Designing the heart of Qianhai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 February, 2015, 6:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 1:30pm

Imagine a long stretch of land with tall buildings lined along two sides. Two towers – connected through a canopy – front the two rows of buildings, acting as a gateway to the stretch that ends in a promenade. Welcome to One Excellence in Qianhai’s Central Business Centre, now under construction.

It was before Qianhai wasn’t making headlines that TFP Farrells, which is designing a part of the centre, had spotted the then untouched plot at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. The international architecture studio is now shaping the prime area in the experimental zone for China’s financial reforms.

According to TFP Farrells’ director Stefan Krummeck, the special economic zone, which stretches over 15 square kilometres in Shenzhen’s west coast, is being designed to have little resemblance to Hong Kong or cities on the mainland. In Qianhai, people will have priority over cars.

“Usually in China you just have vast streets and huge pavements and you can’t even cross the street. That’s not human scale. I think Qianhai could become a model,” Krummeck said.

In his opinion, Qianhai “is interesting, because it’s dense, but it is divided into small lots and streets, so you still have that urban character”.

Qianhai’s density will be similar to Kowloon, but with a distinctive atmosphere. “Very often when we talk about towers, we end up sterilizing the city or sterilizing the groundscape. It can become a very harsh environment,” he said, citing Hong Kong as an example.

“Here it works, because people are focused on their professional life and their main aspiration is efficiency,” Krummeck said. However, he noted, there’s little doubt that the city’s architecture has suffered as a result, and other aspects of life, such as style, expression, and community, have been forgotten.

Qianhai – an hour’s drive from Hong Kong – is meant to offer a different living environment. “There’s a master plan, which is trying to do things a little bit differently … more conscious, more ordered and more functional, but still achieving similar densities,” Krummeck said.

I think the city is there for the people and the people are in the streets. I don’t think it is right to push people up and down. That’s what happens in Hong Kong, where the priority is given to cars
Stefan Krummeck, director, TFP Farrells

According to Qianhai’s master plan, there are three main areas: Guiwan, or the central business centre; Qianwan, reserved for IT and cultural activities; and Mawan, a bounded port area. These three areas are divided into smaller quarters.

Krummeck said the integration of the city’s development with transport is one of the most positive aspects of Qianhai’s master plan. “What happens often is when a city grows you build more and more buildings, and you attract more people, and only afterwards you think ‘how do these people get around?’”

Qianhai is quite the opposite. It has a subway even before the city has really been developed. “That means the metro stations became catalysts for development rather than just serving the community.”

TFP Farrel’s designing team also aims to create a friendly pedestrian environment.

“I think the city is there for the people and the people are in the streets. I don’t think it is right to push people up and down. That’s what happens in Hong Kong, where the priority is given to cars.”

In Qianhai, traffic will flow in the edges whereas the central area, between the towers, which goes all the way out to the promenade, will be pedestrian. According to Krummeck, there will be playgrounds, trees, restaurants and open-air spaces on the ground level.

TFP Farrells has designed several projects in mainland China, including the Guangzhou South Railway Station and the KK100 tower in Shenzhen. It has also developed strategies for London and other European cities.

The first phase of the One Excellence – which belongs to Shenzhen developer Excellence Group – comprises six buildings, including offices, residences, clubhouse facilities, retail space, government offices, green space and public amenities.

At the moment, said Krummeck, the first two office towers – called One Qianhai – are 24 storeys above the ground. The 178-metre-high twin towers, which share a canopy, are designed to be gateway to Qianhai.

“The first thing we were trying to do was to configure the towers, so for each tower you get nice aspects and from each tower you can see the sea and the green areas,” said Krummeck.

Although each building is meant to have its own identity, there’s a common language unifying them. From an aesthetics point of view, the project has a marine-driven character. The river and the coast-side were a wellspring from which architects draw inspiration. “We are talking about towers with round corners, softer materials, some timber, lighter colours, and this connection to the sea.”

The architect said there is an attempt to combine style and efficiency. “There are commercial buildings, residential ones, and also a big retail component, so the towers have to be efficient,” he noted. “But while staying efficient, we still want to craft these towers to create iconic buildings.

“Not iconic for the sake of being iconic, but iconic for creating a sense of neighbourhood, a sense of identity.”