The 2020 World Architect News Awards top honours went to doffice Architects, winning the Grand Prix Award for their redesign of Shui Wei 3D Community in China’s Shenzhen province, called a city within a city.
The site is an urban village, Shu Wei in Shenzhen, which is a settlement that used to be an indigenous village. It has undergone its own urbanisation, alongside that of Shenzhen, which was initiated by the villagers without planners and architects.
The so-called “Handshake Towers” is a typical phenomenon of urban villages in China’s greater Pearl River Delta area. These stand-alone buildings are between 20m and 30m high, with the distance between them as little as 2,5m. The former farmers on whose land this super-dense, new but informal, “urban village” for immigrant low-wage workers was built, became wealthy real-estate managers.
Today, the attitude towards these urban villages has changed because the informality of the development has since become a thorn in the side for many people. However, tearing them down is not an option, as there are simply too many of these urban villages. Instead, wherever it pays, new investors are curious to learn how to adapt to the situation.
Novel idea turns into reality
In this first-of-a-kind case, the Shenzhen government has leased 35 individual handshake tower blocks in this urban village from the former farmers, with the aim of converting them into affordable housing.
During the planning phase, six owners of residential towers withdrew, making the situation more complex. To date no conversions at all have taken place – all buildings have been fully demolished and replaced by new constructions, a fact that makes this project by doffice even more significant.
doffice masterplan strategy
The masterplan strategy proposed by doffice demonstrates a new alternative for dealing with this problematic building stock, and simultaneously creates a new dwelling option for the young and the “creatives”.
The project provides more than 500 rental units for 900 residents in 18 different apartment types, ranging in area from 12,5m² to 45m², in 29 towers.
To achieve this, the existing urban village was basically redesigned and modernised in line with the living standards of young urban residents, with 35 towers divided into seven circulation clusters, each colour-coded for a clear wayfinding.
The key components of doffice’s plan are conceptualised around four main components, each with its own proposed actions:
1. Building design
• No facade make-over, instead creating a housing community.
• Connect rather than treat the 35 towers as isolated upgrades.
• Ground floor – shops to activate the alleys.
• Upper floors – affordable housing.
2. Maze of alleys
• Bring hierarchy to the disorienting maze of 16 alleys in-between the towers, by organising them into a networked system of public shopping streets and semi-public spaces and private use, using a colour-coding system.
3. 3D community
• Use connecting network of sky-corridors and seven elevators to inter-connect each of the towers.
4. Communal spaces
• Create various communal living spaces that can serve 504 households and 900 tenants.
Real communal living
Another important public space element in this strategy of adaptation is a central space of 200m² spanning the fifth floors of two adjacent towers. Conceived as a communal living room, the space is equipped with a gym, reading lounge, tea lounge, multipurpose gathering space and a communal kitchen with a dining room.
An accessible roofscape was added to house public washrooms, vegetable gardens and lounges. It is hoped that the residents will look after the day-to-day maintenance of these common areas and thus support the growth of a functioning neighbourhood in an unusual residential complex.
Grand Prix winner
With this renovation project, the architects from doffice have shown an exemplary approach to adapting these structures for alternative living models. Through its high density, this model of affordable housing for young professionals enables social contacts in new constellations that are important for urban coexistence in a civil society, making this a worthy winner.
Location: Shui Wei Village, Shenzhen, China
Year: 2017 to May 2018
Programme: 504 rental units, 200m² clubhouse, eight entrance courtyards and seven elevators, 533m² of sky corridors
Architecture and interior: doffice
Local collaborator: LDI Urban
We extend our thanks and appreciation to the WAN Awards for the use of the information contained in this article.
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