A peek at Beijing’s green city of tomorrow

How do you leverage the green benefits of high-speed rail and other key pieces of public transportation infrastructure?

By building cities around such networks, rather than around cars, the way China is with its new Beijing Bohai Innovation City development.

This expansion of the city of Beijing will bring 17.6 million square meters (around 57 million square feet) of mixed-use development into play, with a focus on providing an upscale headquarters location for advanced industries in the burgeoning Bohai Rim, a region that already accounts for more than a quarter of China’s GDP. 

The Chinese government hosted an international design competition centered around this development, and a proposal submitted by the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has emerged as the winner.

Incorporating a central business district organized around a high speed train station and five distinct neighborhoods offering housing, education, shopping and work destinations, the Beijing Bohai Innovation City master plan submitted by the Chicago-based architecture firm will soon become a reality, creating an eco-friendly district along the Chinese high-speed rail line linking the national capital to the port city of Tianjin.

By uniting high-speed rail with metro lines, bus rapid transit, the local streetcar network and an electric car fleet, SOM’s plan makes it tenable for 80 percent of the city’s personal transportation to be made via public transit, walking and bicycling. 

This, combined with the plan’s pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street design, offers convenient connections for residents to neighboring workplaces, schools and cultural amenities along green streets and corridors.

Some key features of the proposal are the fact that it builds on a design for a central wetland park by Turenscape, a landscape design firm, that provides a functional environmental system for filtering and cleaning storm water before returning it to adjoining rivers, as well as the fact that fully half the 1,473-hectare site will be allotted to open space.

“Beijing Bohai Innovation City establishes a new model of transit-oriented development at an unprecedented scale,” project chief designer Thomas Hussey of SOM’s Chicago urban planning studio told ArchDaily. He goes on to note that the new district will leverage China’s high-speed rail system to bridge two major metropolitan areas and create a sustainable urban environment that concentrates “walkable, compact densities” around transit stations while still preserving existing agriculture and green space.

SOM brings a wealth of experience to the project in terms of both sustainable city development and its relationships in this region of China, as the firm can claim more than seven years of sustainable, high-performance city design throughout Tianjian, including its award-winning green Beijing CBD expansion master plan and the rapidly expanding Yujiapu Financial District.

In addition to setting specific and aggressive goals for water, energy, waste, renewable energy and building design efficiency, the Beijing Bohai Innovation City master plan — according ot the client –focuses on creating “a human and family-oriented mixed-use urban community within an environmentally friendly framework.”

* Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling