A physical and metaphorical bridge between Foshan’s Ancestral Temple and the famous ancient alleyway, Dong Hua Li, in Lingnan Tiandi we wanted a place where we could shout: in the streets, the alleys, the courtyards, to a new friend over coffee or softly to a lover in the candlelight.
Cited by the Urban Land Institute as “an exemplary urban regeneration development model which has transformed an under-utilized dilapidated district into Wuhan’s premier community,” Foshan’s Lingnan Tiandi, a $300 million project, argues for what modern urban China can be: pedestrian streets full of quirks and life defined by an aesthetic neither anonymous nor implanted but of our time and place.
We started by preserving the fabric and the hubris of hundreds of years of urban dwelling, including 22 monuments and 128 traditional buildings: everything from the most modest one room shop building to the grand homes of the very rich. For three years architects from Studio Shanghai, including Ben Wood and the project manager Matt White, lived full and part time in a traditional lingnan courtyard home on site.
We produced a photographic and hand sketch record of every alleyway, doorway, boundary stone, and wellhead. We studied how the ratio of building height to lane width and solar orientation affected the microclimate of our environs. We took field trips to plant nurseries, historic gardens, clay pottery kilns, and artist’s studios. We collected samples of bricks from local factories, stones from local quarries, wooden windows, doors, and furniture from local workshops, and metalwork from local blacksmiths.
We do not believe in strict historic preservation. Our intent from the beginning was to allow change while keeping the footprints of history in evidence. If an alley was narrow we made sure it stayed that way. If a house was grand in scale we made certain not to diminish this relative importance. We designed new buildings following as our guide the great diversity of scale and style that we found around us.
We agreed that tall buildings on life support would not be welcome. We developed an outdoor cooling system for the narrow alleys based on the latest evaporative cooling technology. We fought for intimate restaurants with soft light, intimate gardens, and the occasional view of an elegant Qiang Mei doorway.
Lingnan Tiandi humanizes a larger district developed by Shui On Land and laid out by Skidmore Owings and Merrill. We worked closely with Dwight Law of Design Land, our landscape architect.
Foshan’s Lingnan Tiandi represents the largest realization of our work here to date: a place which gives people identity through the art of living.