Cities have a notorious love-hate relationship with Olympics. They love the publicity and the money the Olympics bring, the opportunity it gives them to improve their infrastructure, and the pride of hosting the event. But after the games have come and gone, they often have an Olympic-sized problem on their hands: how to integrate the new facilities into day-to-day, urban life. Sasaki, which won the commission for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Green and Forest Park through an invited, international competition, emphasized post-Olympic use, along with sustainability in its design.
“As important as the Olympic games are, the legacy is after the games,” claims Dennis Pieprz, Sasaki’s president. “The lesson we learned was to avoid the isolation of [some previous Olympic sites]. We admired what happened in Barcelona, where the Olympic games were used to invest in civic and public spaces, triggering more private investment.” But Sasaki didn’t want to just duplicate the successes of other cities; it hoped to develop a scheme that was appropriate for China and the way people there use public space.
The outcome is a master plan that ensures the daily use of the green and park, far into the 21st century. Beijing residents will be able to access the park for group exercise and community events. Because of its vast size, the park allows for three types of wetlands, meadows, and upland forests—all for residents and visitors to enjoy. Other areas of the park will have more restricted use, being devoted to improving the area’s biodiversity and reintroducing indigenous plants and animals.
Environmental concerns drove much of Sasaki’s plan. As Pieprz notes, “‘Green design’ means a lot of different things in China; we interpreted it as something to think about ecologically: not just green trees and planting, but a whole set of ideas including integrating transit, water, and beyond.” The plan proposes that park workers be trained to be sensitive to the plants and animals in the park; it also sets the goal of making the park self-sustainable and low-cost to maintain.
Located at the north end of the historic north/south axis of Beijing, the site is near where the 1985 Asian Games were held. While that event triggered a lot of investment, Pieprz predicts the investment around this project will be even greater. Currently, the plan accommodates 2.5 million square meters of development including retail, commercial, cultural, and hotel uses. “Beijing doesn’t have many great civic parks—this one is meant to be highly integrated with the surrounding district and to become a real focus for community and city-wide activities in the post-games era.” Pieprz even envisions it becoming a tourist attraction.
Sasaki’s goal was to design a plan with a sense of balance—between East and West, ancient and modern, development and nature, park and city.