Design Land Collaborative (DLC)

China /

More than half of China’s population of 1.4 billion people now lives in cities, up 20 % from the start of China’s economic reforms in the late 1970s. The movement of hundreds of millions of people has brought a boom in real estate prices and a demand for new thinking in landscape urbanism among property owners, developers and the Chinese public.

For generations, people in China lived in homes, villages and towns they built for themselves using local materials and following local traditions. Today the ‘Great Urbanization’ has changed that with crowded cities suffering from environmental and communal degradation. Ideas come less from people who live in our cities and more from government officials, marketing departments of real estate developers and the construction materials industry. As a result cities are becoming designed and built ‘for us, not by us’ with a ‘promise of happiness’ on sale at flashy show-flat sales offices in new super-block apartment complexes. As the metropolis continues to evolve, its inhabitants do not always get what is needed but rather what developers and marketing specialists think they want.

We deserve better. We should live in cities where every block is a city within a city. Where people live, work and play, and where the traditional urban fabric of a human-scaled-tree-lined boulevard is dominated by social interaction found in open air shopping streets that deliver what we need most: social and cultural inclusiveness.

By understanding these challenges, we at Design Land Collaborative devote our energy towards design solutions that help generate a positive sense of place that encourage a sense of community, recreation and human interaction. A fair amount of our time is spent enlightening our clients about the layers needed to reach their goals beginning with a healthy client/consultant relationship. We are only as good as our clients. Without our client’s support from early design vision through the quality-control challenges during construction, a project can easily fail.

We understand that at times good urban design need not be subordinate to the demands of expedient infrastructure and traffic management. Urban design should harmoniously evoke a sense of discovery and promote healthy communities, quality of life, curiosity and education within everyday experiences at the heart of an evolving metropolis. We celebrate cities and their complexities, contradictions and constraints and promote their continued evolution.

We are not preservationists so much as we are futurists. Our firm’s work is grounded in craft and detail inspired by the days when people of China lived in homes, villages, and towns they built for themselves using local materials and following local traditions. We are inspired by the practice of landscape architecture as a natural balanced, poetic and whimsical expression of urban life. We carefully consider the distinguishing spatial characteristics of a site, its connections to surrounding areas, the natural environment, cultural settings and its history. Our work is less concerned with creating something iconic or ‘trendy’, but strives instead towards creating a timeless language based on contemporary patterns of cultural behavior as a catalyst for human interaction, recreation and community.

People live in cities to be in close contact with other people. They want a high quality environment in which to maximize that contact. They want to walk out of their home onto a street teeming with life and to identify with a place that has both visual and visceral beauty, security, privacy and tranquility. Most of all, people in cities want to be around people who love people and who want to use the same things that other people use to enjoy a better life. We attempt within our work to demonstrate what we believe modern metropolitan China can be: pedestrian streets full of quirks and life defined by the aesthetics of our time and place.

Projects here at DLC are divided into 7 categories: Parks, Xintiandi, Mix-use Commercial, Urban, Hospitality, Campus and Residential as shown in the photos below.


Parks: Green Escapes

Parks play an increasingly important role in China’s fast growing urban population. It is understood that green spaces in a city bring positive social benefits and help increase urban biodiversity. City parks contribute to the reduction of carbon and urban heat island effect, improve air quality, sound damping, stormwater attenuation and encourage wildlife. Easy access for urbanites into parks allows an escape solace from the city environment as a positive quality of urban life.

As designers, we question what people want from their urban setting; what are the lifestyles that people are seeking within a hustling and sometimes chaotic environment? Through research, careful analysis, and structured thinking, we approach park design through a framework of layers that emphasize the importance of quality of life, recreation and entertainment, health and wellness, beauty and aesthetics, social activities and congregation and at times urban agriculture. Green space, as part of the urban experience, must be highly functional in a dynamic, inhabitable and sustainable manner in order to be beneficial to the community and its urban environment.

DLC Park commissions are within city centers include: Redevelopment of Taipingqiao Park (in central Shanghai), Riverside Park (on Shanghai’s Huangpu River celebrating Lujiazui’s industrial past and its financial future), Donghu Park (within the historical heart of Shanghai’s former French Concession), Dishui Lake Park (as part of the free trade zone of Lin Gang Shanghai) and Disney’s Wishing Star Lake Park (located in the resort/recreation zone of Pudong Shanghai).



