Mixed-Use Design in China – Looking to Suzhou’s Past and Future to Create a New Water Town

Last month Real Estate Frontierone of China’s leading real estate magazines, talked with Bruce Wright about the design of Moon River, a new waterfront town in Suzhou China that takes cues from the region’s past to create a new water town for the future.

Real Estate Frontier:  As a mixed-use project, Moon River includes five-star hotels, a wetland park, the Museum of Modern Art, a waterfront commercial street, and low-density waterfront villas. How does SBA combine leisure architecture with cultural and commercial elements in the master plan?

Bruce:  Water is the great unifying factor. All of the elements of the plan embrace water in one way or another. I serves to connect the elements of this mixed-use plan, but also provides a sense of separation and gives each element of the plan a distinct identity. For example, the residences sit directly on the water, looking outward toward a fairly tranquil, landscaped shoreline or inward toward a grand pool deck. On the other hand, the commercial street is clustered densely along a narrower, much more active waterway, creating a lively sense of place that is very different from the atmosphere of the plan’s residential clusters. The hotel opens up to its own expansive body of water, adjacent to – but separate from – the retails and residential areas.

Real Estate Frontier:  How do you create design elements that are originally sourced from Chinese traditional aesthetics, but are developed into a new standard that keeps this project at the forefront of development? In this project, how does the master plan and architectural concept reflect the traditional culture and heritage of Suzhou?

Bruce:  I believe the key to creating a plan and concept that allows a project to represent both a region’s past and its future is to look tot he core elements of the region’s culture to direct the underlying identity of the project. Then the architecture and individual elements of the project can proceed in a contemporary direction. Moon River sits within a region largely defined by its relationship to water. By sculpting and filling the land along the river, we could allow water to weave through the site, honoring and expanding upon the city’s identity as one of China’s most beautiful water towns. Once that connection to the cultural heritage was established, the architecture could be carried out in a very modern way, yet still act as an extension of the region’s ongoing heritage.

Real Estate Frontier:  In the current real estate market in China, commercial real estate has shown signs of overheating due to intensive competition. Real estate diversification becomes the trend. What is the core value of the Moon River project compared with other resort & leisure products in architecture? How do you consider product differentiation in creating the architectural concept?

Bruce:  Moon River is really differentiated by the quality of the overall experience, which in turn is created through the carefully edited mixture of culture, retail and leisure uses. The opportunity to experience a traditional water town that has been re-designed for the future is very unique.

Real Estate Frontier:  SB Architects is a professional architecture firm with more than 50-year history, specializing in high-end hotel and resort projects. What is the core advantage of SB Architects in architecture and master planning?

Bruce:  The value we bring to the table comes from our ability to combine the world-wide experience, technical knowledge and track record on par with the world’s largest architecture firms with the hands-on philosophy of a boutique design firm. We offer the best of both worlds.