Posted by: Qodarian Pramukanto | 30th Jun, 2010

Shanghai Houtan Park: Landscape as a Living System


Award of Excellence
Shanghai Houtan Park: Landscape as a Living System
Shanghai, China

Turenscape, China and Peking University Graduate School
of Landscape Architecture Client: The 2010 Shanghai Expo Bureau, China

Project Statement

Built on a brownfield of a former industrial site, Houtan Park is a
regenerative living landscape on Shanghai’s Huangpu riverfront. The
park’s constructed wetland, ecological flood control, reclaimed
industrial structures and materials, and urban agriculture are
integral components of an overall restorative design strategy to
treat polluted river water and recover the degraded waterfront in
an aesthetically pleasing way.

The site plan of Houtan Park (top) and a bird’s-eye view from the
southwest (bottom). [High Res Image]

Project Narrative

This is very powerful. It is done and anybody can go and see it.
It’s full of the right messages of our profession. The scope is
exquisite. The presentation is excellent. Shanghai never has a blue
sky, and recognizing this kind of sustainable project in that context
is important
.” —2010 Professional Awards Jury

Objectives and Challenges

The site is a narrow linear 14-hectare (34.6-acre) band located along
the Huangpu River waterfront in Shanghai, China. This brownfield,
previously owned by a steel factory and a shipyard, had few
industrial structures remaining and the site was largely used as a
landfill and lay-down yard for industrial materials.

Objectives: The objective of the park design was to create a green
Expo, accommodate for a large influx of visitors during the exposition
from May to October, demonstrate green technologies, transform a unique
space to make the Expo an unforgettable event, and transition into a
permanent public waterfront park after the Expo.

Challenges: The first challenge was restoring the degraded environment.
The site is a brownfield littered with industrial and construction
debris both on the surface and buried throughout the site. The water of
Huangpu River is highly polluted with a national water quality ranking
of Lower Grade V, the lowest grade on a scale of I–V and is considered
unsafe for swimming and recreation and devoid of aquatic life. The
eminent site design challenge was to transform this degraded landscape
into a safe and pleasant public space. The second challenge was to
improve flood control. The existing concrete floodwall was designed to
protect against a 1,000-year flood event with a top elevation of 6.7
meters (22 feet), but it is rigid and lifeless. The 2.1-meter (6-foot)
daily tidal fluctuation creates a muddy and littered shoreline and is
currently inaccessible to the public. A conventional retaining wall
would continue to limit accessibility and preclude habitat creation
along the water’s edge, so an alternative flood control design proposal
was necessary. The third challenge was the site itself. The area is long
and narrow locked between the Huangpu River and an urban expressway with
water frontage is over 1.7 kilometers (one mile) in length but averaging
only 30–80 meters (100-265 feet) in width.

Design Strategy

Regenerative design strategies used to transform the site into a living
system that offer comprehensive ecological services included: food
production, flood, water treatment, and habitat creation combined in an
educational and aesthetic form. The site is destined to be an innovative
demonstration of the ecological culture for the 2010 Expo.

1. Constructed Wetland and Regenerative Design
Through the center of the park, a linear constructed wetland, 1.7
kilometers (one mile) long and 5–30 meters (16.5–100 feet) wide was
designed to create a reinvigorated waterfront as a living machine
to treat contaminated water from the Huangpu River. Cascades and
terraces are used to oxygenate the nutrient rich water, remove and
retain nutrients and reduce suspended sediments while creating
pleasant water features; Different species of wetland plants were
selected and designed to absorb different pollutants from the water.
Field testing indicates that 2,400 cubic meters (500,000 gallons)
per day of water can be treated from Lower Grade V to Grade III.
The treated water can be used safely throughout the Expo for
nonpotable uses, and save half a million US dollars in comparison
with conventional water treatment.

The wetland also acts as a flood protection buffer between the 20-
and 1000-year flood control levees. The meandering valley along the
wetland creates a series of thresholds creating visual interest and
refuge within the bustling world exposition with opportunities for
recreation, education, and research. The terrace design of the
wetland alleviates the elevation difference between the city and
the river, safely reconnecting people to the water’s edge.
Additionally, the existing concrete floodwall was replaced by a
more habitat-friendly riprap that allows native species to grow
along the riverbank while protecting the shoreline from erosion.

