an airport runway transformed into a magnificent park

The 12-foot-long strip of concrete that runs through a new park in Shanghai is a clear remnant of the past and drastically different life of the earth. Originally laid in 1948, this concrete line was once part of a long, flat runway for the city’s Longhua Airport. After its closure in 2011 and the start of a neighborhood-wide urban redevelopment project, the concrete track has grown from a crucial piece of transportation infrastructure to a vast, seemingly unnecessary relic.

[Photo: Insaw Photography]

What has risen in its place over the past decade is a new central park for the emerging urban district along the Huangpu River. Designed by Sasaki landscape and town planning firm, Xuhui Runway Park has replaced the airport’s footprint while preserving its history. “We intentionally kept this row of concrete,” says Dou Zhang, director of Sasaki’s Shanghai office, “to remember the past but also to reuse the old material.”

It is one of the latest examples of obsolete transport infrastructure being reborn in bustling public spaces. New York’s High Line and Chicago’s 606 turned disused railroads into city-change parks, and cities like Seoul, South Korea, took old freeway overpasses and turned them into unexpected pedestrian corridors. . When the old Shanghai airport closed, it became a big blank slate ready to be reinvented.

The park, like the trail before it, is long and linear, something Sasaki has chosen to celebrate rather than hide. Zhang says the site before construction was “relentless” in its size and straightness. “When we structured our park and the design of the space, we tried to emphasize that linear feeling,” she says. Walking trails cut directly through the 36-acre site, and a series of waterways, constructed wetlands, and rain gardens also form stripes across the space. The preserved width of the track and the original pieces of concrete that were torn off during construction provide end-to-end walking routes.

[Photo: Insaw Photography]

It was also necessary to take into account the flatness of the site. “It’s an opportunity, and it’s also a constraint because there is very little shape and topography of the land,” explains Mark Dawson, director at Sasaki and co-leader of the project with Zhang. “It has to be interpreted in such a way that you can reduce it to a human level, where you and I can occupy the space and not be overwhelmed by the scale of airports.”

The design breaks flatness by incorporating subtle changes in topography, with sunken spaces that form gardens and an entrance to a new metro line built under part of the site, as well as gently sloping walkways meant to evoke takeoff and take off. the landing of an airplane. Cafe buildings are scattered throughout the park, as are playgrounds and sports fields.

[Photo: Insaw Photography]

The aquatic elements are an important element of the park, which incorporates an existing canal system but also creates a series of rain gardens and constructed wetlands, which filter runoff from the street before it enters the courtyards. water that connect to the nearby river. Zhang says much of this natural filtration is made possible by the park’s use of 100% native plants, which she says is rare in Shanghai. “You see the same thing everywhere. It becomes an easy to use palette because [non-native plants] are widely available in the industry. But their ecological value is limited, ”she says.

As urban regeneration continues in the surrounding neighborhood, the role of stormwater treatment is likely to become even more important. Skyscrapers and towers are now being built on both sides of the trail park, creating more residences, offices and commercial uses in the area.

It also creates an integrated user base for the park itself. Since opening at the end of last year, the park has established itself as a popular public space. The playground equipment in some parts of the park has already had to be replaced due to overuse.

[Photo: Insaw Photography]

“I was just overwhelmed by how the community adopted this very linear park and this open space as their front yard,” says Dawson.

The park and the growing neighborhood that surrounds it are already intertwined. Compared to what it was like to stand on the closed trail before the park was built, Zhang says, the park has become more on a human scale. “A person felt very small,” she says. “But now a lot of buildings are in place, the streets are in place. The feeling is different.

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