Kunshan City, 20 km northwest of Shanghai, is a historically rich watertown. 8,000 hectares of the city are covered by water due to extensive canals, driving its transition from irrigated farming to a 70% GDP contribution from innovative industries.
Kunshan West, between Kuilei Lake and the old city center, is expanding. A North-South axis links open spaces including a retail center at Central Lake, Forest Park, and southern sports and commerce centers. The Yangcheng Lake East Ecological Corridor connects Kueilai Lake Reservoir to the old town, running along Forest Park’s north. The Miaojing River Central Water Corridor, part of this ecological connection, served as an aqueduct, providing water to most of Kunshan’s population.
After a piping system replaced the aqueduct, Miaojing River could become a public open space. In 2016, the local government started exploring its potential uses, leading to our team’s invitation to a master plan competition. Our entry, focused on ecological value, was favored, leading to a public-input campaign and the creation of a design team with local engineers and ecologists.
Years of isolation created a unique “forgotten” nature in the region, yet also numerous issues, including inaccessible, dense forests competing for resources, resulting in low diversity and unhealthy riparian habitats. The design objective aimed to turn this hidden treasure into a public ecological “spine” for Kunshan West, preserving its untouched character, boosting local connectivity, enhancing ecology, and providing ecosystem services.
A trail system connects Kuilei Lake Area to Forest Park, minimizing impact on existing vegetation. Tunnels and underpasses counter the city’s street grid, while bridges enhance the trail system. Key intersections feature entries with parking, bike rental, cafes, and rest areas. All surfaces are designed to be permeable and elevated where possible, with metal grate platforms providing overlooks and mesh railings maximizing immersion in nature.
Diverse ecological zones replace the mono-cultured forest. Multi-layered vegetation, wet prairies, gentler water edges with wetland planting, and bioswales along trails increase overall ecological services, improving city resilience and mitigating urbanization. The local communities have responded positively to these ecology-driven approaches, as evident in their social media content.
The Miaojing River Corridor balances ecological health with cultural and social vibrancy. Program areas align with adjacent land uses, prioritizing proximity to neighborhoods while preserving central areas for wildlife. Features include Play Areas, Picnic Lawns, an Ecological Education Center, a Forest Amphitheater, and a Park Cafe, accompanied by amenities like restrooms and bike racks. Smaller seating nodes, wayfinding, and educational signs enhance visitor experience.
Since its public opening in early 2022, it has become a well-utilized public space. Regular community events, strolling, jogging, and biking happen on both weekdays and weekends. This hidden treasure now serves the community ecologically and culturally, demonstrating how holistic design of ecological, social, and urban infrastructures can have positive impacts.
Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Hangzhou Xiaoshan Zhenda Landscaping Co., Ltd. [Contractor], Shanghai Longilat Architectural Design & Research Institute Corporation [Landscape Construction Drawing]
Location: Kunshan, Suzhou, China