Plat Studio | Miaojing River: a Hidden Treasure to Ecological Infrastructure
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Miaojing River: a Hidden Treasure to Ecological Infrastructure

Project Name:Miaojing River Ecological Infrastructure Design

Project Location:Miaojing River(West to North Gucheng Rd, East to Forest Park), Kunshan City,Jiangsu Province

Design Timeframe:Dec. 2017-Present

Project Area:423,975 sqm

 

Project Statement

A 20 minute commute to Shanghai, the suburb of Kunshan is evolving into a high-tech livable city in its own right. Traditionally a watertown, Kunshan’s culture is defined by its dependency on its waterways that support the central transportation and economy of the area through extensive canals, rivers and lakes.

A main artery of Kunshan’s water supply, the Miaojing River has historically served as the city’s main aqueduct, connecting the Kuilei Lake reservoir to the city center old town. Strict preservation of this channel has produced a large corridor of untouched ecological potential. With a recent transfer of the aqueduct into an expansive piping system, the Miaojing River has transitioned into new open space resource available for the city to experience.

This project aims to drive the green infrastructure development of Kunshan West with the Miaojing River as the central axis of abundant ecological value and recreational programs for surrounding communities. Anchoring the framework of Kunshan West, the vision is to designate Miaojing River as an invaluable natural resource for the future of Kunshan.

Miaojing River Current Condition Drone Photo

 

Kunshan City

20 km northwest of Shanghai lies Kunshan City. With a rich history as a watertown, Kunshan is woven together by its waterways resulting in 8,000 hectares of Kunshan being covered by water. This extensive infrastructure of canals has driven the development of the city from years of irrigated farming to an economy now that produces 70% of its GDP from innovative industries.

Kunshan is currently experiencing a present that relies less on its rivers as a resource of water and more as an amenity that makes Kunshan an active livable city. By prioritizing Kunshan’s future development through green infrastructure, the design of the new Miaojing River corridor is informed by this intention to make the park an ecological driver for growth of Kunshan West. The current transition from aqueduct to park is making this goal a reality.

Kunshan City Regional Analysis

 

Kunshan West’s Urban Framework

Kunshan West is a developing region between the recreational area of Kuilei Lake and the old town city center. An existing North-South core axis links major public open space amenities that include a large retail center at Central Lake, Forest Park, as well as sports and commerce centers to the south. There is a variety of land uses in this section of the city that include higher education, research and development offices and mixed-use developments.

Running East to West through this Kunshan West urban framework is the Miaojing River which connects the Kuilei Lake reservoir to the central city. It was this connection that was utilized as an aqueduct for many years. Serving as the main supply of water to the old town, the river was historically able to support the urbanization and growth of the Kunshan. During this growth, the banks of the Miaojing River transitioned from farmland to larger-scale urban development as industry advanced into more innovative sectors. The city further responded to this change by implementing an extensive piping system to replace the aqueduct, releasing the river of its function as water supply.

Kunshan West Framework

Miaojing River Transition Analysis

 

Today the Miaojing River is a hidden ecological resource for Kunshan City. Rarely is such a large amount of uninterrupted green open space present in an already developed urban setting. It’s untapped natural beauty that has been preserved for decades through the strict protection of the aqueduct. The isolation of this corridor, however, has produced a variety of issues concerning the ecological makeup of the existing environment. Highly dense forests with linear belts of single species of trees compete for resources resulting in low diversity and a lack of accessibility into the understory. An unhealthy riparian habitat can additionally be observed as a result of steep slopes on the banks of each channel.

Site Observations

 

The project’s strategy for the open space of Kunshan West seeks to address these existing ecological issues by restoring the corridor’s ecological health to adapt alongside the city’s development. In response to the existing open space framework that has naturally developed along the network of canals stemming off of the Miaojing, the river will act as the “spine” of the future framework manifested through a comprehensive series of greenways, 40 km of bike trails, canals and streetscape.

