Image courtesy of SWA

SWA has designed the public open spaces for Suzhou Center. Click to view more images.

International landscape architecture firm SWA has been working in the city of Suzhou since 2003, providing landscape design and planning services for a number of projects, including the Gao Xin District and all 45 acres of Suzhou Industrial Park Times Square.

Having proven its ability to weave contemporary, pedestrian-friendly design into a city with a rich 2,500-year history of canals, gardens, and bridges, SWA won an invited competition in September to design the public open spaces for Suzhou Center, a 65-acre area in the developing central business district. “We are very fortunate. It’s a big project for us, very high profile,” says John Wong, an SWA principal in the firm’s Sausalito, California, office.

The business district extends along a grand, urban corridor that flows from Suzhou’s historic core to the Jinji Lake waterfront, and encompasses hotels, residential buildings, retail developments, and offices in various stages of design and construction. An 88-story arched tower called “Gate to the East” (designed by RMJM) topped out this winter and will serve as the district’s landmark. “Our firm will be the one to pull all the various pieces together and create a strong public realm that is pedestrian-oriented and accessible,” says Wong. The designers at SWA organized their scheme around five concentric “C”-shaped rings­­: two to the west of the tower and three to the east between the tower and the waterfront. Each ring represents a different theme and has its own terrain and program, ranging from a densely wooded area to a heavily trafficked boulevard. The architects employ footbridges, roof gardens, a walkway out onto the lake, outdoor cafes, and tree-lined sky parks to animate and connect the buildings and landscapes.

Development and architecture typically drive design in China, says Wong. “It’s very rare for projects to focus on the public side. In this case, the public open space was key.”