China has a rapidly aging population that is expected to reach over 490 million by 2050. This dramatic shift in demographics has created an unprecedented demand for senior friendly cities. Located in downtown Chongqing – one of China’s fastest growing cities – the Yinian Rooftop Garden is one of the first rooftop community spaces in the city designed for senior living. The project transforms the development’s dis-used rooftop into an active community hub for residents and the neighborhood’s growing senior population. The roof garden is fully disability access friendly, allowing visitors to enjoy the full suite of activities, including, flexible recreation, vegetable / community gardens, lounges and creative arts facilities. Yinian Rooftop Garden sets a new precedent for Chongqing’s urban space utilization and strategy for an aging population.
Designing for Chongqing’s Changing Demographics
The project began with the objective to create an innovative community complex designed with the needs of the elderly in mind. In a highly saturated real-estate market, this represents a dramatic shift towards a highly tailored people oriented residential design approach. Traditionally, Chinese families live in tight-knit and inclusive households, often with two to three generations under the same roof. Therefore, senior citizens have always played a vital role in urban communities. With this in mind, the Yinian Apartments positions the development at the city’s core rather than the remote fringe locations of existing aged care homes. This enables seniors to remain as valuable members of inner city neighborhoods, in close proximity to their families and services. In addition to being senior-friendly, the project further breaks away from traditional profit and investor driven developments by focusing on community-building initiatives. By incorporating co-living spaces as a new alternative to combat rising rental costs, coupled with lower level mixed-use, supermarket, retail and fitness facilities, the Yinian complex is set to become a valuable neighborhood asset.
The rooftop garden plays an integral role as a community catalyst for the entire development. In a highly urbanized setting, lacking in public open space, the Yinian Rooftop Garden is a much welcomed communal retreat for the development’s elderly residents and their families.
Urban Nature as Therapy The community garden is a unique landscape intervention that capitalizes on what would traditionally be a dis-used area of the building – the rooftop. The Zen-gardens, exercise space and productive gardens transforms the rooftop into a highly valued communal space in a city that is severely lacking in community infrastructure for the elderly. Working in collaboration with a local University, our team sets out to create a place for respite and relaxation amongst a highly urbanized surroundings, as well as being flexible for a variety of uses and visitor requirements.
Raised garden beds promote education and management of recreational farming of native ornamental and medicinal herb gardens. University research into ergonomics further helped to optimize the health, wellbeing and safety of the elderly users. The gardens and facilities are designed for wheelchair access so enable usage and access by residents with disabilities. Variable height hand-rails, movement sensing lighting, high contrast signage, non-slip paving and wheelchair-friendly ramps create a safe and easy environment for people to get around. The rooftop also contains a multi-use fitness area with a running circuit and stage for tai-chi and dance classes.
The roof gardens contains a number of ecological strategies. Native planting covers over 40% of the garden’s footprint to promote a healthy microclimate. Surface water is collected and re-used for irrigation of the garden beds and cleaning, excess water is treated on site before being discharged. As part of the planting regime, a diverse mixture of native local flowering plants as well as vegetables create habitat for bees and other insects to pollinate the garden’s flowers.
Building Resilient Urban Communities
Sitting atop a mixed use development, the garden is a popular gathering point for residents and the broader community. The garden is intended as a neighborhood asset by making the most of the limited available public space.
The dynamic mix of spaces enable a series of mixed usage through the day and seasons. Local residents gather in the morning for group exercises, while at lunch time they meet again to socialize with a panoramic outlook over the city. Throughout the afternoon school groups and the resident’s families frequent the rooftop, and evening groups conduct after work art and sculpture workshops. The garden is integral to the urban fabric of downtown Chongqing and allows for a uniquely cosmopolitan lifestyle for the elderly right in the heart of the city. This fits in with the projects broader vision of attracting a wide variety of different people into the complex to add to the mixture and vibrancy of urban life in a contemporary Chinese city.
As part of the outreach to the local community, the landscape architects prepared an illustrated user guide for the rooftop garden. The manual was circulated throughout the community and included suggestions on how to best use the space as well as scheduled activities.
Conclusion The Yinian Rooftop Garden is the jewel on the crown for this innovative development that represents a new era in high quality urban living in Chongqing. In anticipation for the city’s rapidly aging population, the project sets a precedent for integrated age-care and community orientated living right in the heart of the city. The Yinian Gardens initiative hopes to become a local exemplar for existing and future developments to promote ecological and community orientated usage of the city’s rooftops.
Other designers involved in the design of landscape (if any): South China University of Technology
Project location: Longhu Xinyi City, Keyuan 4th Road, Chongqing, China
Design year: 2018
Year Built: 2018