The strategic framework of the Miaojing River aims to increase biodiversity and improve public access through low-impact design. North-South linkages will control pedestrian and bike circulation through restored forest allowing visitors to experience nature with minimal disturbance to newly established habitat. Furthermore, the intention of the project is to have programmatic planning on a local level cater to adjacent neighborhoods and all generations of users.

Kunshan West Open Space Strategies Diagram

 

Miaojing River Masterplan and Site Strategies

The Miaojing River masterplan prioritizes the ecological value of the existing open spaces, linking Kuilei Lake, Forest Park and the Kunshan City Center. Comprised of three canals, the treatment of the central eco-corridor focuses on preservation of ecology and water quality control. The side channels are designed to employ stormwater management practices and contain the majority of accessible areas and bike path circulation. Through well-integrated programmed open space servicing surrounding communities, the Miaojing River will transform into the main resource of ecological infrastructure for Kunshan West.

Landscape Strategies Layers Diagram

Miaojing River Master Plan

 

The overall ecological strategy of the project will enhance the site’s existing habitat through methods of forest restoration and regrading of the river’s profile to expand wetland habitat. The primary aim is to encourage a large variety of wildlife to inhabit the river’s eco-corridor with improved water quality and increased opportunities for shelter and food.

Alongside protected forest, restoration pilot areas 20 meters in diameter will be selected to improve the biodiversity of the central eco-corridor, thinning existing trees to allow light to access the understory. Positioned along the river’s banks they will serve as catalysts of enhanced health for the adjacent untouched forest. Complementary hydrophilic tree species and shrubs will subsequently be planted into the opened understory to create a more stable ecological community overall.

Widening the Miaojing’s central channel will create a gentle slope more suitable for wetland habitat while the introduction of logs and perch trees will direct water flow, control erosion as well as provide forage and cover opportunities for local aquatic wildlife. This change in grading will also result in the formation of eco-islands that serve to supplement habitat and slow down the river’s flow, improving water quality as well. Bioswales along the interface of the adjacent urban development will strengthen the green infrastructure and storm water management of the entire eco-corridor.

Ecological Strategy Sections

Forest Restoration Strategy Diagram

 

The access strategy will be implemented by elevated boardwalks and densely planted buffer zones to act as guided pathways minimizing a visitor’s impact on the surrounding forest habitat. Furthermore, protected platforms are positioned throughout the forest to allow bird-watching and wildlife observation with views over the waterfront wetland areas.

North-South links are created by robust and rustic bridges that attract surrounding communities into to the central heart of the park. The character and design of these bridges cultivate an identity of the green corridor that the public can recognize and connect with. In the prairie areas of the park, permeable asphalt paths meander through programmatic nodes that provide flexible access to nature and engagement amongst visitors.

Access Strategy Sections

Access Strategy Sections

 

All programs in the outer channels of the corridor park will be allocated strategically based on the land-use of the adjacent urban fabric. An iconic observation tower set in a wetland garden is proposed at the interface between the Miaojing River and Kuilei Lake, providing both an educational anchor and landmark for the corridor. Positioned between the large scale landscape of the lake and the eco-corridor’s forest trails, the observation tower provide views over newly restored habitat and the city beyond. Also within the wetland garden a kayak center will activate the open water between Kuilei Lake and the Miaojing River offering exploration opportunities of both water bodies.

Wetland Garden Perspective

Kayak Center Perspective

 

Amenities in the forest include an amphitheater that allows larger gatherings from the nearby education and research campuses as well as a series of birdwatching stations designed to blend in within the forest by being covered by vertical wooden panels. Visitors will be able to observe wildlife discreetly undercover without disturbing the surrounding habitat.

Amphitheater Perspective

Bird Watching Station Perspective

 

Playgrounds that celebrate natural topography and raw materials are found adjacent to residential neighborhoods for family visitors interested in more biking opportunities. Large open fields will be populated by natural play equipment as well as flexible lawn areas for picnic and other recreational programs intended for family use.

Playground Perspective

 

These comprehensive strategies strive to transform the Miaojing River corridor from an isolated albeit natural treasure of Kunshan City into ecological infrastructure that benefits the local community and fosters future sustainable growth for the whole of Kunshan West.

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