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LILA 2023 Special Mention in Public Landscapes


The jury recognized the masterful dialogue between the old and new, the more restrained approach to the redesign of ‘urban villages’ in dense Chinese city centres. Wanggang Park is a social space that is, above all, generous to its users and respectful of traditional elements from the rich Chinese culture. Several concrete elements of the existing structures were rearranged to reference ancient calligraphic elements. The abundance of features for sitting and covering provides shelter in less favourable weather conditions. Wanggang Park is, considering its historical milieu, a remarkable social space well equipped for transgenerational use.

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A Timeless Community Park Bringing together Young and Old

Wangnan Park is a pilot urban rejuvenation project of Baiyun District located in the north of Guangzhou city. The new pocket park and square address the pressing issue of public space renewal in the ‘urban villages’ of Chinese cities. The project aims to maximize the urban identity by minimal urban intervention. It preserves and extends the existing cultural square and transforms it into a new meeting place for the community.

China’s rapid urban growth and city expansion created a new phenomenon in Chinese cities: ‘urban villages.’ Villages and small townships – originally dispersed in the outskirts of the city center – became a part of the larger city proper. While the city grew around them, the villages themselves largely remained unchanged. They became enclaves in the urban fabric surrounded by new urban development areas and infrastructure networks connecting the former periphery with the city center and adjacent districts.

It is exactly this patchwork of new urban development areas and former villages which defines the periphery of Chinese cities in many parts of the country today. Baiyun district in the north of Guangzhou is an example of this new patchwork city and Wanggang is the largest and most well-known village.

The history of Wanggang village originates from the famous Li family. Their descendants still form a prominent group in the village, next to a rising population of young couples and families who are newcomers to the village. While the older generation of villagers carries on the heritage and characteristic culture of the original village, the new generation of residents is less connected to the origin of the place and has different expectations on public urban spaces.

With the limited public space available in the densely populated village, the challenge to unite and heal these conflicting interests and demands on public space became paramount in the design. It aims to bring the community together and to strengthen the identity of place. Public participation, open forums, and workshops became the cornerstone of the success of the project. Right from the start, the project initiated a vivid dialogue within the village community, as it still happens today when neighbors unite and enjoy the new outdoor spaces at Wangnan Square and Park.

Three steps towards a new community place for all.

1. Co-governance and co-building – listening and collaborating with local residents and stakeholders

More than anything, the transformation of the former ancestral hall square to the new Wangnan Park is a process of dialogue and extensive consultations with the neighboring community and stakeholders. Various on-site visits, interviews, questionnaires, and local workshops guided the design process throughout all project stages. As a first step, residents could share their expectations on public open spaces in their neighborhood. Initial models were issued, discussed at neighborhood forums, adapted, and revised. The implications of the new design were illustrated and tested with local stakeholders on-site. Tree protection was closely monitored by the neighborhood committee, and not one tree was lost or damaged during the refurbishment of the square. Divergent expectations when they arose were united by design in one plan shared by all.

2. Unearthing heritage and local identity – unity of conservation and present public space demands

During the early Ming Dynasty, the Li family moved to Wanggang village and subsequently defined the history of Wanggang in the following centuries. The inscription stone at the entrance of the ancestral hall, among others, praises the great Qing Dynasty calligrapher Zhanzhi Li, a descendant of the Li family. His work became the source of inspiration for the detail design of the shaded walkway around the central pond. The design team deconstructed the famous calligraphy piece of Zhanzhi, identifying the singular brushstroke components and re-assembling them into structural elements of the walkway and pavilion. Furthermore, the arches and brickworks of the ancestral hall were decomposed and incorporated in the pillar design of the pavilion. The pavilion itself takes on a modernist and minimal shape. It references local culture through structural details and the rhythm of opening and enclosure as in classic Chinese garden pergolas.

3. Co-living and co-maintenance – a timeless community space for all

Today, Wangnan Park has become an urban living room for the neighborhood. Elderly, families, and young residents mingle in the shade of the trees and the walkway to relax and chat or to exercise and play. Weekend markets are held here, and festivals and celebrations take place on special occasions. The small northern extension of the square serves as a most welcome place for informal sports and play activities. Challenged in the past by litter and vandalism, the new park today shines every day. It has become the new centerpiece of the neighborhood which everyone cares about and maintains.

Project Data

Landscape architecture: S.P.I Design

Project Location: Baiyun District, Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, China

Design year: 2020

Year Built: 2021

One thought on "Guangzhou Wanggang Park by S.P.I Design"

  1. JP Design says:

    very good design . with relatively low budget, to provide a common space for teenages and elders.

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