utopian architecture

Utopian architecture in industrial Bao’an? Actually, yes. Developed over the past five years, the Wutong Island (梧桐岛–sometimes translated as Phoenix Tree Island) project combines Chinese ideas about nature, modernist architecture, and an evolving social vision for Shenzhen.

The project backstory is itself mythic. An ambitious and successful Chao-Shan real estate developer died early, leaving his eldest son a company, property, and questions about the meaning of life. The result was serious restructuring of how the Tairan Group does business.

Within their offices, they have open spaces and a communal cooking and dining area. They surround themselves with natural materials–stone, wood, and windows that take advantage of breezes to limit air-conditioning use. And they work with Banmu Tang Environmental Integration Group (半亩塘事务所), a Taiwanese firm that actualizes the idea of “unity of Heanen and humanity (天人合一) through native plant environmental design, large windows, and spaces for contemplation and easy conversations.

The Wutong Island project includes a sustainable pool in the center of the 24 building site, “giving the best land to nature”. There are bamboo alcoves, and tatami rooms for tea. The rooftops have been converted for urban gardening, and indeed Tairan uses its harvest to make their lunches.

The current plan for use is to bring in creative companies that share Tairan’s sustainable values. The immediate context, of course, is the call to upgrade manufacturing in Bao’an, which remains a center of low-value added production in both district and village industrial parks. In other words, they hope to stimulate sustainable manufacturing in ways analogous to their sustainable environment. They’ve started looking for partners in this venture, and have demonstrated patient commitment to their values. It remains to be seen how successful this alternative experiment can be in Shenzhen’s otherwise fast is good, faster is better environment.

Impressions of the Wutong Island site (and a view of industrial Bao’an from their window), below.

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