Sponge City

In 2013, President Xi Jinping suggested that “[Chinese] cities should be like sponges”. From that moment on, the term increasingly gained popularity, making its way through the documents of local Chinese municipalities and urban planners. Briefly, a sponge city can be defined as one that can hold, clean, and drain water in a natural way using an ecological approach – a new way of thinking about storm water as an opportunity and resource to tackle water problems many Chinese cities face. The “Sponge City” will be the core of modern water infrastructure, and China has now chosen 16 urban districts across the country to become Pilot Sponge Cities.

Long before the “sponge city” concept entered the everyday vocabulary of local decision makers, Progetto CMR has been focusing and researching on this topic coming to the conclusion that sponge city is not only a system to answer to flood problem but also an opportunity to create more livable cities. Working in cooperation with other consultants, Progetto CMR developed a strong experience on a wide range of topics, such as urban eco system, rainwater reuse, urban waterfront requalification and adaptive architecture, which altogether serve as fundamental base for the design of sponge cities. Indeed, the belief that cities are like natural eco-systems, that supply their clean air and water, generate oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, capture and transform the sun’s energy, represents the principle of all the urban design projects Progetto CMR has developed so far.

A good example of such forward-thinking is the design developed for the “Changgou Masterplan”, a 3.8sqkm project located in Beijing’s Fangshan district. The project, designed to further boost the attractiveness of the area and to turn it into a new top-level touristic and living destination, is a mixed-use scheme comprising a residential component, a traditional European style commercial village and a five star hotel and resort.

Nature is an important component of the planning design. In particular, water is a central element, as it is not only a valuable energy resource but also dramatically improves the livability and efficiency of the area itself. The built-up areas of the project all revolve around nice water canals and ponds, which are used as natural connections, strong landscape elements and as social/natural activities generators, reinforcing and reviving the natural ecosystem of the entire town.

Following the “Canal Town” concept, the project is carefully designed to balance urban activities and natural elements. Extensive sustainable design principles based on SAWE (Sun, Air, Water, Earth) approach are adopted for this project: the already existing spring lake wetlands in the area are connected and rearranged to form a natural system which contains valuable wetland habitats and allows for efficient absorption of rain and flood. The circulation of water in the system improves the synergy between the city and nature, therefore increases the area’s capacity to adapt to environmental changes.

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