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An alternative to demolition: reviving an urban village

Architects are redefining urban development by revitalizing an ancient district in Shenzhen

Shenzhen is one of the most rapidly growing megacities in the world, with a population that has soared from a few thousand in 1980 to 13 million today. The city’s booming economy continues to attract new inhabitants but available space for urban development is scarce. Planners usually opt to demolish the traditional villages that were swallowed up by the urban sprawl, but Jing Han and Yuxing Zhang see things differently: their project preserves Shajing Ancient Fair, the largest remaining historic district in Shenzhen. By restoring six sites along the small Longjin River, their intervention creates new spaces while giving traditional areas a new lease of life.

Advocating urban renewal

The project was initiated by three different commissioners: the regional government, the Shajing sub-district office, and the real estate developer China Resources Land Group. After initially planning to demolish and redevelop the entire Shajing Ancient Fair district which covers an area of about 26 hectares, the regional government reconsidered its strategy and was open to new suggestions. With a thousand-year-old architectural site dating from the Song Dynasty, hundreds of old houses, ancestral halls, ancient wells and a small river, the neighbourhood stands as a testament to Chinese history. It made sense to architects Jing Han and Yuxing Zhang – whose firm ARCity Office specialises in urban revitalization – to propose a renewal of the traditional area.

A20APsiCN-book-255_1.jpgCreating cultural value

The architects offered to lean on the heritage of the traditional village instead, creating new recreational spaces, enhancing cultural landmarks and providing job opportunities by involving the community in the process. The project also aims to create new cultural value by drawing artists and art institutions to the neighbourhood through hosting an exhibition on site and organising cultural events in the new community space. An old fire station has also been transformed into a public stage for local Cantonese operas that previously struggled to find venues.

A sustainable design

Central to the project is also the intervention around the previously polluted Longjin River. The river now flows on two levels, with the polluted water directed into a sewer canal below, and the water purified at a nearby sewage treatment plant now flowing in a separate upper level which can be followed by a boardwalk with views onto the new water gardens. The project also includes the use of low-carbon building materials and passive cooling systems, as well as pavement stones re-used from local ruins.

A20APsiCN-book-252_1.jpgThe neighbourhood has started attracting people from other parts of the city who wish to experience the positive change the project is bringing to the lives of its residents and the architects hope that this model of urban renewal will soon be replicated elsewhere.

Read the full interview:

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Last Updated: June 26, 2022
Article Details
Shenzhen, China
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