The trajectory of water in the Chinese context has been long; from its philosophical origins as an element of recreation and protection, it was first privatized in Imperial times, and later institutionalized as an infrastructure in the production machine of Socialist China. Today, many of Beijing’s scarce water resources remain bracketed into the pictorial and the engineered. Water enjoys little engagement with public life, and has instead come to represent both social inequality and ecological neglect in the manner of its distribution and consumption.
Our proposal breaks down Beijing’s contemporary relationship with water through a comprehensive democratization of the Tonghui. This act begins by exposing new processes of water treatment and purification such that they are made visible to the public. The river is integrated with the urban realm as a singular system through functionally driven strategies that embrace its manifold opportunities. Water supports a food industry in legitimizing the city’s marginalized communities by folding them into the mainstream. It also offers productive, community-driven engagement in the form of recreation, bio-tourism, resilient ecologies, flood control, and integrated living.
A number of ‘water towns’ along the riverfront are linked not by a single spatial narrative, but by the instrumentalization of water as a productive landscape across varying degrees of rehabilitation and food production. Within the framework of a global metropolis, the project balances the scope for new resource-efficient lifestyles with the realities of urban growth. At the scale of the individual, the project becomes an exercise in programming the irreducible unit of development not as a backdrop but as an active frame for functional waterscapes.
Water is then the backbone of a new kind of fabric-making that promotes quality urbanism, ecological restoration, economic sustenance and social integration without resorting to the nostalgia of the hutongs. It breaks free of its current shackles in becoming both an amenity and a resource for a new and responsible Beijing.
Advanced Design Studio: Bald/Birmann
Nomination, H.I. Feldman Prize
The project’s primary point of investigation is the agency of the architect in the planning process, particularly within the framework of the blank-slate urbanism of Lucio Costa’s Brasilia.
The 90 m X 120 m block takes the form of a bar-and-mat scheme, where the bars house a variety of residential units and the mat. The aim is to create a developer-friendly model of mixed-use urbanism where the role of the planner is to maintain an overarching vision, but also relinquish part of that control to market dynamics, social forces, and the community itself.
This idea of possibility and flexibility is implemented in two ways. One, by means of a systemic organizational module that generates both the public and private program, i.e. the mat and the bars. The second is a strategic deployment of service armature that allows the site to be developed intuitively. So within the same spatial framework, retail could mean anything from a Zara to a hole-in-the-wall bakery.
These possibilities carry over into the residences, where a module-based organization makes it possible to combine units to become a variety of dwellings— from studios to penthouses. Each apartment is a cross-ventilated, single-loaded unit fronting an open veranda. The option to purchase an open well allows residents to convert the space into a bedroom, study, terrace, or patio. While one of the bar’s facades is a louvered acknowledgement of Brasilia’s modernist legacy, the other is a pixelation of the community’s own expression.
The block is designed to fit in with the existing master plan, but is perhaps at its strongest when it takes on a prototypical role where different permutations of its many parameters come into play at different instances. It is looked at as a top-down exercise in providing an ‘armature’ within which the bottom-up organic forces of urban growth are allowed to proliferate.