Nantou Ancient Town
A growth history of Shenzhen
A witness to the historical origin of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao
In this ancient town over 1700 years
We look for the coexistence between the old and new.
The “symbiosis” of Ancient Town and the Modern Urban Village
The year 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Shenzhen’s opening. From a “small fishing village” to a modern metropolis, Shenzhen has undergone earth-shaking changes. However, the history of Shenzhen is far more than that. Behind this young modern city, lies a 1700-year-old Nantou Ancient Town.
Nantou Ancient Town is located at the end of Shennan Avenue in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, presenting a street pattern of “six verticals and one horizontal”. This is the only historical and cultural carrier in Shenzhen, as well as a valuable relic of the ancient Lingnan culture. It has witnessed the changes of Shenzhen since the Eastern Jin Dynasty and is considered to be the “root of Shenzhen-Hong Kong history and culture”.
Nantou Ancient Town has always been preferred among designers with its long history, rich culture and special urban texture. Whenever a major historical event occurs, Nantou Ancient Town would go through some history tracing and reforming—8 new antique buildings were built when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997; the main streets were greatly and newly decorated at the 2011 Shenzhen Universiade; and buildings were well integrated with arts at the 2017 Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen). In March 2019, the Nanshan District Government launched the “Nirvana and Rebirth Plan” for Nantou Ancient Town, which was implemented by Vanke Group, and the L&A Design Team was also fortunate to participate in it.
The north and south main streets of Nantou Ancient Town were officially opened on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Looking at the renewed ancient town, Mr. Li Baozhang was deeply impressed, recalling the difficulties in the project process.
Nantou Ancient Town is just around the corner to embrace its brand new life!
Since the main venue of the 2017 Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) was located in Nantou Ancient Town, the world has focused on this place known as the source of “Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao”. After the development of various eras, it has almost become an urban village with walls.
The theme of 2017 Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) is “Cities, Grow in Difference”. Hou Hanru (the curator and critic), Professor Du and Master Meng (the partners of Urban Practice) hope to see a “multicultural, inclusive and dynamic urban ecosystem” in Shenzhen. This biennale attracted 230 groups of exhibitors from China and all over the world. During the three months of exhibition, more than 300,000 people came here to pay a visit.
Later, we probably know that the Shenzhen Municipal Government hopes to “make the ancient town alive”, and use modern creativity to renew its cultural vitality, making here a place for more creative young people to work and live, as well as an ancient and fashionable cultural landmark of the Design City.
The task of project overall coordination fell to the Urban Research Institute of China Vanke (without suspense) . At the end of September last year, we were very pleased to know that Vanke wanted L&A Design to participate in landscape planning and to design the landscape of important scenic spots. I saw their research report that was so complex, also the popular architects and their plans for this project. Everyone knows that this is the designer’s dream job.
Wish is always perfect. Reality, how to say, is also quite well. It has the dramatic process that is difficult to meet again! In the past ten months (including the days of the epidemic), I don’t know how many coordination meetings I have experienced. We stayed up late to revise drawings, saw girls crying on their noses and boys slapping on the table, and experienced the arguments among constructors, designers and managers. Finally, after several months, Nantou Ancient Town, which has been closed for construction, can appear in front of everyone again.
When you go to this ancient town, you will see the work of the L&A Design Shenzhen Team—the reconstruction of Guandi Temple, the design of South Gate Park and South Gate Square (in the design we protected the local historic sites), and the reconstruction of the main street of the South Gate, etc. Now, let me on behalf of L&A Design, thank everyone who participated in the Nantou Ancient Town project—our team, Vanke management team, all the design partners, construction parties and workers who worked day and night. We have completed an impossible task together!
Sunday, August 23, 2020 in Shekou
With the continuous growth of immigrant population here, the style of the Nantou Ancient Town has undergone drastic changes. Like other ordinary urban villages scattered in the city, it was isolated by the rapid development and become a separated island. The buildings inside the ancient town began to “grow” naturally. The architectural styles of different ages are very different. New buildings have been heightened as the population moves in, hiding the old buildings among them.
Walking into the town, we could see that old people took out various seats from their homes and chatted in the alleys. There is no tea room or café. Not even a roof is needed. You can play cards and chess just in a shady place. The children born here can escape the stone puddles even with eyes closed. Everything here is so ordinary. People live in earnest, but they are far from the glorious world outside the ancient town. Occasionally, when a well-dressed gentleman walked into here, he would seem to be incompatible with the dusty, run-down and chaotic environment.
