A High Line for China: greenway in Qianhai, new Shenzhen CBD, to create an integrated corridor of high-end city life

Global architecture firm Hassell’s three-level platform, dubbed the Silk Road Corridor, will connect high-end offices, hotels and civic institutions in new city near Hong Kong, and create a colourful and vibrant backdrop for the area

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 8:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 3:53pm

When global architecture firm Hassell won a competition to design a 1.6km (1-mile) green corridor in Qianhai, a new financial district in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, it was a rare chance to shape the development of a city from the ground up. 

“Qianhai is going to be one of the largest CBDs in China when it is all built up – and one of the largest in the world,” says Dennis Ho, principal of Hassell’s Hong Kong office. “It’s a very important location.”

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The space – dubbed the Silk Road Corridor in honour of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative” to link economies into a China-centred trading network – sits at the centre of one of Shenzhen’s most ambitious development projects to date. 

Spanning 15 square kilometres (5.8 square miles) of newly reclaimed land on the western edge of the city where the Pearl River meets the sea, Qianhai is slated to become a cluster of high-end offices, hotels, apartments and civic institutions when its development is completed around 2020. 

In many ways, it is simply a larger and glitzier version of something that is happening all over China, as cities big and small rush to build prestigious new business districts on previously rural land. For Ho and his design team, that was a challenge as much as it was an opportunity. 

“We feel it lacks an identity,” he says. “It’s a large, mixed-use CBD and they have good public transportation, but everything exists on paper.”

The team’s response was to envision the Silk Road Corridor not only as a green space but as a seam that holds together the surrounding urban fabric. Consisting of three levels – underground, surface and above ground – all would come together to form an elevated pedestrian promenade that connects to many of the surrounding buildings. 

“It’s multilayered and multidimensional,” Ho says. He compares it to the High Line in New York – a disused elevated railway that was turned into an aerial park lined by restaurants, cafes and amphitheatres – and Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, an old waterway given a new lease of life as a public recreation space. “They all have slightly different personalities,” he says.

This is an opportunity to create something very colourful and vibrant – a place that is fun to be in
Dennis Ho

Qianhai’s elevated platform will contain cycle tracks, plazas and outdoor cafes, and will serve as the main entrance to the buildings that run along it. 

“It’s a piece of a network, not a stand-alone bridge that connects a few buildings together,” Ho says. “What we try to do is design the bridges so they link to the buildings. It’s all integrated.” 

Ho says that seven or eight cultural buildings will be built along the corridor, with Hassell appointed to design the first three. 

“There may be a school in one of the buildings, a Chinese art museum, artists’ studios,” he says. “The cultural buildings have access to an outdoor sculptural area, and we placed cafes in front of the entrances to the office buildings. In between we have different types of functions. We have all kinds of things going on.”

He also wants the bridge to serve as a counterpoint to the glass, concrete and metal aesthetic that pervades Shenzhen, a city that has grown from a lightly populated agricultural area into a metropolis of 12 million people since it was declared a Special Economic Zone in 1981. 

“We didn’t want just another concrete bridge,” Ho says, explaining that the platform’s structure will be made of laminated wood, with other elements made of bamboo. 

Although the platform is the star of the show, Ho says his team has not neglected the ground level. “We want people to move up and down, not just stay on the bridge,” he says. “The ground level is very green, relaxed and tranquil, whereas the bridge is more active.”

There will be a waterfall that spills down from the platform into a ground-level park. “The bridge acts as a viewing platform for people to enjoy the water feature and where people can enjoy special events,” Ho says. 

Different activity zones on the ground will be distinguished by colour-coded paving materials. “The ground level has these giant hexagonal tiles in different colours, kind of like a pixelated map,” Ho says. 

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Work has yet to begin on the corridor, and the final design is subject to change depending on the whims of the developer, China Merchants Group, a state-owned enterprise that controls much of the waterfront land in western Shenzhen. But Ho is optimistic that things will turn out according to plan.

“There are a lot of new cities and new districts being built in China,” he says. “This is an opportunity to create something very colourful and vibrant – a place that is fun to be in.”