IVY of STEEL, VALLEY of STYLE – Caoyang Centennial Park

Overall Concept and Goal

Once carrying the branch line of Zhenru freight rail and later Caoyang Farmers’ Market, the near to 1-kilometer-long and 10- to 15-meter-wide site has been re-programmed as a fresh, multilevel and mixed-use park, walkable and community-centered, shortly after the market’s closure in 2019. Conceived as ‘3K Corridors’, Caoyang Centennial Park brings art to community life, echoing the theme of 2021 Shanghai SUSAS. Site contexts were discovered and scenes reimagined, so as to design a vine-and-melon-like walking belt, from north to south, to reshape the streets’ grassland system, giving a further step of organic renewal of Caoyang Community.

The special linear site, having served as a railway-land and then a market for over 20 years, is a typical left-over space in megacities. We realize at first sight that even in a familiar city are there unexpected and surprising offcut spaces, and we must consider how to recycle them in the time of urban redevelopment.

Background and Opportunity

Caoyang Xincun, the earliest planned workers’ community by the PRC’s government, bears special collective memories and historical processes of that age. Close to workers’ residences were market houses built along the abandoned railway in the site. To improve standard of living and spatial quality of Caoyang, the district government and its sub-district office adjusted the place to a city park for future leisure, cultural, and daily events.

The project was on a tight schedule: 2 days to sketch a design and 2 weeks to improve and firm it up. After that, under the coordination of several departments all works were carried out smoothly, design followed by drawings, and concreting by steel-framing. Within 1 year the idea of park is becoming reality and put in use.

Design Strategy and Scenarios

Through a multilevel strategy the narrow site expands itself threefold for different use by different people in nearby residences, schools and offices. With limitation on distances to underground tunnel basis and building of surroundings, it is excavated just 1 meter deep for a semi-basement. The first level is raised to 1.4 meters to spare more space for the semi-basement as a social ‘container’ for temporary programmes like artist exhibition, community activities, creative markets, etc. Besides, the highline way is limited to 3.8 meters high to avoid that the public space possibly disturbs surrounding residential houses.

In the 880-meter-long park, divided into north and south part, 10 scenarios are conceived to serve public functions such as gathering, activity, entertainment, leisure, sports, etc. Spreading from middle to the north and south ends, the corridor connects social energy and forms multilevel spaces in separation from yet with dialogue to each other. The north gate is a main entrance. With nearby Lianong Building’s and Zhongqiao Tower’s façade design integrated, the ground floor level and the highline define together the entrance, facing to Caoyang, as a city hall, where visitors can stroll and overlook. In the middle passes a double-line highway over Lanxi Road, integrating the park’s walking experience on both sides. Life on streets with walking residents and running cars all together then consists part of scenes in the park. A circular corridor connects two ways of the highline in the south section, with two hackberry trees standing through voids among the structure. With branches stretching and leaves tangling, visitor can touch the green while walking on the highline. We hope as much green as possible in the park. Planting some trees, some grass and some flowers makes it an ivy of steel.

Three important linear public spaces designed by ALYA: Aite Riverfront Park along Suzhou Creek, Pudong Minsheng pier connection project and Yangpu riverside connection project along Huangpu River. The latter two served separately as 2017 and 2019 Shanghai SUSAS exhibition sites. We summed up experience of these projects in the design of Caoyang Centennial Park, which, however, differs from riverside spaces. It is located in such a typical context, a worldly community, while playing an untypical role likely to be neglected. The project is an important revelation for us to study and work out in the next step how to creatively exploit potentials and harness energies in these left-over spaces.

Concept and technical characteristics

-Colour Match

We took long time in colour matching, with no clear idea at the beginning. We hoped it mild and fitting on the whole, while worrying that mere silver or grey colour cannot convey the energy of communities. We tried more than 10 schemes of colour combination and finally decided to keep the main structure silver-grey and painting the inner sides orange, in hope that the colour comparison would express sense of vigour.

We considered specially for the space under 1.4 meters high.  The semi-basement, differing from light and open ground floor space, is dark and narrow. We chose the combination of silver-white and yellow for the dark to make it harmonize with places above the ground. The silver-white colour is somehow like pearl, mixed with much metal powder, looking apparently different from the silver-grey colour painted on the structures above. We weighed the experience in the semi-basement over the unitarity of colours, a decision unlikely to be made by most architects. This challenge is unprecedented for us and demands some breakthroughs.

-Arc Canopy: Reminiscent of Railway Platforms

We consciously designed a series of lightly structured arc canopies, membraned for sunshade. The membrane is not waterproof out of two considerations: first, we encourage to feel the nature in such a linear open park; second, technically, the canopy would bear more wind load if membraned waterproof, making the structural comparison invalid of lightness of canopies and heaviness of the highline.

Arc canopies are reminiscent of railway platforms by which traditional trains slowly pulled in. There were many forms for railway platforms, and we chose one of the simplest and colouring it in five different ways. With the same form but changing colours, the light structures affords a clear zoning for the park. Blue here and pink ahead, visitor can easily locate themselves through these arc canopies.

-Wall as Boundary and Connection: to Dialogue with Communities and Institutions

Our design team, together with the sub-district office, have had earnest dialogues with each residence nearby. 11 residences and several public institutions surround Centennial Park. Setting boundary between the formers and the latter actually needed communications, through which we got to know their requirements and problems, thus able to connect in a better and more suitable way.

While designing walls for Centennial park, we worked out no less than 10 combinations of wall and gates. Some are block walls finished with washed stone, some steel structure that permits eye contact between two sides of the boundary, and others a combination of above two. We offered different schemes to show respect to community, in hope that through discussion we, together with the residents, would co-create the connection between and boundary of the park and their residences. Some residents like block walls and no gates, while some prefers steel ones that enables plants in the park to grow into their residence. Therefore, the change of walls can be seen while walking along Centennial Park.

Location: 875 Caoyang Road, Caoyang Xincun Sub-district, Putuo District, Shanghai, China

Design year: 2020-2021

Year Built: 2021


LILA 2024 Sponsor