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.
Creating 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.
The 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:See more
Project description by jury
Shajing Ancient Fair is the largest existing historical district in Shenzhen with a particularly rich architectural heritage. With 500,000 residents, the subdistrict is the most densely populated area of the city. Despite the significant sociological and aesthetic values embedded, many historical sites in this district are at risk of being demolished because of their advanced state of decay. The intervention on Shajing’s Longjin River district described by this proposal shows that an alternative to demolition exists – and resides in a careful combination of preservation and rejuvenation actions.
Architectural, landscape and interior design projects are proposed on six locations along the river. A fire station is transformed into a public stage for Cantonese opera, building ruins into a sky bridge, a small plaza into a Mantis Boxing practice square, and a triangular space into an outdoor market for artifacts. Local people are invited to participate in art creation to reimagine several old houses into exhibition halls. Key to the success of the proposal is the redesign of the polluted river which is now two-tiered – with clean water incorporating attractive pedestrian paths above and a sewer below. Not only do these actions provide villagers with new public cultural and recreational spaces, but they also bring ancient ruins back to life, revitalizing the local cultural heritage and creating employment opportunities for the district. The project privileges the use of waste and low-carbon materials and the adoption of passive cooling systems.
The Holcim Awards jury Asia Pacific was fascinated by the bold yet balanced, delicate and non-intrusive spirit of this project that, through simple architectural gestures, turns city density into surprising and joyful spatial and emotional realities for the village dwellers. The effort that the proposal makes in raising collective awareness on the importance of preserving local heritages and attempt to delay, if not avoid, the alarming decay of historic Chinese villages was highly commended. Bringing in a fresh, welcome modern character, the architectural solutions were also found to be particularly contextualized and respectful of the local cultural and social environment.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Ancient Rejuvenation in China automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
The built environment has a significant role to play in addressing climate change and enabling the transition to a net zero and more inclusive future. The Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction global winners showcase the cutting edge of approaches to sustainable design, green architecture and materials innovation. In the 6th cycle, a Global Holcim Awards Bronze and two Global Commendations went to projects in the Asia Pacific region. The global prizes were presented at a handover ceremony at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. The regional Holcim Awards Main category winners for Asia Pacific were recognized at the same event.
The Holcim Awards winning projects from five world regions are recognized at regional prize handover events. All winning projects at the regional level automatically qualify for the Global Holcim Awards, in which the submissions are evaluated again by a global jury, which was chaired by Hashim Sarkis (Lebanon/USA) in 2021. Participants can submit additional material on their projects, including detailed information on the carbon footprint of their project over its entire life cycle and the project's contribution to the circular economy. The entries that the jury considers outstanding at the global level are then awarded prizes at a global handover ceremony. Due to the pandemic, this procedure was adapted: all regional and global prizewinners were invited to the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, where they received their prizes at a single handover ceremony.
Toward net-zero emissions and circular material flows
The issue of sustainability is of paramount importance in construction. In view of climate change and diminishing resources, new approaches are needed along the entire value chain of the construction industry as the building sector moves toward net-zero emissions and circular material flows. Developing and applying these new approaches are what the Holcim Awards promote. The prize money of the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design totals USD 2 million.
The number of competition entries shows how intensively specialists in the fields of architecture, engineering, urban planning, materials science, construction technology, and related disciplines deal with sustainability issues: A total of 4,742 projects from 134 countries were submitted in the 6th cycle of the competition. About half of them fully met the requirements and were then scrutinized in extensive online jury meetings in the five regions around the world. The juries spent a total of over 100 hours sifting through and ranking the winners in the Main and Next Generation categories. Around half of the entries worldwide were submitted in the Next Generation category, which seeks bold ideas and visionary concepts by participants up to 30 years of age. The 21 winning projects in this category were announced in virtual ceremonies earlier this year: www.holcimfoundation.org/awards/6th-cycle.
In the Main category, the Holcim Awards recognize projects that are nearing implementation at an advanced stage of design. In the Asia Pacific competition region, many proposals dealt with combining technical and political aspects into a sustainable whole. The regional jury, chaired by Nirmal Kishnani (Singapore), selected projects in Australia, Cambodia, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam as the main winners. The project authors come from all over Asia Pacific, but also from France, Germany, the UK, and the USA, and they convinced the jury with their coherent concepts and bold approaches. The high quality of the winning projects is also reflected in the fact that in the global competition a Bronze Award and two out of four Commendations went to this region. The other Global Holcim Awards went to Switzerland (Gold), Colombia (Silver), Morocco (ex aequo Bronze), Cabo Verde and Jordan (Commendations).
