From a New Chinese City to a Historic Los Angeles Neighborhood, SWA Makes Streetscapes Pedestrian-friendly, One Block at a Time

Laguna Beach and Los Angeles, CA (Sept. 8, 2014)—International landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm SWA will redevelop streetscape and storm water infrastructure in Shenzhen, China, at a project cost of $325 million. Shenzhen is the fastest growing city in the world, with more than 10 million residents.

A major focus of this commission from the City of Shenzhen is the revision of a street system in the new urban core that was designed strictly for automobiles just a few decades ago. “This project is about giving the street and the boulevard back to the people,” says Sean O’Malley, Managing Principal of SWA’s Laguna Beach office. Throughout history, China has been a country connected by the intimacy of village life: the chance encounter on the street, the smile of a passerby. Small streets that were once filled with people are now large boulevards of traffic, noise, and pollution. As China has grown rapidly, it has lost much of its connection to its past. “We aim to make the streets habitable again,” says O’Malley. As part of a winning competition proposal, SWA stressed the importance of pedestrian street life to the physical, economic, and mental health of those living in modern cities. The goal in Shenzhen is to activate the streetscape of Guangming, a major cultural district, by encouraging people to spend more time outdoors and promoting community involvement.


To that end, a flexible garden mosaic strategy was developed that includes a menu of “people” space—plaza, seating, playgrounds, intimate outdoor rooms—at a variety of scales that can be “plugged in” beneath a welcoming established canopy of shade trees. These spaces can evolve with the changing neighborhoods framing them—morphing from strolling gardens to high-use playgrounds and exercise plazas. Throughout, a consistent materials vocabulary can be easily implemented and maintained. The city required flexibility and SWA provided a solution that can change with its needs. The streetscape revision in Guangming will impact 33 streets and be completed in three to five years. This pioneering effort will ideally serve as a model for the rest of Shenzhen and other cities worldwide.


Incorporating sustainable design into the new streetscape is an essential aspect of the initiative. Assisting SWA in that task is Seattle-based Herrera Environmental Consultants, a water engineering firm with vast experience in a city famous for its sophisticated drainage systems. Low impact design (LID) techniques tested in Seattle and planned for implementation in Shenzhen include catch basins and rain gardens plus other well-tested methods for managing urban storm water systems.


Celebrating and Supporting Community in Los Angeles

While SWA is known for its large-scale master planning efforts, the boutique-like structure of its seven locations also makes it ideal for executing small and rapidly occurring work. Across the world from Shenzhen, along a ten-block corridor in the historic Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park, SWA is working with the nonprofit community group LANI (Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative) to improve the pedestrian experience and safety for local residents. This small but crucial intervention will take the form of a series of tiles embedded in architectural concrete located within the sidewalks at key intersections. The mosaics will serve as tactile and visual cues for both pedestrians and passing automobiles. Historic images of people, places, and special events in Highland Park will decorate the tiles and help to unify an incoherent and unsafe streetscape suffering from a confusing identity.  “I enjoy working with community groups, where the underlying goals align with my personal interests,” says Ying-Yu Hung, Managing Principal of SWA’s LA office. “These projects are not only functional, but also beautiful and meaningful to the users.”


Established in 1957, SWA has seven offices worldwide. The firm has worked in more than 60 countries and its projects have received over 800 awards. To learn more about SWA’s efforts at improving the public realm both in the US and China, visit