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Natural Landscape Elements Key to Jinji Lake Design

By Erin Chapman, Michael Cannon, Sean Chiao, Frank Chow, Dorothy Verdon, Stephen Engblom

As China's economy shifts from agriculture to high-tech, the government has designated five pivotal national projects as special development areas to attract Fortune 500 investors from the United States and Europe - and the Jinji Lake site is one of them. In 1994, the Chinese and Singapore governments signed a joint agreement to initiate plans to develop the Jinji Lake waterfront community as a world-class, environmentally responsible mixed-use development - in essence, a new city developed for an international community.

The Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee (SIPAC) is responsible for development of the 70-square kilometer area around the lake, with the goal of creating a high-tech business and residential community that meets the standards of multi-national corporations. The area will eventually be the home to more than 600,000 people. EDAW was hired to produce the Jinji Lake Master Landscape Design - encompassing public open space, parks and detailed landscape design around the lake and at the waters edge. The master landscape design divides the lake into eight distinct neighborhoods, connected by a continuous park system. Construction on the first neighborhood began in late 1999; and as of May 2003, two neighborhoods, Cityside Harbor and the Grand Promenade, are currently nearing completion. The Jinji Lake landscape design recently won a national design merit award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2003.

Landscape Duality - Old and New

SIPAC wanted Jinji Lake's landscape design to contrast and complement the world-famous water gardens and private landscapes in the adjacent ancient garden City of Suzhou - and they wanted to develop a "New Suzhou" using the "best practices" of the Western landscape profession. In traditional Chinese culture, gardens exist behind palace, temple, or household walls - and are built on the concept of miniaturization to encapsulate nature. At the Jinji Lake community, the landscape is designed more as public open space and parks that encourage large gatherings and celebrations.

Jinji Lake's landscape design explores and celebrates inherent dualities: The city of Suzhou's status as a revered historical city and its goal to be a modern global player. The landscape design respects the historic traditions of Suzhou and weaves together the worlds of old and new, business and recreation, living and education. The new landscape design is meant to symbolically connect the worlds of old to New Suzhou, linking the past to the future, art to architecture, land to water, city to village and Suzhou to the world.

As the lead landscape designer and master plan consultant, EDAW's collaboration with SIPAC at Jinji Lake has been ongoing over a period of five years. Local citizens have commented on how the open space and waterfront parks around Jinji Lake have improved their quality of life. Jinji Lake has become a landscape success story and destination site in China demonstrating how landscape can create places for people to live, businesses to invest and cultures to celebrate. China's mayors have made Jinji Lake a permanent stop on their National Tour of Significant New Public Works - proving that a new type of landscape architecture is valued and important during this period of dynamic modernization of the most populous nation in the world. Although EDAW was initially engaged to design the open space, it became evident that the previous land use plan did little to embrace the lake's potential. Through a series of public meetings, many of which were regionally televised, the role and importance of open space was explored and redefined for Jinji Lake, including changing densities to support the most active plazas, maintaining the natural shorelines and restructuring land use in all neighborhoods. The final product EDAW produced was new landscape design guidelines.

World-Class Landscape Design

To create a world-class landscape design, EDAW's senior landscape designers researched successful waterfronts around the world. They created the design for Jinji Lake around eight key principles:

  • Develop a hierarchy of open spaces, elements, and functions for different uses.
  • Design an interesting and dynamic public open space and waterfront design.
  • Incorporate active commercial and civic uses into open space to provide economic vitality.
  • Provide a variety of recreational and educational opportunities.
  • Create a unique identity for each neighborhood.
  • Establish a cohesive visual and public connection around the lake.
  • Use the latest techniques for naturally improving the lake water quality.
  • Orient residential streets to the lake to allow views of the waterfront.

Public open spaces at Jinji Lake are realized in a series of culturally resonant, sensitively sited and designed, and exactingly executed parks and plazas. The newly built communities of Cityside Harbor and the Waterfront Promenade are on the edge of a mixed-use City and create large-scale public gathering places that for the first time allow the residents of Suzhou to gather and recreate informally in large open spaces.

Because Jinji Lake is one of China's cleanest and largest lakes, EDAW took special measures in the design to clean surface water by using natural and created wetlands along receiving streams to filter pollutants in agricultural and urban stormwater runoff. The southern area of the waterfront will contain a large Eco-Park, to educate the public about the importance of environmental sustainability, water quality, and proper stewardship of the lake's resources. Environmental preserves have been enhanced with viewing areas and interpretive facilities.

Design Philosophy

The design philosophy of Jinji Lake is a minimalist palette focused on raising the awareness of the beauty of the natural landscape element rather than the more conventional Chinese landscape archetypes of enhancing natural features behind shrubbery or ornate park structures.

The design promotes the use of traditional craftsmanship with local materials, such as granite and wood. The choice of materials complements the traditional beauty of old town Suzhou, and provides a global, modern interpretation of the rhythms, materials and colors of the old city. The craftsmanship at Jinji Lake has set new standards in China by which other public spaces are now being judged. The details are simple and easily maintained, restrained and well executed. The materials are all locally made or derived, and the color palette is natural and subdued. The plantings are indigenous and sustainable year round. The focus on open space and a sense of expansiveness is amplified by the seamless connection of the sky, water, and plaza at the horizon line.

The landscape features range from a festival plaza to intimate boardwalks; a waterfront promenade to a rolling picturesque park and wooded camphor forest.

These parks and open spaces are open day and night all year round, changing in character and subtleties over the seasons. Safety and maintenance procedures have been implemented and maintained as envisioned in the design. As Chinese culture embraces the idea of public open space, the peoples' love of the land has been re-ignited. On the weekends the parks are flooded with crowds escaping the old city (and Shanghai, only one hour away) to the open landscapes and waterfront parks along the lake.

Artistic Features

SIPAC understood that attracting world-class companies would require that the Jinji Lake development encompass certain western customs and high-tech amenities that would blend the two cultures. This challenge resulted in a fusion of art and culture that extended local traditional craftsmanship and built an international appeal into the landscape design.

EDAW's senior landscape architects Michael Cannon (, and Jacinta McCann (, can be reached at 415-433-1484, and online at

EDAW's international project team has included designers from San Francisco and Hong Kong offices: Sean Chiao, Michael Cannon, Sandy D'Elia, Jacinta McCann, Joe Brown, Jim Heid, Frank Chow, David Jung, Anu Natarajan, Scott Feuer, Elizabeth Gourley, Marty McGraw, Kirsten Barre, Gerry Dion, Don Lee, Alexandra Chu, and Stephen Engblom.

EDAW has now established a joint venture office in Suzhou with the park's developer, to train local staff in state-of-the-art design practice techniques. David Jung, a Senior Associate at EDAW, is managing this venture and is the lead designer for the new communities to be developed at Jinji Lake. ( ). EDAW's Hong Kong office website address is Sean Chiao is the firm's Urban Design Principal in Hong Kong and he can be reached at 852-2833-5595 or

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December 8, 2019, 7:52 am PDT

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