Bringing together technological aspects with policies
As Head of the Academic Committee of the Holcim Foundation, Marilyne Andersen was a member of all five regional juries and the global jury. She emphasizes the importance of having these juries composed of international members: “It’s crucial to have local or regional knowledge of the policies in place and what trends are happening in the various countries,” she says. This knowledge of the local context played a decisive role in assessing the projects. “We could see how projects could influence these trends,” she explains, “how projects can showcase important possibilities or can push against certain trends.” It goes without saying that such developments change over the years. Ten to fifteen years ago, projects in the Asia Pacific region primarily dealt with rural socioeconomic issues or water and sewage management, whereas in the past two competition cycles the dominant theme was education.
“This time it was also a lot about bringing together technological aspects with policies applying to different aspects of sustainability,” sums up Marilyne Andersen. The jury ultimately decided on three Awards and four Acknowledgement prize winners. In addition to prize money totaling USD 310,000, the winners received a personalized trophy featuring the Holcim Foundation’s iconic icosahedron, which symbolizes the golden ratio and therefore ideal proportions. The trophy base is made of EvopacZero, a climate-neutral concrete by Holcim Switzerland, exemplifying materials that enable circular flows and sustainable construction. Holcim is the sponsor of the Holcim Foundation, which conducts the competition.
Reforestation program in Hanoi, Vietnam
Global Holcim Awards Bronze ex aequo and Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Propagated Sanctuary
A large group of volunteers plans to restore the subtropical forest on Banana Island, a 26-hectare island in the Red River. By planting endemic trees and plants, the project aims to introduce abundant greenery within the urban fabric, reduce carbon emissions, and multiply the number of native species. The flora will enable animals to return to their natural habitat, boosting regional biodiversity. The project will also create an educational recreational area for Hanoi residents and an open-air laboratory for interested scientists and research institutions.
“We want to restore part of the island to the condition it used to be in,” explains prizewinner Marek Obtulovic of Oddo Architects, Hanoi, Vietnam. “It’s about renaturation, not about creating flower beds and green lawns.” The jury recognized the clear relevance of this proposal for Hanoi and highly commended the way landscape design is deployed to integrate the urban and natural environments. This proposal, says the jury, stands out as a bold act of awareness that shines an urgent spotlight on the recognition of green infrastructure in Vietnam.
Sustainable urban and agricultural system near Lanzhou, China
Holcim Awards Gold Asia Pacific - Agrarian Enrichment
In China, new cities have replaced many old villages – for example, those scattered across the Nanhe River Valley, where farmland is being progressively fragmented. This project envisions a new form of sustainable urbanization in the valley by preserving the cultural heritage of the agricultural land and by integrating the farmland into a broader urban and agricultural system. Six “metropolitan villages” incorporating historic villages are proposed. The masterplan includes an extensive irrigation system for the farmland. Springwater and rainwater are collected in underground basins and distributed through a series of canals to the fields. This water-management system minimizes evaporation and can store a million cubic meters of water every year.
“The project is about a morphology of architecture and agriculture,” explains prizewinner Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours of PDAA, Paris, France. “Transition is the most important thing: You pass from urban life on the street to a natural space, a sort of farm, and then into the fields. Farmers should also live here and cultivate the land.” The jury was impressed with how the intervention becomes a particularly well-balanced and contextualized model for holistic sustainable development of rural areas in China and elsewhere.
Urban revitalization in Shenzhen, China
Holcim Awards Silver Asia Pacific - Ancient Rejuvenation
Shajing Ancient Fair is the largest historic district of Shenzhen city, but young people are moving out, old buildings are deteriorating, emissions pollute the air. Many historic sites are at risk of loss due to neglect. This project aims to revitalize the historic district through a well-planned mix of preservation, cultural, employment, and infrastructure-improvement measures. The concept demonstrates a viable alternative to demolition. Architectural, landscape, and interior design projects are proposed at six locations along the river.
“Our project is an answer to the question: Should urban renewal continue to use the approach of demolition and redevelopment or should the original character of villages be preserved?” explains prizewinner Jing Han of ARCity Office, Shenzhen, China. “It’s an experiment regarding the future development of urban villages.” The jury was fascinated by the bold yet balanced, delicate, and non-intrusive spirit of the project. The intention to raise collective awareness of the importance of preserving local heritage was highly commended.
Extreme sustainability in Sydney, Australia
Holcim Awards Bronze Asia Pacific and Global Holcim Awards Commendation - High-Performance Tower
The high-performance tower in Sydney is a 39-story building accommodating 4,000 workplaces. Introducing a new sustainability model, the design addresses an expanded program, incorporates next-generation systems, and presents an innovative typological and structural concept. It brings nature into the workplace, supports economic vitality, and points the way to a more sustainable mode of new construction.
