The City of Suzhou, China has commissioned TLS Landscape Architecture, Berkeley, CA, to plan the urban renovation of 13 kilometers of the Grand Canal which passes through Suzhou on its way from Beijing to Hangzhou. Its construction began 2,500 years ago and the canal became the main shipping artery of China in ancient times. Today it is still heavily active with commercial barges and other boat traffic. As urbanization has exploded throughout eastern China, water levels have risen substantially due to runoff so new strategies are needed to raise the level of flood protection. At the same time, the city would like to convert the disconnected, neglected banks into a fully connective urban centerpiece, turning a “back door” into a “front door” for daily civic life and redevelopment.
Over the ages, the canal has been the site of much of China’s cultural heritage. The new plan is to turn this waterfront into an unfolding “scroll” weaving together diverse historic strands that create a monumental resource – like a great set of encyclopedias that can revisited countless times. This is done with devices ranging from large scale photo murals and “Lantern Box” mini-museums to an itinerary of “scenes” evoking modern relevance of this history through art installations. There are a variety of shoreline typologies ranging from sculptural hard edges at the water, green terraces which step toward the water, to protected urban wetlands at the level of the canal itself. As one moves along the length of this urban scroll, stories and spatial experiences respond to the specific histories and current dynamics of each district and neighborhood.