In 2016, an estimated 57.9 per cent of China’s population lived in urban settlements – 3.6 per cent higher than the world’s average – and the figure is predicted to rise to a notable 70 per cent by 2030. Driven by a top-down approach during the planning phase of large scale developments, the country’s urban environments are often monofunctional, car orientated and lacking in human scale.

Shanghai-based Dutch firms MORE and AIM Architecture address the stereotype of China’s rapid urbanization in Jiaxing Island – a development halfway between the large cities of Shanghai and Hangzou. Ten years ago, Jiaxing was enveloped by agricultural countryside and the region’s map was covered in a green expanse. Now, it is home to 1 million inhabitants surrounded by industrial buildings and residential compounds.

Site Map (Google Earth) – 2006/2016

‘In this project, we challenge this type of urban development by creating a smaller-scale environment that is people orientated and mixed in both functionality and architectural aesthetic,’ describes Daan Roggeveen, founder of MORE Architecture. ‘Jiaxing Island takes inspiration from Chinese urban villages – high-density inner cities developed by farmers – and is designed to a comparable scale, as a collection of low-rise buildings that are similar but different.’

The eight volumes that make up the complex contain a variety of functions, including restaurants, commercial and retail spaces, sporting facilities, a hotel, short-stay accommodation, a contemporary art gallery, a pre-school and offices. It sounds like everything a community might need to start their own ‘city within a city’. Roggeveen explains that the interior programme for the development was not fully fixed before the initial design work took place.

‘We developed a kind of master plan in which we proposed eight volumes and a central square. We designed it in such a way that each building had a different size and shape. This allowed for a strong formal language and, more importantly, flexibility for future programming. It was only after the concept was approved by the client that we started assigning volumes to functions.’

While the offices are pushed to the back corners of the buildings, overlooking the landscape, the more active public functions face the central square, creating a lively and dynamic atmosphere. Traditionally, the public square in China is more often used as a method to impress and show off, rather than for social purposes. Roggeveen describes this ‘pedestrian only’ area as ‘an opportunity to create a collective identity by connecting the public functions.’

‘Jiaxing Island challenges the classic urban notions in China: the enormous scale, the car-dominated streets and the square as an expression of power,’ the firms summarize. ‘In this project, the square forms the heart of the village, with public facilities opening onto it. By literally placing the public space at the heart of the project, the building ultimately mixes people.’

Plan – Ground Floor/First Floor

Cross Section
Long Section
Location Nanhu Qu, Jiaxing, China