Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Xiang’he Garden City – Park of the floating gardens in Xiang, China by OKRA
May 3rd, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Xiang’he Garden City – Park of the floating gardens
At this moment a masterplan for Xiang’he Garden City is developed. A new garden city of approximately 700 hectares will arise close to the future 7th ring of Beijing. Within the first phase of the development a park is projected, closely related to the water basins that are a result of clay reclamation by the existing brick factories. A steep slope along the north side of the factories will be a result of these activities that will affect the park design, since on the north side of the basins housing development is projected.
Water is one of the qualities of the site and will be incorporated in the design concept. The small Puchi river offers the potential of running water on the location, slowly floating towards the Chao Bai river, three kilometres on the west of the site. The water basins are situated on different levels and offer the potential of recreational settings. On the south there might be the potential of creating a wetland, closely related to the water. Furthermore the relicts of the brick factories and its chimneys are interesting items, of which parts might be integrated into cultural programme.
The ambitions for the park are high and should create the perfect setting for the first housing development. The park should be a place for recreation, for running, for barbequeing, for celebrations and more. The park should contribute to a sustainable environment, combining the green and the water. The water system of the adjacent housing area can be linked to the park, when purified and filtered water will be used in an expressive way, thus combining recreational qualities to ecological qualities.
Masterplan of the eastern development area
A coherent green and water structure will be the strong fundament for the development of the Garden City. A network of planted tree rows is connected to the main infrastructure of the lanes is defining a landscape frame for the entire development. Within the network larger green areas, such as the Park will be spaces for leisure and pleasure.
The idea for the eastern development area is to link a water network of basins and canals to the small river, thus adding an extra quality for the new housing. Water retention, water buffering and green environment are linked and will be a strong feature in this area.
In the centre, where the density of the built environment is the highest, urban canals will be an interesting structure. Small gutters and basins in the built area can contribute to rain water buffering in the urban area, and also provide interesting small elements in the built environment.
The most interesting parts of the brick factories can be linked to this green and blue network of spaces by adding interesting functions such as arts centre, specialist shops or a children’s farm in the eastern park area.
Water in the park creating the park’s identity
Most of the areas that have differences in height have hills. This area is like an inverse landscape, the height differences are pits in the ground. Descending to the water level, almost 20 meters below, opens up a perspective where the visitor looks at the slopes and a horizontal rim.
At this moment however, the pits are isolated from each other and the small stream leading from the Puchi river is dividing the area. Our idea is to create one park area with a strong identity based on the presence of water on several levels.
To create a park that forms an entity it is important that the two existing basins will be connected to each other. Within the park large areas of water will be necessary, to create water storage for the entire housing area and to filter grey water from the urban development. The programme indicates that fifty to seventy percent of the park will consist of water.
It would be most interesting to create a park where the water will be the essential quality instead of a restraint or burden. The fact that water is on different levels can be a source of inspiration. It will be very interesting to work with different levels within the basins and to create another basin on a different level, and to create some level changes, like small water falls.
The water will be used in the park in several ways; in a spatial way, creating some distance and views in the park; in a functional way, being places where the rainwater can be collected and being a storage of rainwater; and in a poetic way, reflecting skies and reflecting artificial light in the evenings.
When water plays such an important role, it can be expressed in the park. The different levels of the basins offer a variety in waterscape. It will be logic to use the higher basins filtering the water, which makes it possible to bring it to the river or to bring it to the lower basins. Part of the small waterfalls can be small engines, that are creating energy.
Some lower basins can incorporate a water playground. Here safe places can be created for children playing with the water and enjoying the water. Linked to the long canal a wetland area will be an interesting zone in the park. The area filters the waste water of the housing and paved areas. The canal itself will be a green linear structure, that connects the park with the entire area of the masterplan. An interesting combination of paths and waterlines can create an area that feels like a large water labyrinth.
Steep slopes and easy slopes
Access to the deep pits requires attention, since the housing area in the north will be built on ground level. A strong point in the new park design will be the contrast between steep slopes and easy slopes. On the north the steep slopes as a result of the building locations will be will be a continious décor along the water. Steep narrow stairs will provide direct access in an architectonic way. In the other direction, the east-west direction , slopes will be more gentle, thus creating one movement and providing access for people to the water on the different levels. In the east west connection there will be wide paths and easy slopes connecting the waterpark to the rivers and the adjacent roads.
