Awakening Waterfront Memories in Urban Space: The Design of Chengdu’s Living Water Garden

Living Water Garden in Chengdu, China is a landscape design project that explores the relationship between residential space and water. Through the design techniques of ecological simulation and scenery reproduction, the ties between the surrounding communities and waterfront green space are strengthened, and the distance between man and nature is narrowed. The unique water culture of Chengdu, known primarily as a mountain city, was taken into account to create a community park with all the vital characteristics of the local environment. This park, which also takes inspiration from aspects of Dujiangyan, the Minjiang River Valley, and Wucaichi, is known as the Living Water Garden.

Utilizing the narrow “surplus” space in the area, the design team planted greenery to skillfully and organically integrate the water into the landscape. Traces of man-made interference are minimized, while the natural beauty of the space is emphasized. The space’s shape and resemblance to natural waterways awaken the waterfront memories of the Chengdu people, who have long been nourished by the mighty Minjiang River.

To reinvigorate the energy of this small canyon-like space, the design team conducted a comprehensive study of its urban geography and cultural identity. Guided by the hydrological characteristics of Sichuan Province, they envisioned the original weirs, lowlands, overlapping ponds, and islands of the region into four interactive hydroparks. The sections are named Chuanshui Park, Fenshui Park, Dieshui Park, and Huanshui Park.

Chuanshui Park, as the first completed section of Living Water Garden, is designed as a novel “natural tunnel”, taking advantage of the height differences across the site’s undulating terrain. The park is enclosed by dense herbaceous plants and surrounded by deep canyon streams. Depending on the time of year, the amount of water used in Chuanshui Park can be adjusted; two different landscapes, one for the wet season and one for the dry season, help create a public space that changes with the seasons. The lake flows naturally through the community, between the hills and tall grasses. Visitors immerse themselves in the water’s mist while walking below the stream, forming a linear park that twists and turns. To simulate the space and texture of a natural mountain and river formation, and ensure adaptability, sustainability, and convenience, low cost reinforced concrete was used as the building material at the facade level. The challenging project is now an inseparable and beloved part of the local community.

Chuanshui Park recreates the natural cliffs, waterflow, and water plants of the Minjiang River Valley. The park is approximately 5.5 meters lower than the surrounding neighborhood. Out of view of the shaded visitors is a deep, interactive water stream. At different points, the valley varies in height, width, and shape, reproducing the winding beauty of the Minjiang River Valley.

From the nearby community, one’s view passes through the mountain seedlings and wild grass. The canyon walls and stone-ground washed by water are faintly visible. The falling water flows along the canyon, connecting the landscape nodes and recreation spaces.

Water is the soul of the Chengdu community. Here, human activity is inseparable from the water. The Living Water Garden organically combines the artificial and natural contexts to create a public water park unique to Sichuan Province. The immersive experience of Living Water Garden reproduces memories of the waterfront, and its adaptive, linear form calls to mind the process of “how water flows to Chengdu” from the Minjiang River. Communities can gain a closer relationship with the water space. Physical and spiritual distance between people and water is shortened. And, perhaps most importantly, a once-dormant community space is revitalized with energy and vigor.

Project Location: Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, China

Design year: August 2016 ~ May 2020

Year Built: September 2020 ~ August 2021

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