The design pursues low-energy and high-comfort performance, because “a good working environment is a very attractive asset,” says prizewinner Wolfgang Kessling of Transsolar Energietechnik, Germany. He and his team tackled an ambitious challenge: “How can we create excellent workplaces and leisure spaces so that people will not only enjoy coming to work but also get the most out of the building when interacting with it both physically and digitally in order to perform at their best?” The jury says the design successfully combines structural, environmental, and programmatic elements to achieve its goals in terms of sustainability and considers the building a remarkable contribution to sustainable architecture that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Empowering the homeless in Minalin, Philippines
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific and Global Holcim Awards Commendation - Empowering the Homeless
This project combines social housing for 125 homeless families and a solar power plant that will produce and sell enough energy to finance the development. The roofs of the buildings are covered with photovoltaic panels that will generate 25 times more power than the residents will need. The surplus energy will be sold, and the revenue will be used initially to pay off the construction of the buildings. The jury was impressed by the project’s ability to fully and creatively bring together different stakeholders to address two urgent societal issues: homelessness and access to renewable energy sources. “We hope to make housing affordable for everyone,” says project author Prasoon Kumar of Billion Bricks, India and Singapore.
Sustainable habitats in Shenzen, China
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Green-Blue Network
This project transforms an inadequate urban sewer system into an efficient and valuable green-blue asset for the city. The design harnesses the biological processes of mangroves and wetland plants to naturally treat and clean wastewater, which can then be used to irrigate and fertilize crops. This approach can save 70 percent of the energy typically required for wastewater treatment. “We want to present replicable solutions to restore native habitat in the middle of the city,” tells prizewinner Kongjian Yu, professor at Peking University, Beijing, China. The project is highly refined and provides thoroughly researched and precise information on the life-cycle assessment, says the jury, praising the straightforward and robust methodological approach.
Social housing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Upgrading Labor
Over 17,000 factory workers live in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone – many in inadequate housing. This project proposes 3,000 new social housing units for these people, high-quality affordable homes that will provide a healthy and adequate standard of living. The design appropriately responds to the requirements of the workers and the ecological context of the site, resulting in a simply organized and aesthetically pleasing environment. “We are implementing a model that could easily be replicated in other rapidly growing cities,” says Avneesh Tiwari of atArchitecture, Mumbai, India. The jury sees the design of the proposed housing complex as well contextualized, aesthetically pleasing, and simple yet well-balanced in terms of space distribution and programmatic planning.
Prizewinning projects and author teams online
The winning projects and authors in the Holcim Awards Main category were honored at a hybrid event at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice on 13 November 2021: the 33 regional winners 2020 as well as the eight winners of Global Holcim Awards prizes 2021 were announced. A film of the handover ceremony and virtual presentations of all winning projects, including detailed descriptions, videos, jury reports, and statements by the authors as well as numerous illustrations, are available at www.holcimfoundation.org/awards. In addition, the latest book of the Holcim Foundation features in-depth interviews with the prizewinning authors: www.holcimfoundation.org/publications.
The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction was created in 2003 by Holcim as an independent legal entity to raise awareness of the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning, and the building industry have in achieving a sustainable future. The Holcim Group is a global leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions and enables greener cities, smarter infrastructure, and improved living standards around the world. The company is driving the circular economy as a world leader in recycling in order to build more with less.
Members of the Holcim Awards jury Asia Pacific 2020
For the first time in the history of the Holcim Awards, the projects submitted in Asia Pacific were discussed and evaluated by the jury online. The independent, international jury of experts was chaired by Nirmal Kishnani, Professor of Architecture at the National University of Singapore. At his side were Sandra Boivin (R&D Support Director, Holcim Innovation Center, France), Chanasit Cholasuek (stu/D/O Architects, Thailand), Nondita Correa Mehrotra (RMA Architects, India), Richard Hassell (WOHA, Singapore), Christopher Lee (Serie Architects, Mumbai, Singapore & Beijing), and Erwin Viray (Head of the Architecture Sustainable Design Pillar, Singapore University of Technology & Design). Further jury members representing the Academic Committee of the Holcim Foundation were Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland) and Philippe Block (Professor of Architecture & Structure, ETH Zurich, Switzerland).
Members of the Global Holcim Awards jury 2021
The independent jury that evaluated the projects at the global level was chaired by Hashim Sarkis (Dean of the School of Architecture & Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA). The jury included Angelo Bucci (spbr arquitetos and Professor of Building Design, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), Bruce Gibbons (Thornton Tomasetti, USA), Anne Lacaton (Lacaton & Vassal Architectes, France), and Mun Summ Wong (WOHA, Singapore). Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland), Maria Atkinson AM (Green Building Council of Australia), Meisa Batayneh Maani (Maisam Architects & Engineers, Jordan), and Brinda Somaya (Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, India) represented the Board and the Academic Committee of the Foundation as additional jury members.