2. Heritage and Vision
Overlapped in the matrix of ecologically regenerated landscape are
layers of agricultural and industrial past of the site and the
future of the postindustrial ecocivilization.

Inspired by the fields of Chinese agricultural landscape,
terraces were created to break down the 3–5 meter (15–18 foot)
elevation change from the water’s edge to the road, and to slow
the runoff directed to the stream in the constructed wetland.
These terraces are reminiscent of Shanghai’s agricultural heritage
prior to industrial development of the neighborhood in the mid 20th
century. Crops and wetland plants were selected to create an urban
farm allowing people to witness seasonal changes: the golden
blossoms in the spring, splendid sunflowers in the summer, the
fragrance of the ripened rice in the fall, and green clover in the
winter. It provides a premier educational opportunity for people
to learn about agriculture and farming within the city.

The terraces enrich the landscape along the wetland by creating
spaces that encourage visitors to enter the living system through
the field’s corridors and experience the agricultural landscape and
wetland firsthand. The paths, like capillaries of a sponge, absorb
and pull people to circulate through the park.

The industrial spirit of the site is celebrated through the
reclamation of industrial structures and materials. Shanghai is the
birthplace of China’s modern industry and the iconic structures that
remained onsite have been transformed into hanging gardens and
overlook platforms.

The reclaimed steel panels hail the site’s former industrial spirit.
Situated throughout the wetland valley, the folded steel panels are
used to frame views of Shanghai’s skyline and highlight the
industrial past. The materials are reconfigured to create artful
forms, new paving material for the boardwalk, and shelters.

3. Path Network
An ecologically recovered landscape, urban agriculture and
industrial spirit are the three major layers of the park, woven
together through a network of paths where visitors are educated
about green infrastructure within a lushly restored recreational
area. The pedestrian network is composed of a main loop, a series
of perpendicular roads bisecting the wetland and a multitude of
footpaths leading through the terraces. This network ensures
seamless connections between the park and its surroundings,
encourages access within the site that not only effectively
accommodates the massive pedestrian flows expected during the
Expo, but ensures a pleasant and accessible public park at the
human scale afterwards.

Numerous platforms and enclosed ‘containers’ are designed as the
nodes on the pedestrian network, including the ‘hanging garden’
transformed from a factory structure and the landscaped dock.
These platforms and containers are integrated into the pedestrian
network to create larger expanses where small groups can gather.
Groves of bamboo and Chinese Redwood trees act as screens along
the paths to break up the spaces and the enclosures surrounded by
trees are used to exhibit modern art and industrial relics found


Houtan Park demonstrates a living system where ecological infrastructure
can provide multiple services for society and nature and new ecological
water treatment and flood control methods. The postindustrial design
demonstrates a unique productive landscape evoking the memories of the
past and the future of the ecological civilization, paying homage to a
new aesthetics based on low maintenance and high performance landscapes.

Project Resources

Design Principal
Kongjian Yu, International ASLA

Design Team
Shihong Lin, Wei Hong, TianyuanYuan, Hongqian Yu, Yuan Fang,
Yuanyuan Jin, Xiang Long, Xiangbin Kong, Dongli Ren, Yuan Zhang,
Haibo Tang, Weirong Jiang, Yu Qiu, Shaohui Bai, Meicai, He, Fan Yang,
Junying Zhang, Yang Pan, Jing Zhang, Xiangjun Liu, Hongxia Ding, Jing Niu,
Yuan Zhang, Shaohua Lin, Yanan Zang, Zongbo Shao, Dehua Liu, Fumin Yu,
Rao Chen, Wei Zhang, Jiwei Chen, Xiangrong Wan

Client Team
Lin Guixiang, Zhao Keping, Lin Li, Shanghai Expo Bureau; Zhang Rang,
Shanghai Landscape Bureau

Construction Contractor
Chen Ming, Zhu Xiejun, Yuan Chao, Chao Shiwei, Xin Lixun, Zhou Guinian,
Shanghai Landscape Construction Company

Wetland Plant Scientists
Zhang Yinjiang, He Peiming, He Wenhui, Du Jiamu, Xie Wenbo, Luo Kun,
Chen Lijin, Dong Yue, Zhang Nianjian, Huang Zhongwen,
Shanghai University of Ocean University

Construction Document Local Consultants
Su Shouliang, Shnaghai Qite Landscape Company; Xu Lian,
Shanghai Xiandai Design Group

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