Nantou Community Park: Transforming an Urban Village into an Active Living Room

Nantou Ancient City is located in the Nanshan District of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. A significant carrier of Cantonese culture for over 1,700 years, Nantou was also a critical political location in the early days of the People’s Republic of China. It has witnessed the renewal and development of the central area of Shenzhen as a core part of the city. However, as Shenzhen’s urban scale continued to rapidly expand throughout the 90’s, the rising demand for housing caused Nantou Ancient City to grow disorderly. The living environment of the once-thriving urban village became disorganized and cramped. An urban renewal project for the area was initiated in 2019. While much of that project focused on the commercial potential of the main streets, the daily needs of local people were not ignored. Based on the challenges unique to urban villages that Nantou faces, the landscape design team aimed to respect the local culture by preserving the original street layout. The team adhered to the concept of placemaking by utilizing indigenous materials, such as granite and tiles, the transformation of the dilapidated and gloomy space into an all-new dynamic community park.

By creating a fusion of old and new cultures, Nantou Ancient City is now an area full of energy that provides ample space for public activities such as gathering, resting and communicating. This new “urban living room” also allows for different groups such as migrants, artists, and tourists to organically interact and communicate.

Faced with a number of spatial idiosyncrasies and varying needs of locals, the design team conducted an extensive study on Nantou’s original space and population structure. They established an organic point (five gardens) and line (multiple alleyways) system on this basis to connect different regions of the urban village. Surplus space was transformed into community park space and woven into a diverse and inclusive spatial network. The design applied three “RE’s” in its strategy: RE-open leftover space by tearing down illegally constructed buildings and opening up the dark alleyways; RE-use materials by emphasizing local sourcing; and RE-connect the community through landscape nodes with new functionality.

The Nantou Community Park project created a vibrant public space through rearranging the spatial structure, using local materials, and retaining the site’s original greenery. It preserves the historical memory of the space by integrating the unique alleyways with nodes (Whetstone Garden, Folding Garden, Guanyin Fountain, Grand Joy Plaza, and the Photosynthesis Club) that were previously scattered randomly around Nantou’s main intersection. These features integrate the space organically into the surrounding community.

The Nantou Community Park project is the transformation of a gray streetway into an urban “living room”. By sourcing local materials and integrating new and old elements, a space that blends ancient and modern aesthetics and suits the diverse needs of residents is created in Nantou Ancient City. The design preserves the cultural heritage of the area while injecting new life into the space. Once a disorderly and urban village, Nantou is now a comfortable living community with a flourishing art and business scene. Unlike typical urban village transformation projects which overemphasize the commercialization of these historic landmarks, Nantou Community Park embodies the social responsibility of landscape architects and addresses concerns facing low-income groups in an increasingly unequal city environment. It provides a high-quality, low-cost living space that can be enjoyed by all.

Project Location: Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, China

Design year: 2019-2020

Year Built: 2021

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