Ren Chi – Joy of Cities
What kinds of public spaces contribute the most to building memorable and attractive cities? Ren Chi – the observed life energy and vitality of places shows how people are attracted to, and love to use certain public space over the other. The term “Ren Chi” comes from one of the world’s biggest urbanizers – China. It describes the kind of space with a prominent quality of vitality and life energy. Translated from Chinese characters, means humanity or people, while means air, with an extended meaning of spirit, or life energy in Daoist philosophy.
As critical as the environmental degradation faced by vast urban transformation, the loss of joy, memory, and dignity living in urban places has evidently impact our society globally. How can we make people sustainably happy through building a stronger urban public realm, therefore achieve a socially resilient urban future?
In seeking the answer to Joy of Cities, the author drawn evidence from literatures on physiology, behavior economics and public health, examined specific criteria of achieving Ren Chi through research and design. Embracing the reality on the ground, the author has visited and reflected upon some of the most exciting yet complex urban places and their defining issues. Realized how important it is for the design professionals to understand the full process of contemporary city making, recalibrate their point of view, as well as work process toward a more open and adaptive design paradigm. To establish the intellectual framework, several related topics are investigated:
1). The Science of Happiness, and why a strong public realm contribute to a Happy City?
What matters most when it comes to human delight and life satisfaction? Despite personal preferences and complex needs of human physiology, strong and positive relationships are the foundation of happiness, and the greatest of human satisfaction lies in working and playing cooperatively with other people.
2) What are the missing components in past urbanization, and what are the critical issues that must become priority when moving into the next phase of city building?
Cultural renewal and building a forward looking life style in public realm are identified as core tasks in taking the urbanization to the next level. In the frontier of world’s urban construction, the cities will no longer an engine of only wealth production, but a place people live together with decency, pride and belonging.
3) What qualities of public space contribute to Ren Chi? And the distinct design methodology one must employ to achieve Ren Chi
Observations of popular urban places suggested a set of criteria, and an in depth review of bottom up design approach. While it’s impossible to provide one fixed formula to the creation of Ren Chi, the article proposed a process that allows innovations and various solutions to take place per contextual conditions, aiming at enhancing Ren Chi.
4) Fabricating some of the most Ren Chi places in contemporary cities – successful place making lessons for designers
In depth case study of the highly popular and dynamic urban places in Beijing, Singapore and the US interprets the defining ideas behind their lasting attraction, and designer’s role of organizing the city’s collective desire into physical forms.
RenChi Case Study –
Urban Nostalgia – Singapore Riverfront, Singapore
Situated on the beautiful Singapore River next to CBD, Clarke Quay is a well known waterfront promenade with mixed use development that has been attracting locals and tourists. Transformed from a historical river port, Clarke quay’s urban redevelopment accommodated vivid architectural heritage of 1860’s shophouses with arcade along busy Singapore River, a shaded, pedestrian scale promenade between the water and buildings with plenty of seating, porch spaces and rive views. The place promotes a distinctive tropical living life style that is authentic to the region, and an extremely attractive experience of strolling, leisure, and interacting with people.
Idea Incubator – OCT Loft, Shenzhen
Starting from converting some of the distinct industrial buildings from the 80’s, the creative park at OCT has grown significantly as an art and leisure life style neighborhood, especially popular among the young generation and knowledge workers of Shenzhen. Human scaled and tree lined pathways connect coffee shops, multi level urban housing, design studios, art galleries and exhibition warehouses that hold the Hong Kong – Shenzhen Architectural Biennale. Keeping the existing big trees and building materials palette, the landscape space renders a relaxing and intimate atmosphere and provides perfect setting for hanging out, casual meetings and exchange of ideas.
Made for Conviviality – Sanlitun Village, Beijing
Among all Beijing’s hottest and most luxurious urban life style centers, it’s not surprising to claim that Sanlitun Village has achieved a success that is far more substantial than just commercial revenue and distinct urban address. With the long term vision of its UK based developer; Sanlitun has become the culture incubator of a forward looking life style, and set a consumption trend that has never been parallel in China since 2007. Used to be a not-so-high-end neighborhood filled with noisy bars next to the embassy district, Sanlitun reinvented itself through risk-taking international brands selection, and thoughtful public space design. Amphitheater-like shape and shop-lined edges perfectly configured the village main plaza to attract and hold people, and form a legible “stage” for intense and joyful urban