The texture of the interior of the ancient town is different from anywhere in the surrounding area. The streets here are narrow and winding, but it can meet the basic needs of communication and contact. Some small open spaces are enclosed by scattered houses, interspersed on both sides of these winding roads, and important street locations are occupied by various shops. However, this long-term disorderly development will inevitably lead to some problems.
▼南头古城的历史风貌，Historical townscape of Nantou ©奥雅设计
After traveling through the various buildings, it is not difficult for us to find another identity of Nantou Ancient Town—the urban village. Under its warm and sweet appearance, the Nantou Ancient Town also has many problems such as outdated infrastructure, lack of neighborhood space organization in the streets and public space for communication, etc. The entire street is full of divided spaces, so the tour experience lacks continuity.
Faced with such a complex space system, L&A Design Team organically connects different areas through points (cultural display), lines (historical axis), and planes (revitalized buildings), designing from the perspective of “the root-seeking and regeneration of the city”. “Root-seeking” is to study and interpret the historical changes and folk customs of Nantou, to deeply understand the function, space and value of this ancient town, and discover its shining points. “Regeneration” is to transform history into contemporary, so that Nantou Ancient Town could be “lived”.
▼今日的南头古城，the renewed Nantou Ancient Town ©奥雅设计
Employ the Local Culture to Enrich an Ancient Town
On the north-south axis of the ancient town, there are distributed key cultural relics protection units and historical buildings, extending from the memorial archway, Guandi Temple, and South Gate to the depths of the ancient town, forming a orderly spatial sequence. The memorial archway at the entrance is a symbol of Shenzhen’s long history and culture, and is also the starting point and facade of Nantou Ancient Town.
▼南头古城入口处牌坊，the memorial archway at the entrance of Nantou Ancient Town ©ACF域图视觉
▼改造前的关帝庙，Guandi Temple before reconstruction
During the investigation, L&A Design Team found that Guandi Temple was a high traffic area. On the way home from work, many residents would worship Guan Yu statue outside the wall when passing by. This is a touching and interesting story, which also made us aware of the problems that the retaining walls along the street was too high and too hard, causing the vision become limited. Therefore, during the renovation, the wall facing the street was opened to make the connection between the entrance interface and the town a more open space.
▼改造后的关帝庙，Guandi Temple after reconstruction ©ACF域图视觉
南门广场丨South Gate Square
The memorial archway is the entrance to South Gate Square. According to the existed road on the site, the designers narrowed the open space on the south side into a linear space leading to the ancient town. And the existed shrubs on both sides of the road were cleared and replaced by orderly street trees and open green spaces.
▼南门广场上络绎不绝的人流，A steady stream of visitors on the South Gate Square ©奥雅设计
The South Gate Square alone has undergone three rounds of design and seven rounds of scrutiny, and finally chose the most ordinary and most lively plan. In the reconstruction, we retained the big banyan trees and scattered stones in the park, preserving the peculiarity of the Lingnan village entrance. L&A Design Team thought that adding six chipped ashlars in such a small space might seem very crowded, but when it was completed, it’s very relieved to see villagers and tourists actually using it.
The big banyan trees and scattered stones were retained in the park, preserving the peculiarity of the Lingnan village entrance
▼富有生活气息的广场，A vibrant and lively square for both villagers and visitors ©奥雅设计
At the end of the road, the gate square suddenly opened up. The designer set a boundary for the square in the form of barbican. The square was on the side of the gate, and the foundation of the wall was excavated as a historical relic, surrounded by guardrails for tourists to watch. The sharp contrast of the inside and outside were dissolved by the green plants on the wall. The soft light diffused on the city wall, making the gate itself a cultural relic exhibit.
▼通往城门的道路，The road leading to the gate square ©奥雅设计
南北主街丨North-south Main Street
▼南北主街，North-south Main Street ©ACF域图视觉
Entering the gate, there’s a space completely different from the outside. Roaming in it, you can feel the impact of multicultural integration. After the street was enclosed by buildings of different forms, the straight linear space become complex in levels. You would encounter fork roads from time to time. These fork roads are connected to narrower lanes, connecting the hinterland of the ancient town like capillaries.
