To preserve the cultural heritage of the largest surviving historical district in Shenzhen (China), ARCity Office has drawn on a model of ‘acupuncture therapy’ to rejuvenate a 70-kilometre stretch along the Longjin River.
Historic neighbourhoods are treasure troves of heritage and culture. Rejuvenation of Shajing Ancient Fair by ARCity as urban acupuncture illustrates the sustainable method of restoring local built, social, and economic assets.
The expeditious modernisation in Shenzhen gives rise to the abandonment of historic neighbourhoods. Shajing Ancient Fair, the largest existing ancient district in Shenzhen, China, was in a similar state of decay.
The usual practice proposes demolition of the old buildings to give way to the contemporary skyscrapers. Demolition not only destroys vernacular architecture but also obliterates folk art and cultural heritage.
A more sustainable approach is the restoration of the existing settlement. In 2019, the local government commissioned architects Yuxing Zhang and Jing Han of ARCity to explore a model of urban renewal and urban value regeneration.
Shajing Ancient Fair is a vast settlement including a thousand-year-old Southern Song architectural site, Longjin Stone Pagoda, hundreds of old houses, ancestral halls, and ancient wells flanking the banks of River Longjin.
Restoration of the entire area can prove to be extravagant. The architects rationally came up with the method of urban acupuncture making it pertinent to the new scheme of development.
They selected the most critical sites and intervened slightly to avoid the fracture of the social structure and spatial texture.
The six groups of renovation are – Landscape of Longjin River Bank, Longjin Water Pavilion, Public Stage, Ruin Garden, House of Gable Wall, and Old House Image Gallery.
The weathering heritage structures have a beauty of their own. The architects designed interesting sky bridges, pavilions, and resting platforms to view these spatial artworks formed by time and force of nature.
This gesture changes the perspective. It allows appreciation of everyday heritage. The overall design aimed to bring ancient ruins back to life, revitalise the local culture and increase employment opportunities.
With the modernisation of Shenzhen, River Longjin was gradually filled, narrowed, and polluted. Once essential for trade and transportation, this river had turned into a two-meter-wide odorous gutter by 2019.
Central to the project was the sustainable intervention to rejuvenate this ancient river. ARCity Office followed a low-cost rain and sewage diversion strategy to divide the channel into two layers.
The lower layer is sewage, and the upper is rainwater. When there is no rainwater, the upper layer can be filled by reclaiming filtered water from a nearby sewage plant.
The adjacent roads were narrowed appropriately to adjust the route into a curved line. The old iron railings were replaced with overhanging flower ponds, benches, and pavilions. Steps were constructed to allow people to play at the water’s edge.
Traditionally, Shajing was famous for Oyster Festival, Cantonese opera, and Mantis boxing martial arts. Today, these cultural activities are far from the limelight.
The architects designed public spaces to sustain the local cultural heritage. The old structures were fixed to fit a new function.
A fire station was restored into a public stage for Cantonese opera, a building ruin into a sky bridge, and a small plaza into a Mantis Boxing practice square.
Several old houses were transformed into exhibition halls with artistic creations by the locals. The ambience of the neighbourhood is stimulated by art exhibitions and cultural activities.
Restoration is a sustainable practice by its own virtue. This project takes a step forward by re-using the local building ruins. The new elements of designs were crafted from green materials as wood and bamboo.
Passive design of semi-open structures creates a comfortable thermal micro-climate. Therefore, the dependency on artificial air-conditioning and lighting is reduced for the new functions.
Here, the conversation is more than mere preservation of artifacts or extending the lifespan of buildings. It is also restoring the social and cultural networks that make up the city.
For the rejuvenation of the Shajing Ancient Fair, Yuxing Zhang and Jing Han of the ARCity Office won Holcim Foundation Award, Silver, 2020 –2021, Asia Pacific. Read more about the project on the Holcim Foundation page here.
Post sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
Novel project is innovative in one or more ways, say material use, passive design, community engagement, etc. Performance, here, might be discussed in quantitative or qualitative ways.
Temperate climates have mid-range temperatures with mild winters and summers where the average in the warmest month is higher than 10°C and the coldest does not drop below 0°C. This climate is common along the coastal regions. Traditional architecture optimises shade for comfort.
Landscape collaboration unit
Reasonable Fantasy Densign
Shenzhen Bao’an District Shajing Street Office
China Resources Land Group
Exhibition visual design