The levels offer possibilities to create inviting places to stay. On the north slope a balcony will be situated, a place to overlook the site. Interesting areas on the slopes will be long linear terrasses, connected to each other by small stairs and planted like long linear gardens. These terrasses also help in enforcing the slopes, in order to be stable on the long term. Ground investigations need to be done. On these slopes landscape architectonic expression and engineering will lead towards stable and interesting slopes.
Another special place will be the bottom of the pit. The slow way down can be almost be a spiritual quality of leading to a small platform along the deepest basin. On this place at the bottom of the pit there is the view at the water and a view on the top, like a horizon. Plantings on the higher grounds will form a demarcation of the park.
Parks are places to walk, to rest and to contemplate. Parks are also places for other activities, such as people jogging, residents barbequing, children playing. Based on the idea that the park will be a waterpark with inviting places to stay programme can be added that emphasizes the character of the park. It would be interesting to have a water playground in stead of just a normal playground. In the southern strip it would be interesting to combine programmes of water retention and water purification with a water labyrinth. Part of the small slopes and the connections along the water some small spaces can be used for a variety of leisure activities. In the east of the park, close to the area where now one of the brick factories is, there could be a childrens farm plus some eadible gardens. Close to the water there could be a place to celebrate and to have parties.
Poetry and pleasure
A succesfull park requires some magic spots. Floating gardens will be one of the interesting poetic features in the park. Even when anchored to a specific area in the water their slow movement will be attractive. Reflection of the plants in the water will attract attention of the visitors.
The floating gardens will offer colourful plants and nice smells to the visitor. They will be the elements like in a ferry tale, offering some magic, something that makes it special for the inhabitants of the Xiang’he Garden City to go down to the water.
In the evening the waterscape also can be magic. Chinese are known about their lampions, the poetry o f light can be strengthened. Besides the lampions there can be some play with reflections, like artificial fireflies on the water. It will be realized with slight light projections that are giving a poetic light image in the evening.
Reintepreting the past
The future of the park will be completely different than the area that now is used as farmland and brick factories. It will be interesting that the park reflects some valuable parts of the past. There is a potential for developing a new future for the brick factories. Not that many buildings of the brick factories are interesting, however the main building can be transformed into an arts area, a modern version of 798 in the garden city. Maybe it can be the VANKE arts center, a high class ceramics design center. To achieve this it will be necessary to transform old structures into an exciting combination of old and new. A transparent glass structure provides shelter and may transform the old into a modern element.
The Xiang’he Garden City Park is based on principles of sustainability. Water and nutrients are part of the cycles of production and energy. The park shall not only be energy neutral, but it will generate energy by solar energy, heat pumps, kinetic tiles and small windmills. It will be a pilot project of water management. The main design feature is a water park having basins on different levels that guarantee water purification and water storage.
During periods of heavy rainfall the basins provide a huge quantity of storage capacity. These basins will be connected by some small waterfalls, that are linked to engines that produce energy out of the falling water. Thus the storage of water can also be linked to storage of energy; during periods when there is an overproduction of energy the basins can be filled more in order to gain the energy back when the water falls at a time when energy is required.
Along the Puchiriver,basins contribute in filtering grey water from the housing areas. A connection to the adjacent housing areas will be made by soil passages, that already filter to some degree the grey water, before it enters in the filtering basins.
The sustainable technology of the garden is closely related to life cycles, within an artificial system thus creating harmony with nature and offering an exceptional architectural experience. Innovative cultivation techniques are implemented in the eadible gardens close to the eastern brick factory to show possibilities of sustainable urban farming. Production of plants requires linking the cycle of nutrients to those of the water and energy.
As much as possible materials will be reused in the park and the amount of soil available in the area will be distributed within the park’s boundaries. And last but not least the park will contribute in reducing carbon emissions. Green and nature are reducing the amount of CO2. Besides that the special planting in the park, adding to the water park a green décor of beauty.
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