The street was enclosed by buildings of different forms
In the reconstruction of the streets of the ancient town, L&A Design Team divided public and private areas and solved problems by classification. Taking the boundary of the highland in front of the store as the interface to divide public and private, the main street will be paved uniformly, while some owners above the highland can decorate and design by themselves. At the same time, different design strategies were proposed for the store front situations of “open space”, “no empty space”, “only steps” and “shared front space”, and finally turned the broken and chaotic street into its current coherent and unobstructed form.
The broken and chaotic street has been turned into its current coherent and unobstructed form
At the boundary between South Street and North Street stands the majestic Xin’an County Office. As an important place to witness the historical changes of Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao, it shows the profound historical heritage of Nantou.
▼新安县衙， Xin’an County Office ©奥雅设计
In addition, the traditional Lingnan paving materials and combinations are used in the street reconstruction. The drainage metal components and stone manhole covers on the pavement are also laid with materials that conform to the local style. At the same time, according to the characteristics of each building’s facade along the street, the designer built a landscape structure with different forms but coordinated styles for each section of the façade, finally giving the main street which carries the long history and culture a new life.
▼铺地材料细节，paving materials ©奥雅设计
The Nature Outside and the Life Inside
In August 2020, the 330-meter-long North-South Street was officially opened. The renewed Nantou Ancient Town once again became an online celebrity check-in point after the 2017 Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen). Various store celebrations and exhibition activities are also in full swing, endowing bright colors to the elegant Nantou Ancient Town in autumn.
▼焕然一新的南头古城，The renewed Nantou Ancient Town ©ACF域图视觉
With all kinds of activities, pedestrians coming and going, and families picnicking on the grass, the ancient town has naturally formed an atmosphere in which people old and young can both enjoy themselves. In the ancient town, we have seen a variety of spatial phenomena, scenes of returning to life, as well as the natural, highly efficient and human-oriented rooms, and even uncontrollable natural forces.
With the south gate of the ancient town as the boundary, the inside of the town is in sharp contrast with its appearance outside. Inside, there are strong marketplace atmosphere and abundant life; outside, there are a natural public space and pleasant tree-lined avenues. Inside, there is a traditional urban village with a strong sense of history. Outside, there is a glamorous modern city.
In the collision of history and modernity, tradition and fashion, old and new, we want to return to the present, and use every tree, every stone, every brick, every stool, and every native plant to create a beautiful life scene, to show the spirit of nature and the power of life, and to demonstrate the spiritual connotation of the “primordial” Nantou Ancient Town.
▼鸟瞰，aerial view ©ACF域图视觉
景观设计：奥雅设计 深圳公司 项目三组 （设计范围：南门公园、关帝庙、南北主街）
建筑设计(注明排名不分先后)：深圳市博万建筑设计事务所（普通合伙）/ 深圳市都市实践设计有限公司 / MVRDV / 武重义建筑事务所 / 一十一建筑设计工作室 / 竖梁社建筑事务所/ 厘米制造设计工作室 / 梓集建筑工作室 / 卜斌工作室 等景观施工(注明排名不分先后)：湖南建工集团 / 深圳市翔飞达园林景观工程有限公司 / 广东南粤古建筑工程有限公司 / 深圳市西部城建工程有限公司 等
采写 / 奥雅设计 研发中心
编辑 / Christine
摄影 / ACF域图视觉，韦立伟
Project Name: Landscape Enhancement of the Construction Design for the Characteristic Cultural Blocks in Nantou Ancient Town (Phase I)
Project Location: Nanshan District, Shenzhen
Project Type: Urban Renewal
Landscape Area: 40241㎡
Customer Name: Urban Research Institue of China Vanke, Shenzhen
Landscape Design: L&A Design Shenzhen Company, Project Group Three (Design scope: South Gate Park, Guandi Temple, North and South Main Street)
Architectural Design (indicated in no particular order): Bowan Architecture (General Partnership) / URBANUS Architecture & Design, Inc. / MVRDV / VTN Architects / 11 Architecture / Atelier cnS. / CM Design / Fabersociety / Bu Bin Studio, etc.
Landscape Construction (in no particular order): Hunan Construction Engineering Group / Flying Landscape / South China Ancient Architecture / West Construction, etc.
Design Time: 2019.10-2020.06
Completion Time: 2020.08.26
Writing / L&A Design R&D Center
Editor / Christine
Photography / ACF ArCgFoto Wei Liwei