Holcim Awards winning projects Asia Pacific
Global Holcim Awards Bronze ex aequo (USD 50,000) and Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Propagated Sanctuary in Hanoi, Vietnam
The cultivation of an urban forest and economic catalyst on Banana Island.
Winners: Marek Obtulovic, Nguyen Duc Trung, Mai Lan Chi and team, ODDO Architects, Hanoi, Vietnam
Holcim Awards Gold Asia Pacific (USD 100,000)
Agrarian Enrichment near Lanzhou, China
A project that envisions a new form of sustainable urbanization in the Nanhe River Valley.
Winners: Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours and team, PDAA, Paris, France; Cristina Garcez and team, CSTB, Paris, France
Holcim Awards Silver Asia Pacific (USD 50,000)
Ancient Rejuvenation in Shenzhen, China
A plan to revitalize the historic district of Shajing Ancient Fair through a mix of interventions.
Winners: Yuxing Zhang and Jing Han, ARCity Office, Shenzhen, China
Holcim Awards Bronze Asia Pacific (USD 30,000) and Global Holcim Awards Commendation
High-Performance Tower in Sydney, Australia
A new sustainability model pursuing low-energy and high-comfort performance in a 39-storey tower.
Winners: Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar Energietechnik, Germany; Edwin Chan, EC3 Design, USA; James O’Callaghan, Eckersley O’Callaghan, United Kingdom; Corie D. Sharples and Andreia Taixeira, SHoP, USA; Ric Wang, Atlassian, Australia; Njnotschka Titchkosky, BVN, Australia
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000) and Global Holcim Awards Commendation
Empowering the Homeless in Minalin, Philippines
Sustainable social housing for homeless families.
Winners: Prasoon Kumar and Robert Verrijt, Billion Bricks, India and Singapore
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Green-Blue Network in Shenzen, China
A project for nature-based urban drainage infrastructure.
Winners: Kongjian Yu and team, Peking University; Turenscape Architecture & Planning, Beijing, China
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Upgrading Labor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A project to sustainably upgrade the living conditions of the local workforce.
Winners: Avneesh Tiwari and Neha Rane, atArchitecture, Mumbai, India
Innovation: Reviving Polluted Ancient River with Low-cost Measures
The Longjin River was once essential for trade and transportation. Later on, due to the decline of Shajing, the river channel was gradually filled in, narrowed and polluted, turning into a 2-meter wide odorous gutter. Architects adopt a low-cost rain and sewage diversion strategy to divide the channel into two layers. The lower layer is sewage, and the upper is rainwater. Thus, when there is no rainwater, the upper one can be filled by reclaiming filtered water from a nearby sewage plant.
River roads occupy river channels due to excessive traffic. So, architects narrowed the road appropriately, adjusted the route into a curved line and removed iron railings to release space and planted vegetation. Besides, the design provided overhanging flower pots, benches, and pavilions to revive the Longjin River.
Design: Creating Public Spaces and Activating Local Cultural Heritage
Shajing Ancient Fair was the location of the Yanya Municipality in Song Dynasty and one of the four bazaars from 200 years ago in Shenzhen. It was also the famous origin of oyster, Cantonese opera and Mantis Boxing martial arts. However, due to the decline of Shajing, these traditional cultures are in danger of disappearing. Architects hope to restore local cultural heritage by creating public spaces for villagers. They transformed a fire station into a public stage for Cantonese opera, a building ruin into a sky bridge, and a small plaza into a Mantis Boxing practice square and a triangular space into an outdoor market for artifacts. Consequently, many villagers have gained new employment opportunities by teaching Cantonese opera, coaching Mantis Boxing, and selling local handicrafts.
Curation: Engaging Locals in Public Art Exhibition At Their Living Site
Shajing has preserved multiple heritage scenes for more than 1,000 years, yet only a few of which are protected as “artefacts” by relevant institutions. Some seemingly mundane spatial features - old houses, ancient wells, traditional streets, etc. -carry significant sociological and aesthetic values. As Shajing enlisted in an urban renewal plan, these spatial features are at risk of demolition. As a result, architects curated a public art exhibition at Shajing living site, invited the locals to participate in art creation, and transformed several old houses into exhibition halls. These efforts combined public art and architectural relics for mass appreciation, and raised collective awareness of local heritages' aesthetic value to prevent and delay a potential massive rapid change of Shajing.See more
An intervention for the preservation and revitalization of a historical district in Shenzhen demonstrates sustainable …
Author comment by Yuxing Zhang and Jing Han, ARCity Office, China on Ancient Rejuvenation in China – Urban …
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