Canal. In this studio, the Grand Canal between Hangzhou and Beijing is seen as a big linear public space.

The first exercises and analysis done by the students altogether allowed them to pinpoint the area of intervention. These exercises allowed them to research the area from several viewpoints: from social to economical  aspects, from spatial to programmatic. As a result, the seven kilometers chosen area spreads from the docklands to the old harbor. The nine projects are strongly related to one another. They are not thought as self-standing objects, but they form a net along the canal with well-thought programmatic public infill that will support the future residential densifications. The projects clearly reinforce the condition of the canal as a linear public space and define a new masterplan of a city of one million inhabitants.

“5 Minutes Walking” is landmark mixed-use tower for 1’500 people. The adjacent area is regenerated for future residential occupation. The public lobby is part of the city fabric, whereas the technical plants connect the tower to the canal defining a new harbor. The earth from the excavation gives birth to the adjacent “Tea Island”, a new artificial island dedicate to the trade and taste of tea. The building is detached from the ground allowing for the maximum public permeability.

“Inflow” is a new public swimming pool that clearly builds a new front on the canal and a new stop for the water public transportations.The structure is studied to be well-ventilated in summer and save energy during the winter months.The shape of the roof helps for water collection.

“Bridge Plaza” expands the existing hospital through a net of pathways. At the center of this net, the bridge, where a new covered and connecting plaza is placed. The new infrastructure allows for greening and ventilation of the canal.

“Metrocomplex” is a metro station where the big elongated roof becomes a market square and the earth from the excavation a hilly urban park which connects the canal and the station.

“Cultural Center” is a public library and a museum. Here the starting point for the design are the old existing tanks. They are integrated in the program of the new building. The new linear park connects the big adjacent residential neighborhood to the canal.

“Aging Community Port” is at the same time a new port that fosters public transportation and a community center. Under the big roof a public square. The big roof is shaped and oriented to accommodated the needed solar panels.

“Voids” moves from an economical analysis suggesting that in the short term the chosen area will be gentrified and taken over by the rich. “Voids” strives for a certain degree of indeterminacy and for the possibility to be occupied by middle and lower classes fostering diversity in the area.

It is easy to notice how all these projects share the same approach and how intertwined they are. It is clear that the aim of this approach is not that much to discover new kind of shapes, but it is to shape a new kind of architect. Definitely, a very ambitious program for a single semester studio. It is just the beginning, it just shows the way. But this studio clearly takes a stand on it.

Nicola Probst, M.Arch

A critical text written for the studio
Through the water into the land
Winter semester 2013-14
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou
Prof. Emanuele Saurwein – He Youn

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