The size of the typical block in new Chinese cities starts from approximately 500x500 square meters. The problem of the mega block is two-fold: 1. It is anti-urban – it weakens the interaction between buildings/communities and the city; 2. It is high-carbon – it makes an automobile-oriented city where public transportations stop outside the block and its scale does not support walking.
This observation suggests that the effort to reduce carbon emission could become an attempt to increase urbanity, which in turn inspires a modest, potentially effective, design strategy: Reduce the size of the block.
When Atelier FCJZ was given the opportunity to design an office park outside of Shanghai in the satellite town of Jiading, the Industry 4.0 Demonstration Base, we defined the challenge as following:
The bigger questions: An office park is typically suburban, can we turn it more urban? What are the qualities of urban space? How to make the people use and enjoy them more?
Furthermore, we focused on one specific question:
How small can a block be?
The size of a block is determined by density, scale, and program. A block is part of the urban fabric and defined by streets.
In the master plan we propose, urban accessibility is improved by a low-rise (4 stories) high density (average master plan FAR 1.2 / block FAR 2) carpet and mixed programs: Mainly offices for high-tech companies with public/ commercial facilities on the street level and some residential elements (rental apartments and hotels but not condominiums due to Chinese zoning regulation) on the top floor.
The primary urban space here is the street, which is 10 meters wide and spatially defined by the 3-meter wide covered walkways on the ground level of the buildings on both sides. As the project is situated in the southern Yangtze River region, covered walkways protect pedestrians from long rainy season and excessive sun in the summer.
After considering the facts that each company will own the building up to 4,000 square meters, retail outlets and eateries would desire corner locations, walk-ability and connectivity between blocks, and more building-street interface in general, we set the block size at 41.2 x 41.2 meters.
Other important dimensions:
Grid: Approximately 50 meters x 50 meters from street center to street center.
Block/Building module: 41.2 meters break down to 5 x 8-meter column-to-column bays plus 0.6 meter on each end for potential architectural articulation of facade. 41.2 x 41.2 meter meets the floor area ratio of 4,000 square meters per block thus to allow a block to be occupied by a number of small firms or one large company. It is a single-building block. While all the buildings are of similar sizes, each one is designed differently in terms of floor plans and elevations, which allows the development to meet the varied space as well as identity needs of the businesses and enriches the experience in the urban spaces.
First 4 blocks: When we started the architectural design of the first four blocks, we were asked to facilitate a number of public functions, such as a convention center and a hotel, which result in a 8-story buildings. To be true to our master plan, we designed two separate pieces of architecture: One is four 4-story block-buildings on the ground; another is 4-story continuous loop-building that “floats” on the top of the blocks.
This is an indication that the mini block may work for a higher density.
There are 22 block-buildings designed by FCJZ.
The 41.2 block is the antithesis of the typical 500-meter and up mega block (Super mega block would go up to 800x800 meters). It's the Mini Block.
The master plan concept is reinforced by several other measures:
While planning a series of pedestrian streets, we introduced to some of secondary circulatory routes the concept of “Shared Street” to mix street life and vehicular traffic through careful design to achieve safety and accessibility at the same time. Unfortunately, this idea was not fully realized.
Covered walkway system:
Already mentioned with the street, a 3-meter wide colonnade or cantilever is required on the street level for all the buildings, as specified in the design guidelines.
Setback is not permitted from the second floor and up, also as specified in the design guidelines.
The design process:
The conventional master plan for control in China does not define the specific locations and configurations of buildings and as a result it does not control the quality of urban spaces. We developed design guidelines between the stages of master plan design and architectural design as a critical tool for implementation. Therefore, other design institutes/offices participating in the project have all followed the design guidelines.
Upon the completion of the project, we believe:
Small is beautiful.
Yet one question remains unanswered:
What is urbanity?