17 July 2017
Sustainable by Design
Conceived as an industrial city, Shenzhen is now revamping its design as it transitions into a high-tech urban area. Hong Kong-based design consultancy Avoid Obvious Architects (AOA) is helping with the transformation after winning a contract to redesign the highways around Shenzhen’s Bao’an District, which is also being upgraded to a smart city.
“Shenzhen was originally planned in such a way that the highway is designed to facilitate trucks entering and exiting warehouses,” explained Vicky Chan, AOA Design Director.
“However, the old industrial areas have turned into new commercial zones, and 3D printer-assembling companies and companies providing related services have moved into the area. Therefore, there’s a need to reimagine the area as a smart city for living and work. Because of this, the Shenzhen Municipal Government has been regularly issuing new tender notices for mega-projects, creating countless business opportunities,” said Mr Chan.
For the project, AOA teamed up with TETRA Architects & Planners Ltd, whom it met at SmartHK, Jinan in 2015. The partnership came up with a winning bid to redevelop the 30-kilometre G107 Highway in Bao’an District into an “organic highway” and transform Bao’an into a carbon neutral city by 2045, returning a green area back to its 1990s level, by 2050.The Hong Kong joint venture beat competition from six other global design firms, including those from the Netherlands, Germany and Japan.
With over 20 years’ experience in architecture and urban planning, AOA focuses on designing green buildings and sustainable cities. With an emphasis on “holistic architecture” by combining art and science, the award-winning firm says its design process identifies ways to add value to cities and investment.
“Although Avoid Obvious is a young company with a team of 15 people aged under 40 on average – while TETRA Architects & Planners is more experienced and just a little older than us – the Shenzhen Municipal Government was happy to partner with new companies and young designers who can offer an international perspective,” said Mr Chan.
“In fact, many mainland municipal governments want international team participation in their construction projects. As Hong Kong has been a platform for gathering overseas talent, many international teams are assembled in Hong Kong. This is the case for AOD partners. Having an international lifestyle is a strength of Hong Kong,” he added.
Under the design principle, whereby the design works with nature rather than against it, the project’s core mission is to strengthen the human-city connection. “The Bao’an District Highway is designed like other Chinese mainland cities with 12 lanes, a symbol of economic success, but this design splits the city into the East and West sides,” said Mr Chan.
“The new design changes the highway into a closed tunnel with eight lanes, where above, the tunnel’s two winding walkways would allow pedestrians to flow through the city. There are a number of intersections on the walkways where each intersection might feature bicycle-rental facilities.” The project also envisions a first-ever drone highway, along with rooftop buildings that come with drone landing areas to replace parking for large trucks.
The partnership between Avoid Obvious and TETRA came about through their participation in the HKTDC’s SmartHK event. “We both joined the fair and talked a lot about the mission to go green,” said Mr Chan. “TETRA knows a lot about Chinese mainland regulations and is adept at planning, while we are more proficient in designing, so we partnered up and formed a joint venture to bid for the Bao’an District project.”
Mr Chan said it was also at SmartHK where he met a Shandong government official, who liked AOA's innovative and sustainable ideas. The meeting led to a subsequent visit to its Hong Kong office by Shandong officials to learn more about the firm’s design ideas and operations.
The Bao'an District project has won two prestigious international architectural awards in 2016, the Rethinking the Future Sustainability Award in India and the London Creative Award. “The transformation of a district-based project into an internationally recognised future city plan allows us to expand our network,” said Mr Chan. “This was a huge influence we did not expect.”