Urban landscape is a spatial reflection of social interactions. People’s values, behavior patterns and social relationships are all active ingredients of public realm design. If designers can create the environment, and at the same time, the environment influences the behaviors of people, then the important social responsibility of urban designers is to promote rich participation of users through the design of public places.
We believe that the essence of public space is that people and one another are in an interdependent and mutually-constructed relationship, and acting together or living together to form collective existence. Reflecting upon contemporary openspace design today, we wanted to take a fresh approach in human-centered design, where we integrate the ideology that also focuses on self-identity expression, photo-sharing, and social networking culture.
The project is a retail rooftop located on Wuchang Qingnian Road in Wuhan. The client hopes to transform the roof into a regional landmark that attracts young people to visit here. Due to lack of active retail interface on the rooftop and lack of accessibility from lower levels, the primary challenge lies in how to attract visitors.
Targeted User and Targeted Place-Making
Participatory landscape, as the name suggests, should be focused on user-centered diversity, interaction, and sense of belonging. Traditional participatory design of public realm tend to cater for preferences of all users or all age groups. Consequently, designers tend to come up with generic function and design without in-depth consideration of their true user demands. This generic design approach brings several problems:
Problem 1: Weak Spatial Correlation. Designers intentionally provide diverse programs, but the relationship between program areas is weak and often fragmented, which leads to spatial segregation.
Problem 2: Weak Identity Recognition. Due to lack of specificity and theme, every space is bland in identity and therefore less likely to attract any user with emotional attachment.
Problem 3: Weak Culture. Sense of collective belonging creates social cohesiveness of space. However, traditional participatory design thinking makes it difficult for people to form collective spirit to generate any kind of place culture.
Our main strategy for the “New Participatory Design Thinking” is to start from identifying a targeted user and further generate ripple effect of diversified public participation and behaviors. On this basis, the design aims to create a strong function and identity that will ultimately form the culture of the space. In our belief, a targeted-user approach can successfully attract other interest groups to participate positively in their own ways and potentially further attract more visitors.
Young people nowadays have abundant material wealth to pursue emotional freedom and other care-free lifestyles. They are relieved from material anxiety and spiritually free to explore gratifications that are beyond realism. This is the portrait of China’s contemporary youngsters.
During the ideation process, we realized City-Pop culture that originated from Japan in the 1970s is similar with today’s era in China. During the 1970s, Japan’s economy developed rapidly, young people actively embraced hedonism which formed City-Pop living concept. City-Pop further developed into unique visual features that influenced graphic design and music industry. Beaches, ocean waves, blue sky and sunset are all classic visual elements of City-Pop. “Dark days are over, and the illusion of a better living is right in front of us “. We feel the ideology behind City-Pop is not only extremely consistent with the spirit of our time, but also perfectly in line with the aspirations of our targeted user.
1. Targeted Function: Streetball Landmark
The design starts from identification of a strong function. In order to achieve the goal of attracting young people, we proposed basketball as the primary attraction of the rooftop because basketball is the most popular sport in China. As a team sport, it is very engaging with the audience and especially suited to become the main program attractor. Also, due to the shortage of urban space and limited number of basketball courts, provision of a basketball court will be a good addition to local community.
At the core, we want to design a court that perfectly caters for “competitive basketball lovers”. When a professional basketball arena successfully attracts the real ballers in Wuhan, we can then create entertainment spaces that attract viewers and other curiosity hunters to visit the rooftop. Hence, we are putting forward the concept of “sports + entertainment + photo-taking” that centers around true ballers.
2. Targeted Operation: Operator and IP Implementation of “Venice Beach Basketball Court”
After confirming with the client that our goal is to create a streetball landmark,the client cooperated in successfully bringing in a basketball court operation brand, which not only solved the problems of on-going court maintenance and management, but also created extra income for the developer. The IP theme of the classic “Venice Beach Basketball Court” on the west coast of the United States is also incorporated into our project. Venice Beach Basketball Court is the shrine of street basketball in the United States. The most common scenes here are blue sky, white clouds, palm trees, beach sands, parasol and all kinds of streetball legends. Here, you can compete in the highest level, but also enjoy the leisure of playing basketball in the beautiful setting. The basketball culture here is inseparable from its scene. The design team hopes to redefine and reinterpret the elements of this IP theme into the design and create unique selling-points for the client.
3. Targeted Place-making: Sunshine Hedonism
For the site itself, if we want to maximize the attraction effect, we also need a strong design theme and language. Therefore, we chose City-Pop as the place-making imagery and implemented its features and characteristics into the design of the rooftop.
In the visual expression of City-Pop, the most obvious feature is its high purity of colors mainly constructed of sky blue, sea blue, cloud white and wave white. In the landscape design, we have also inherited the characteristics of City-Pop in the use of those colors.
We make full use of classic elements from City-Pop such as waves, palm trees and sunset that frequently appear in those classic imagery. The design incorporated the sunset element at the pilgrimage entry space into the basketball court. The design of shade structures and the use of palm trees along two sides of the court is also representative of City-Pop. The running track on the roof is abstracted as a long wave that connects different spaces to form an long spectator space filled with interactive photo-spots and recreational pockets.
Floating Beach Basketball Court: The basketball court incorporates sky blue and ocean blue in the language of ocean waves to create an immersive vibe like playing on the beach. The open nature of the rooftop provides year-round sunlight that further elevates the holiday atmosphere.
Palm Trees Against the Blue Sky: Palm tree plantings that are approximately 9.5m in height are planted around the court to create spatial enclosure and a foreground against the blue sky in the backdrop. The overall image of the space is rendered somewhat surreal just like City-Pop living concept, and provide a haven for people to escape from their ordinary city life.
Floating Wave Running Track: In response to the spirit of hedonism, the wavy running track forms two turbulent wave photo-spots facing the city. At these photo-spots, astronaut surfer figures are incorporated. On the basis of our surreal vibe and setting, these figures and the environment complement one another and successfully attracted many visitors taking photos with them.
Sunset On The Horizon: The design incorporated a figurative sunset at the pilgrimage entry into the basketball court. The sunset on the horizon in white perforated metal has yellowish illuminance during the night, creating another highlight feature for photo-taking. The wavy language and the use of fonts are also consistent with the City-Pop image.
In the context of China’s new economy and contemporary lifestyle, we believe the design of a highly participatory public space should be innovative and user-centered. Targeted function, targeted operation and targeted place-making can potentially be a different solution in building a better participatory public realm in such projects. Our new participatory design approach has successfully created a destination with strong public engagement, place identity and sports culture in Wuhan.
Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Wuhan Zhongchuang Huanya Landscape Architecture Design Engineering Co., Ltd. Place Design
Architecture offices involved in the design: CLOU architects
Location: No. 518, Qingnian Road, Jianghan District, Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China
Design year: 2020-08
Year Completed: 2021-04