Xintiandi: Choosing Adaptive Re-use over Strict Historic Preservation

When we look at the most beautiful neighborhoods in the cities, towns and villages of the world, we are always impressed by the feeling that they are somehow organic in nature. Everything seems to fit together, defined by the narrow streets, alleys, courtyards and gardens. It’s a sensation that cannot be conveyed by the architecture or style of a single building.

For decades, there has been an imbalance between urban redevelopment and historic preservation in China. Xintiandi in Shanghai has changed that. By converting old Shikumen Lilong houses into a multifunctional dining, retail and entertainment center, the popularity and success of Xintiandi has been celebrated by the public, and has influenced the way real estate developers and government officials view old neighborhoods and buildings. The project launched China’s movement towards inner-city preservation.

Inspired by people who built their homes as a response to local climate and geography, the design team of the Tiandi projects chooses adaptive re-use over strict historic preservation. Creating a future from the past meant adapting the townhouses, lanes, courtyards and gardens to meet the demands of a contemporary Chinese society.

DLC ‘Tiandi’ Projects include: Foshan Lingnan Tiandi (Winner of the 2019 ULI International Award for Excellence; reconstituted mid-19th century Lingnan Architecture), Chongqing Tiandi (hanging gardens of a hillside Sichuan Village), Hongqiao Tiandi HUB (an ‘Aerotropolis’ near Hongqiao International Airport), Xihu Tiandi (on the banks of the UNESCO World Heritage West Lake of Hangzhou) and Pan Long Tiandi (a revitalized water town near Shanghai).



Mix-Use Commercial: Memorable Spontaneity

People spend the majority of their lives in one of three places. The first is the home, the second is the workplace and the third is any other social space including shopping and spending. Rising incomes in China are creating an enormous new class of consumers whose working population is larger than those of the US and Europe combined. It has become clear as more Chinese consumers gain purchasing power that total environmental control caused by the separation of indoors and outdoors is creating a mood for a more humane and less passive form of shopping and dining experience.

Unfortunately, in most extraordinary cites of the world, the mega-mall has become a too familiar urban form. As a consequence, a mall’s enclosed setting becomes separated from the urban environment, draining activity and economic vitality from the street and threatens to destroy the scale and integrity of the urban fabric. Blending the relationship of interior and exterior encourages social interaction found in open air shopping streets and helps encourage movement through space as a way of creating space and events that make it memorable and deliver what we need most: social and cultural inclusiveness.

DLC Large scale mixed-use commercial developments include: Jing An Kerry Center, Shanghai (a landmark mixed-use development blending the neighbourhood’s historic character with the ingenuity of modern Shanghai), China Fortune Tiandi, Shanghai (‘built’ topographical setting showcases how nature and architecture blend), Kerry Centre, Hangzhou (with lush water gardens and courtyards) and Kerry Parkside, Shanghai (next to the Shanghai International Expo and located across from Century Park).



Urban: City Life

We are attracted to the best of public spaces, not because we have to go there, but because we want to be there. A great space is one that is representative of the city with its streets, plazas and squares embodying the form and comfort of urban communities. They are settings for activity that bring people together to react and interact to what the built environment has to offer and are places for escape, romance, dreaming, acting and observing.

Unfortunately, the booming economy of China and the hurried pace of development continue to provide members of the architectural profession with clients willing, at times, to underwrite a relentless pursuit of idiosyncratic and often iconoclastic “originality.” Attempts to define places with a derivation of an image based purely on stylistic trends as a ‘substitution of life with an abstraction of life references’ tend to make a project mediocre, often lacking human scale.

Through research and careful analysis, we as designers approach urban design through a framework that emphasizes the importance that community spaces are as joyful as they are utilitarian. Communal space should not only strive for a balance between solid and void in the urban fabric, but they must also be highly functional and benefit communities and the environment in a dynamic, inhabitable and sustainable manner.

DLC Urban Design projects include: Beijing Qian Men Avenue (the former Emperor’s walk; refurbishment of the central axis of Beijing), Shanghai Bund Waterfront (historic Huangpu River Bund), Jiefang Bei CBD (People’s Liberation Monument, Chongqing), Xujiahui Cathedral Plaza (1906 Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Church) and Taipingqiao Magnolia Tower (under construction, Shanghai).



