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Weaving Together a River And a City

Aerial view rendering the high-profiled waterfront along the Yangtze River in Nanjing, China
Thirty km of high-profile waterfront along the Yangtze River in Nanjing, China is being redeveloped to improve connections ahead of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. © Nanjing City Construction Committee and Nanjing City Construction Bureau

A new landscape master plan for Nanjing, China, will connect historical sites, ecological features, and the city ahead of the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

June 4, 2013—The Nanjing (China) Housing & Urban–Rural Development Committee is embarking on an ambitious redevelopment of 30 km of high-profile waterfront along the Yangtze River ahead of the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. The area includes a divergent mix of culturally sensitive landmarks, military facilities, water treatment plants, and industrial development amidst ecological features.

Guiding the development will be a landscape master plan and design guidance prepared by the Asia Pacific office of Atkins, a design, engineering, and management company headquartered in the United Kingdom. Atkins won an international competition in January 2012, and was selected as the lead consultant to provide design guidelines for the project and conduct construction document reviews for projects along the riverfront area.

“Nanjing City Government’s ambition is to create a world-class, iconic public waterfront area including high-quality public [spaces], built forms, heritage assets, and a variety of multifunctional developments that encourage day and night activity,” said Mark Kang, an associate director for Atkins in the Shanghai City office, in written comments to Civil Engineering online. “The ultimate ambition is for the redeveloped waterfront to rival Shanghai’s Bund as a vibrant tourist destination and act as a catalyst for [the] future regeneration of the adjoining areas.”

Because the area along the river developed over time without a cohesive design plan, it appears fragmented, Kang said. “The greatest design challenge was how to connect such a large span of fragmented waterfront together into a cohesive whole.”

That challenge is compounded because the water treatment plants and military facilities are not accessible to the public. The project has also been divided into 11 parcels, each with its own designer and developer. 

Another aerial view of the waterfront along the Yangtze River in Nanjing, China

The site, which includes culturally and historically significant
attractions, will include extensive new promenades, gathering
spaces, and dynamic street designs to make the area more
cohesive and inviting to tourists. © Nanjing City Construction
Committee and Nanjing City Construction Bureau

To connect the various areas within the project, the design team found inspiration in Nanjing’s storied history of supplying intricate silk brocade for China’s royal family and imperial court. The elaborate silk weaves, some including strands of gold and silver, are still produced on wooden weaving machines at the rate of just 30 sq cm per day.

“Nanjing brocade is a great embodiment of the Nanjing silk industry. The public spaces, buildings, landmarks, and vegetation [in the project] are linked together in a green riverside [that] stretches and weaves along the Yangtze River like a colorful brocade,” Kang said.

During the youth games, the site will likely be a popular destination for tourists who will be drawn to its historical and cultural attractions. The Yangtze, the longest river in Asia, plays a vital role in Nanjing as a water supply, transportation source, and recreation area. Legend has it that Zen Buddhism figure Bodhidharma crossed the river at the site using only a reed leaf. The Longjiang Shipyard, which dates to the Ming Dynasty, features a museum that includes a replica of a Ming Dynasty treasure ship.

“All the historical attractions are important in Chinese culture and famous to Chinese citizens,” Kang said. “To fully realize their potential and celebrate their significance, the sites of interest will be better integrated into the wider waterfront pedestrian network by improving access and promoting a tourist trail between them. Additional facilities for visitors will also be provided and new attractions will be developed alongside them, creating a stronger critical mass to attract more tourists.”

“Consistency will be created with a coherent public [space] of high-quality promenades, gathering spaces, and active streets,” Kang said. “These spaces will incorporate a unified signage language [and] similar paving patterns, and include public art to unite all sections and create a continuous waterfront experience. A six meter wide cycle route will tie the whole riverfront together and attract a variety of events and activities.”

Nanjing leaders want to leverage the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games as a catalyst for the regeneration of the old city area near the project. The games are an international multisport event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. As many as 3,530 athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 will compete in 30 sports.

“Atkins’s design guidelines and the master plan provide an opportunity for a coordinated approach to create a continuous greenway system along the whole waterfront,” Kang said. “The master plan will link the district where the Youth Olympic Games will be taking place in 2014 with all existing open spaces along the river. Connecting all sections together and proposing the development of an active and public water edge ties in the riverfront to the wider city.”


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