— Edge, Complexity and Informality in shaping places for 528 Art Village
What makes a charming traditional city moving forward in the global era while keeping its memories of place? I believe in the resilience of its social energy. It is what makes a city healthy and competitive, and often has little to do with the amount of wealth produced measuring with GDP. No matter how fast the city changes and renews, and how modern technologies isolate community, there are always places, old or new, that attract people and encourage face to face encounters. Public urban life shapes the soul and mind of city. Today, many efficient and generic “global cities” are criticized for having lost meaningful living experience of traditional cities that leads to a slower and social life style.
Chengdu, known for its rich history and laid-back living quality, is one of China’s most inviting and charming cities. In the core of Chengdu’s social DNA lies people’s curiosity and engagement to fresh events, as well as their valuing enjoyment of life much more than the pursuit of wealth. Envisioned by Bloomage Development Group as “International Art Village”, 528 LIVE is a new mixed use district that provides dynamic and playful ambiance for shopping, living and entertainment in suburban Chengdu where young generations will inhabit. Art will be the catalysts to draw people come to this new part of metropolis, enjoying the traditional as well as novel public social life, meeting friends and strangers, being part of the latest urban trends.
The public realm of Art Village is defined by a linear Spine Park and a core Cultural District, surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings and office towers that will house various art studios. While the conceptual narrative intends to link all curated garden and plaza rooms with a poetic “Silk Road”, the design of real places is challenged to fabricate diverse spatial experiences that surprise and delight people when they keep strolling along. More importantly, it needs a place making strategy to engage the users to stay and find interesting things to do at those linked pocket spaces. The diagram below shows the choreography of Art Village’s places within the context of this suburban new district.
Bridging a conceptual plan to desirable human experience required a close look at what create the attraction of RenChi. Over scaled and highly prescribed formality by top-down planning is often not effective in creating appealing setting for humans. During the team work process, I introduced Edge, Complexity, and Informality as guiding principles to design a place to shop, eat, meet, play and delight.
The “Edge” is an obvious principle to guide this linear park development. In Nature, edge is what provides the complex richness that attracts so many species to where ecotones meet such as the line between water and land, including the human species. Edges manifest themselves in many ways and at many scales. The Silk Road Concept at 528 features a park scale edge between pathway and playful garden rooms, a legible interface between both walking and staying leisure activities. In view of amphitheater above, Edge condition is addressed by design elements such as curvy seat walls, continuous stone curb along path and grove patio around the amphitheater space. They provide human scaled seating areas with balanced sun and shade, form a leisure zone for resting or watching the outdoor performances. The illustration below shows how the main silk path is defined into moving and staying zones with paving color change, creating area for leisure activities and temporary programs, such as pop up kiosk.
The shopping street at 528 was designed to provide raw experience of novelty. While the architecture defined a series of linked courtyards with open air atrium, landscape design intended to curate points of interest along the linear space that allow people to explore, seat and gather for events. The conceptual diagram below illustrates layers of conceptual elements extracted from Chengdu’s cultural context, establish a formal approach to basic landscape features.
At the same time, the programmatic concept illustrated in “Complexity” diagram responded directly to what activities may happen in the space in order to keep people engaged.
“Human beings have evolved to operate in particular types of environments, with optimal levels of complexity that are ultimately related to our biology. We seek out such settings with our eyes, our bodies, our hands, and our feet and in turn, the design and appearance of those settings, by affecting our bodies, tap directly into ancient circuits meant to produce feeling responses and emotions that are adaptive. Such setting tune us effectively to our surroundings, help us to maintain preferable states of arousal and alertness, and ultimately permit us to behave adaptively”.
One of the principles of bottom up design emphasizes design’s ability to break formal axis and geometry to make a way for more organic and NOT overly prescribed organization of space. As a result, the setting demonstrates greater potential to accommodate various events (permanent, temporary, seasonal), balancing many types of spatial experience (sun, shade, planting area, paving area, water and art features, social and private zones).
The openness and flexibility of nature often function much better to human’s psychology preference over many man-made geometric forms, therefore the learning from it may create an environment that is more stimulating and engaging. One of the project concepts of “silk cocoon” has introduced many large eclipse outdoor garden spaces to the spine park, ranging from 20M to 40M and larger in its long axis dimension. Such formal expression, however, could not make sense at users experiential level, until the human scaled, informal place making layer is introduced to define the ways people interact with landscape and others within the space. Instead of letting the ovals stand out as a graphic statement, a more successful approach must break and divide, letting the usage and program pattern to lead the form making as suggested by the above diagrams.
At the same time, several informal seating options are developed in the space for casual social and leisure activities to take place. Unlike the typical benches and tables, seats are sculpture –like, allowing multiple uses including picnic, chess playing and small group gathering. Seating zones in the middle of shopping street form social pods that slow people down with comfortable niches of planting, shade canopy, art installations, music and phone charging station.
Graphics Courtesy SWA Group