Location Shenzhen, Guangdong
Client Shenzhen Planning Bureau
Scope Planning, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture
Size 15 km coastline
When the Chinese government established the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) in 1980, Shenzhen was a small frontier town of less than 30,000 people. Over the last twenty years it has grown to over seven million, reaching westward past Shenzhen Bay to the East Coast on the Pearl River and across the mountains to the West Coast on the South China Sea. The need for more buildable land has been answered by almost continual filling into a long, linear waterfront that has all but eradicated any semblance of a natural coastline. This expansion into the bay has also altered the ecology and much of the mangrove ecosystem has been lost. Separated from Hong Kong by only a river, as the south Gateway to China, Shenzhen is now the fastest growing city in the world and the need to re-connect to its historic roots on Shenzhen Bay have become paramount to the health of residents and the bay alike. SWA’s approach involved studying the history, geography, and ecology of the bay. This process resulted in the realization that key landscape features had been lost to development and landfill. Among these features were acres of mangrove, sandy beaches, rocky hills, and upland forests - key features that would have created a visual identity for this city. A concept began to be drawn from this new understanding of the historical site - interpret and re-create these features using a style that works with environmental processes but gives visual clues that the place is man made. A primary focus of the plan is the restoration of the ecosystem with solutions that improve upon what was once a thriving bay front and simultaneously enriching the lives of the citizens. In an ambitious proposal comprised of a host of amenities for the people of this internationally recognized city, encompassing recreation facilities, new communities and restoration and preservation, the designers have provided for a phased scheme that carefully considers the delicate balance between nature’s fragile environments and man’s desire and demand for access and utilization of it. The project area includes approximately 15 km, encompassing three distinctive coasts: the West coast, the Bay waterfront and the East coast. The proposed master plan seeks to unify the entire coastline into a cohesive whole. The landscape architects’ solution begins with the restoration of large areas of mangroves and the re-establishment of sea grasses and salt marsh vegetation. Almost the entire north edge of Shenzhen Bay was once lined with mangroves which provide shelter for migratory birds, a habitat for many species of small fish and crustaceans and for secondary aquatic vegetation that filters and purifies the bay water. Parts of the bay bottom will be deepened to offset the tidal fluctuations that currently reveal mud flats and to provide the mangroves with improved tidal water exchange and circulation. The plan proposes plantings of native mangroves and a variety of indigenous coastal plants amidst boulders and rocks that will provide habitats for inter-tidal species and shore bird perches. On the land-side of the project, salt-tolerant vegetation will be planted to provide additional mixed habitats and food sources for waterfront species. Restoration of mangroves are proposed on the west and north edges of Shenzhen Bay and protects the existing mangrove preserves at the easternmost end of the waterfront zone. Enhancement of the existing ecological park with more fully developed plantings to support a diversity of wildlife and to provide visitors with additional educational opportunities is featured in the plan as well. To restore a more natural shoreline and reshape the topography to provide for more interesting views, some landfill will be included in the project. The landscape architects defer to the experience and expertise of China’s own engineers to reclaim land from the sea but also recommend procedures for protecting and enhancing the shoreline, such as heavy stone edges. The plan proposes the building of four hills along the water’s edge to provide visual reference points as well as viewpoints to the Bay and the city. The configuration of the hills derives from the form of the manta ray which seeks the refuge of shallow bays during its development; correspondingly these hills will protect the mangroves from winds and provide essential hydrological shelter from erosive tidal currents. The master plan also proposes a coastal ecological education center which will be an education and exhibition showcase to teach students, local visitors, tourists and researchers about the physical, biological and social conditions of the water’s edge. In addition to indoor facilities, the center will include an outdoor coastal aviary, demonstration tidal pools, educational boardwalks and teaching pavilions. The boardwalks will extend into the salt grass areas. On the western most portion of the project, a new community uses the existing street grid the inland city and connects it to the proposed reshaped shoreline. Pedestrian walks and bridges provide connections through the entire coastal zone, including an open-air bridge with unobstructed views connecting the north residential areas to the education center; a broad landscaped bridge connecting to the waterfront park and a bay edge walk with way-stations to provide shelter, rest and information along the recreation zones. To ensure the viability of the mangroves and protect wildlife, trails and boardwalks are limited to selected locations. Bridges are shaded or planted with trees to provide a cooling environment. Vehicular access and parking have been accommodated in the plan, as well as transit lines and stops, so that access to the shoreline will be convenient. On the west edge, a central plaza provides a view corridor from the land port and from the coastal boulevard for cars and includes a transit stop as well as steps that descend to the tidal zone and observation towers. At the south end of one mangrove restoration area, one of the proposed hills will include a forest, open meadows and a sheltered overlook. In an outer park there will be a large parking area and drive-by viewing stop, as well as a seaside promenade. To provide open space for the urban residents, a large inland park with an inner bay has been planned. This bay will fuse the hardscape of the urban edges to the north with the more natural south edge and will include a tidal control structure to maintain the water level. The design of the park provides for islands, wetlands, woodlands along with formal lawns and informal meadows for a variety of activities. The plan encompasses an entertainment and education pavilion, formal gardens, an outdoor theater, restaurants and teahouses, along with convenient transit stops. Maximizing the benefits of the waterfront was another critical design issue in the master plan. In contrast to the ecological focus, the plan proposes active and passive recreational access to the coastline, including provisions for field sports, kite flying, picnicking and swimming. Restaurants, concessions, a ferry landing, carousels and a teahouse would also be part of the waterfront. A grand aquatic center would incorporate Olympic-size pools for training and racing and China’s largest outdoor freshwater swimming pool will be built with a sand beach, islands, water slides, tunnels and shaded rest areas. Additionally, the plan provides for the re-building of a natural sand beach along the bay and adds sheltered picnic areas, concession stands, a bathhouse and a bay overlook, with parking and a transit stop. To accommodate large outdoor events and entertainment, the designers provided an amphitheater in another one of the proposed hills, complete with provisions for parking, bus drops and a flexible staging area, all oriented for the view across the bay. Recognizing the convergence of fresh water with salt water as rich ecological regions, the designers incorporated the rivers that course through the waterfront zone in the mangrove restoration plans in order to improve water quality with natural filtration. Bridges span the Shahe River to provide safe passage for pedestrians, bicycles and the coastal tram, while providing vistas over a stilling basin where mangroves and other riparian vegetation will filter the river waters. Placing the restoration of the native vegetation and its accompanying habitat as the main focus in the Shenzhen Bay Coastal Master Plan will go a long way in overcoming the blunders of the past that have all but destroyed a once thriving ecosystem. This is a comprehensive and essential scheme to provide the improvements needed to restore the waterfront for the health and enjoyment of generations to come.