Hospitality: New can be as Authentic as Old

There have been great changes in the hospitality and tourism industry in China driven by the steady growth of GDP, increasing middle-class population, lifestyle changes, and the infrastructure of speed trains, airports, highways and seaports linking the rapid development of many mega cities. With much more money in their pockets, the Chinese have spent more than 60 % of their disposable income on food and travel. Hospitality and tourism is booming.

The hospitality industry in China is in the middle of a transformation. Whether traveling to chaotic urban environments or seeking ‘slow lifestyle’ rural experiences, travelers now pursue unique environments that reflect the history, local culture and geography of a place. Hotels and resorts should be active, social, and plugged into the local ethos with landscape crafted from natural materials: wood and stone, new or old, a texture that people can touch and feel. From conception to execution, and always responding to local climate and geography, our team creates timeless designs to meet the practical trends of a traveling Chinese nation.

DLC Hospitality projects include: Langham & Andaz Hotels Xintiandi, Shanghai (slightly offbeat, boutique inner-city hotel experience), Naked Stables/Castle, Moganshan (using traditional construction techniques in the rolling hills of Moganshan) Marco Polo Hotel, Foshan (with indigenous tropical flora and playful water features), Sangha Resort, Yangcheng Lake Suzhou (a crescent-shaped swimming pool formed to fit a natural cove of Yangcheng Lake) and Ruijin Intercontinental Hotel, Shanghai (Shanghai’s glamorous early 20th-century heritage in an exclusive garden setting).



Campus: Environment as a Third Teacher

China has the world’s largest number of people receiving a formal education. In most populated areas, elementary school enrollment has reached 99.5 % and nine-year compulsory education over 95% with illiteracy in the young and middle-aged now less than 4 %. The proportion of the overall budget allocated to investment in education continues to increase by over one percentage annually since 1998. The more a student’s imagination is challenged, the more invested they become in the learning process. Outdoor classroom environments from kindergarten through university are becoming a central ‘learning by doing’ tool after understanding that most activities that can be done indoors can be done outdoors.

We consider the outdoor classroom a living laboratory. A beautiful tree can become a source of inspiration in art class, sustainable storm water systems the basis for a science lesson and a series of boulders the starting point for a math problem. The outdoor curriculum changes with children’s evolving needs and interests: from dynamic spaces of color, light, scale, interconnectivity and an element of surprise among young children to a slightly less saturated setting of color and graphic quality when developing one’s mind and craft in university spaces.

DLC Campus projects include: ShanghaiTech University, Shanghai (focus on science and technology), Whittle School & Studios, Suzhou (a 3rd campus of the ‘first global school’), The Little Bridge, Shanghai (a subject-based classroom approach), Wuhan WuChang School (emphasis on outdoor education) and Renmin University Avenues International, Beijing (humanities & social sciences research-oriented international university).



Residential: We Live in Cities and They Live in Us

There was very little housing added to the Chinese market between 1949 and 1979, yet the population grew from 400 million to 1 billion in the same period. Subsequently, for every 1% increase in the nation’s urbanization rate, China adds some 300 to 400 million square meters of housing each year. Currently, the average urban density of Shanghai is around 3,854 inhabitants per square km.

What are the lifestyles that people who live in densely populated cities need or seek? We approach residential design understanding that even with a high adaptation and tolerance to crowding, personal space can still be achieved. It is important to distinguish between ‘density’ and ‘crowding.’ While ‘density’ is used to indicate the physical limitation of space, ‘crowding’ is the actual psychological perception of the limitation of space. The negative effects of density can be mitigated by the design and layout of space to improve quality of life. Recreation and entertainment, social activities and gathering, beauty and aesthetics and the quality of the environment are important layers considered within the design process.

DLC Residential are large mixed-use developments that include: Chongqing Tiandi Yong Jiang Cui Hu (a hillside community blend of east and west with compliments of old and new), LingNan Tiandi Donghua Xuan (with indigenous tropical flora, playful water features and tree-sheltered lanes), Sangha (on the natural edges of Suzhou’s Yangcheng Lake), Tianjin Fushun Garden (built around horse stables and polo fields), Fuzhou Vanke East & West (overlooking the banks of the Minjiang River) and Kunming 46 (celebrating Yunnan’s diverse indigenous sub-tropical flora).

Published on November 30, 2020

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