China is known for the speed with which urban and architectural projects are completed and the Minhang Riverfront Regeneration is no exception. A decrepit riverfront area in suburban Shanghai, teeming with low grade industrial warehouses, disused utilities and overgrown paths has been transformed in just two years into a vibrant, mix-use neighbourhood anchored by a playfully designed urban park by SPARK Architects, a Singapore, Shanghai and London based practice working in the disciplines of architecture, urbanism, interior design, landscape design, research and branding. The opening salvo of SPARK’s much wider regeneration master plan for the Minhang district, the park facilitates improved pedestrian connections, offers recreational opportunities and promotes a more sustainable living environment as well as serves as a social hub where the community can come together. From zoning and circulation, to furniture and signage, SPARK’s multi-pronged, nature-inspired design exemplifies how civic regeneration need not shy away from bold, playful gestures.
Connecting a range of newly built commercial, technology and institutional establishments, the 750-metre-long riverside park was designed as a safe and attractive environment where “residents, students, visitors and business people can discover the forgotten riverfront and celebrate its rebirth” as SPARK Partner Lim Wenhui explains. Inspired by the park’s riverside location along with the project’s sustainability goals, the team developed a design language based on the elliptical shape of diatoms - which are single cell algae that naturally clean water - and the geometry of wave-formed ripples.
Four distinct, ribbon-like zones – encompassing pedestrian, cycling, and jogging paths, plus a green zone – snake along the river, forming an abstract, ripple-like landscape interspersed with a series of lawns, cafés, a sports park and events plaza. Painted in a vibrant red, three pedestrian bridges crossing the river stand out against the muted urban palette, as does the swerving red asphalt path that connects them and which together form the park’s backbone
Curved benches, organic-shaped flower beds and sinuous stepped terraces further enhance the park’s riparian sensibility, as do a group of wave-like, timber-clad sculptural elements, which double as benches and chaise longues, and a recurring diatom-shaped motif, most notably featured as cut-out compositions on the balustrades and canopies of the bridges.
Embodying the complementary roles of environmental and social sustainability, Minhang’s riverfront rebirth bodes well for the district’s planned regeneration, having instilled, as SPARK partner Stephen Pimbley says, “a sense of civic pride in the district and set a local benchmark for the quality of life for future residents”.