Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage city, has been continuously inhabited for eight hundred years. It is a city “frozen in time” with stunning mountain vistas and historically significant architecture organized along three rivers giving it shape and character. Any new development in the Lijiang area would be judged by how well it complemented the world-famous Old Town, and efforts at a thoroughly modern “new town” had yet to come to fruition, continuously falling short of local, regional, and national ideals. When the client approached Overland, they hoped that the firm’s own location in a city rich with legacy and a successful river walk would give them the sensitivity and vision needed to find an elegant solution.
Culturally significant cities carry a special burden for their citizens. While the cities’ popularity attracts development, bringing the plans to fruition can be fraught with battles. Residents and local governments must critique opportunistic enterprises that would compromise the integrity of the place.
At the same time, to ensure the continued habitation and prosperity of the city, modernity must be welcome. If it is done well, the architecture and design of the current era can be as enduring and attractive as the history it is built upon. It can represent the best of its era in concert with the enduring prestige of that which came before.
Mirroring the organizational structure of the Old Town, the development used the mountain streams to shape the city into quadrants with the lake at the center. Each quadrant focuses on a different activity, with significant sacred spaces carefully positioned throughout. A series of three streams would create pedestrian river walks winding through the new town.
A hotel serving a thermal hot springs spa and parkland sits at the northern boundary of the shopping district, creating an optimal visitor experience. Meanwhile nature centers, artists’ studios, theaters, and a museum extend that quality of life to the residents. To the southeast lies another hotel and convention center.
The entire plan is both attractive and sustainable so as to draw visitors and retain a population of healthy, happy citizens. Working with the natural water patterns, modern techniques in water filtration, graywater irrigation, and constructed wetlands create a harmonious balance with the rivers that flow from the mountain. Centuries ago Lijiang was shaped by its relationship to water, and now the city benefits from best practices in water management as it expands into the twenty-first century. The Lijiang Master plan creates a self-sustaining community that integrates contemporary environmental best practices while honoring its historic past.