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Design concept for Chinese waterfront site ranks in competition’s top 10

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Curtin students have developed a pedestrian-centric design concept to revitalise a waterfront site in Wuhan, the most populated city in central China.

The concept, which was submitted to the UN-Habitat 2018 International Urban Design Student Competition, focused on improving the site’s walkability by removing car access to side and back streets and creating new car parks to reduce on-street parking.

It was also reflected in the team ensuring that any streets and paths would be disjointedly arranged, to encourage more residents and tourists to interact with the site’s green spaces and its historical structures, such as the Ming Dynasty-era Qingchuange tower to the site’s east.

The team ranked in the top 10 in the competition, out of more than 100 entries from teams of built environment students based around the world.

“The concept is in line with the ‘Post Car Age’ we’re moving towards. Our cities need to start catering for pedestrians again because people are pedestrians at their core,” says team leader, Bachelor of Arts (Urban and Regional Planning) student Daniel Janssen.

“There’s an academic concept called ‘tiring length perspective’, which refers to the idea that it feels more exhausting to walk a route where you can see the end, than a route where you can’t see the end. So, if you take a non-linear route where there’s gentle curves and your horizon gets narrowed, you will be able to walk further because it’s more interesting.

“That’s why Australians love going to medieval towns in Europe. That’s also why people pay hundreds of dollars to walk around Disneyland: you feel sheltered and there’s shade, seating and visual interest. We decided to incorporate those ideas.”

The competition, which invited built environment students from around the world to submit their ideas to redesign the site between Guishan (Turtle Hill), and the intersection of the Han and Yangtze rivers, is one of the latest initiatives to encourage redevelopment in Wuhan.

Bird's eye view of the student concept for the proposed site north of Guishan (Turtle Hill) in Wuhan, China.
Aerial view of the concept.

In July, the team, comprising Urban and Regional Planning students Janssen, Solomiia Kurochkina, Connor Kiss and Justin Storer, and Master of Architecture students Oliver Fenner, Hui En Wong, Jin Zhang and Isaac McCormack received funding to fly two of its members to the city.

The visit highlighted weather conditions the team had not fully considered, including average summer temperatures of up to 33°C, average heavy annual rainfall of up to 225 millimetres and heavy snowmelt, which would often lead to breaches of the river bank.

“The city has an annual flooding problem. We decided to create a stormwater system to invite the water in, instead of trying to keep it out. That way, during summer, this is the place residents would want to be because it’s cool and they can wet themselves down,” says Janssen.

The team also chose to add a new attraction to the site: a stone stairway running along the waterfront that would change texture, elevation and direction in ways that would reflect Wuhan’s history. Fellow Urban and Regional Planning student Kurochkina explains that local residents and tourists would be able to follow the stairway from beginning to end to learn more about the city’s past.

“We wanted to open this up to the community to encourage different generations to come together and value the history and identity of Wuhan. It would be like a connecting bridge between past, present and future,” she explains.

“At the beginning, we would have three sets of stairs that connect into one, because Wuhan used to consist of three cities that came together. Then, as you’d walk along, the surface of the stairway would feel smooth during times of peace and rough during times of hardship.”

Proposed waterfront stairs.
Wuhan’s history encapsulated through the experience of walking along stairs (credit: Hui En Wong and Solomiia Kurochkina).

The majority of the team recently travelled to Wuhan to receive their team’s certificate, with expenses covered by either the United Nations or Curtin.

The event, which occurred on the first day of Wuhan Placemaking Week, gave the students an opportunity to network with their international peers in the planning industry.

“We were able to attend a series of planning workshops and see the other teams’ designs. It was also a great opportunity for us to promote the School of Design and the Built Environment,” Janssen says.

The Curtin team was supported by Australian planning firm Urbis, Chinese Landscape firm Qinsen, Curtin’s Faculty of Humanities and Curtin International.

The Curtin team in Wuhan, after being ranked in the top 10 in the competition.
Daniel Janssen (fifth from right) accepting the team’s award on stage during Wuhan Placemaking Week.
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