A highway transformed into a shared surface green promenade | WallaceLiu

Release Time: September 26, 2019

Design Company: WallaceLiu (London)
Location: Chongqing, China
Client: PKU Resource Chongqing office (北大资源重庆公司)
Program: Public park and street
Completion: 2018
Design team: Jee Liu, Jamie Wallace, Manshu Cui
Photography: WallaceLiu, Etienne Clement


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WallaceLiu:London based design studio WallaceLiu have re-imagined a 20m wide, 1km long highway in the South Western Chinese city of Chongqing as a shared surface‘livable street’ by replacing the delineation and monolithic character of the highway with the language and scale of a public space. The site represents the typical periphery of a modern Chinese city that has changed its land use as the city expands. The highway, Yannan Avenue, along which 7 large plots of land were purchased by the state-owned developer PKU Resource (北大资源), will become a route through nearly 20,000msq of street retail and high-density residential compounds and adjacent to existing low-income social housing.

WallaceLiu won the project in 2014 through a competition with an initial idea that certain safety issues created by pinch points in the street could be used to argue that the highway width in its entirety could be reduced to two lanes. This however raised concern in the local planning and transport department and eventually, with the support of the client, we managed to secure support for a shared surface design where we paved over the highway instead. The shared surface, as a typology of public space, aims to remove the dominance of vehicles. It provides a blurred boundary between the actual road and its surrounding parks, plaza, compounds and other urban facilities. We imagined the entire highway to be transformed into a walkable and playful place.

The resolution of the idea was made through the paving of the highway with a new granite surface, the repaving of pedestrian areas with a similar material, the removal of pedestrian barriers and most signage including road markings and the introduction of a new type of kerbstone that was flush with highway and pavement. Through careful design of the new street levels we were able to retain the existing sub-base and drainage therefore significantly reducing the cost of the new work. Because we could not reduce the width of the carriageway we had to engage with its scale through design to remove its visual dominance. We did this by enlarging the new landscape elements such as public benches and planters, the main path through the park and the width of pocket squares to radically alter the visual proportion and impression of the overall place as one walks down the street.

The middle section of the street is the most significant part of the change where the existing street park on one side adopted an entire new geometry of paths whilst keeping existing mature trees. An informal and unfenced public playground was created at the southern end of the park by digging into the landscape to create walls and slopes for climbing, sliding and imaginative games. A set of large planters and seating was placed opposite the park creating a mirrored green space in a consistent language, therefore locating the highway at the centre of a green promenade.

The existing gingko trees were to be become part of the open park and offer shade alongside newly added mature trees to encourage people use the street in the extreme hot summer of Chongqing. We also designed a series of coloured canopies to help lift the generally grey tone of surrounding towers, framing and filtering views at significant stopping places in the street. They are made with hanging perspex panels mimicking coloured clouds over a pebble-grey coated steel structure to cast complex and vivid shadows on the ground. Other key design elements include a set of off-site manufactured steel-timber furniture. This seating is designed to form a ‘wave’ of sit-able and climbable decks that can be used for large or small gatherings and that encourage children to play on them. They also act as new psychological signals for traffic to slow down as they pass by. Smaller seats are mostly clustered around the park for calmer individual use.

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