Located in Bao’an District, Shenzhen, Qiaotou Village was named after the peripheral dense river network in the late Northern Song Dynasty. In the past decades, it has evolved from a “land of fish and rice” typical of traditional natural villages in the Pearl River Delta, to a prosperous industrial village focusing on “processing with supplied materials, processing with supplied samples, assembling with supplied parts, and compensation trade” thanks to China’s reform and opening up policy, and then a “urban village” as a result of the rapid urbanization sweeping the country. The village, with dissected historical context and monotonous space, became homogeneous with others nearby. Its evolution epitomizes Shenzhen’s opening-up, reform and rapid urbanization and offers a typical example of generic city.
Qiaotou Village was derived from Aojing Canal that once served as the boundary between water and land. Along with the development of various other transportation infrastructures, the canal was covered and became a culvert as a “once-and-for-all” solution. The village buildings, built in different periods with distinctive architectural features of the times, have disappeared or diminished into the rapidly generalized urban fabrics. Booming industries and migrant population have broken the tranquility and balance of the farming community. Heavy traffic and chaotic public spaces made the residential community no longer a safe environment for the elderly and children to conduct their daily activities.
The public landscape, 210 meters long and 16 meters wide, is the only link between the main exhibition area in the factory buildings and the exhibition area of Qiaotou Village. The site used to be part of the Aojing Canal, which flowed from under the dam of Lixin Reservoir through Qiaotou Village into the Pearl River estuary. The once open natural canal was covered due to odor and years of industrial pollution. The construction had been completed awaiting marble pavement when NODE got involved.
Of all the design possibilities, culvert could be among the most straightforward yet least thoughtful solutions. It ignores the local geographic and historical context, leaving homogeneous village spaces that can hardly distinguish themselves from those around. How could we recall the memories about the canal once running on the terrain and trace back its original identity? Through reflection on and redesign of the existing site, we aimed to explore its possibilities from the perspectives of landscape architecture and sociology.
Qiaotou Village, as its name suggests, used to have a well-developed network of water transportation. Water was also an integral element for the daily farming life then. Unfortunately, rapid urbanization has wiped out the natural scene and farming culture here. Under the theme of UABB, we explored the experimental and communal nature of the design, endeavoring to extend the engineering infrastructures into communal landscape with some social significance. Our first idea was to reopen the canal and resume the once open natural landscape for the community. After this was denied, we proposed to implant a new artificial “canal” on the original site. This new “canal”, as a “memories on the terrain”, was expected to bring back the unique memories about this place and rustic natural landscape of the village.
Our concept of “dry (KU) landscape” continues the features of the original canal and farming tradition. The long and narrow site appear like a static river and terrain. The undulating landscape is shaped by ups, downs and squeezes underneath the terrain. The surges show signs of life through the gaps torn open. The regrown crops and human activities of unforeseen future suggest that the people and memories passing away are now returning in another form.
We worked out the intent spatial image of the landscape through paper folding. After we compared various paper-folded models, one was finalized and 3D-scanned. Given pressing schedule and construction difficulties, the control points were reduced from previous 20,000 points to 500 horizontal ones for a unit sized 1.5m x 1m with the height defined as the same in 3D scanning. With efficient parameter-based conversion, the undulating forms were turned into quantifiable, operable and implementable scheme.
As every control point had its own unique three-dimensional coordinate, the site construction became very challenging. Thanks to the on-site setting-out and adjustments, as well as rounds of discussions with the construction contractor on the implementation plan of the steel structure and finish materials, the project was eventually completed within two months as scheduled.
We experimented with various materials to represent the traces once on the terrain: brushed cement for the undulating and folded triangular surface and white sculpture cement for the wading area. The seemingly lifeless hard industrial cement of the triangular surface specially designed on the white cement ground, when it rains, would form safe ponding areas, reminding people of the canal when they wade across or paddle with the water. The earth-covering surface was “cut” open to grow “analogous crops” like miscanthus sinensis, muhlenbergia capillaris, dwarf pampasgrass, white and pink kales, bringing back a long-lost agricultural scene decades ago and creating a rustic landscape within the bustling urban setting. These heterogeneous materials were mixed to freely unfold on the surface of the 210-meter-long box culvert, simulating the terrain with natural river and the earthscape in the farming era. The folded and undulating “solidified water” provided unique views and experience to roamers and represented a totally different approach to create cityscape.
Established in 2004, NODE Architecture& Urbanism is a leading boutique architectural practice in the Pearl River Delta region. Founded and led by Principal Architect, Doreen Heng LIU, NODE currently has about 20 architects and designers working on architectural projects across the country.
NODE argues for participation and inclusion of local interests as well as those from external sources. It focuses on the basics of architecture, attempting to maintain a critical position under the pressure of tremendous speed, quantity and size. NODE’s work makes a departure from the essential issues of building – site, program, space, materials and construction– and ventures into complexities of urbanism, nature, landscape, tradition and culture. With such considerations in mind, NODE consistently seeks cross-disciplinary collaborations. Besides architecture, NODE’s work also covers a range of projects from scale of furniture and lighting features to urban design.