By Sebastian Howard
A version of this story appeared in Architectural Record’s Chinese edition.
Dutch architectural firm MVRDV and real estate developer TEDA Vantone have teamed up to build a large residential development in the center of Tianjin, a city of 11.7 million people in China.
Called TEDA, the 240,000-square-meter development (approximately 2.5 million square feet) will comprise 10 towers, with nearly 6,000 residences. Located on the banks of the Haihe River, it will sit adjacent to the new Yongle Bridge and the Tianjin Eye, a 110-meter-high Ferris wheel. The entire project is slated for completion later this year; as of February, four concrete high-rises were already built.
The development is expected to house more than 18,000 people in a neighborhood that was, until recently, filled with dilapidated, low-rise social housing blocks. According to MVRDV spokesman Jan Knikker, none of the buildings were “worth saving—and we are admirers of Modernist socialist housing.” MVRDV increased the area’s density by building up rather than out: the towers’ modest footprints make room for more public and retail spaces than were possible with the previous configuration.
TEDA is unusual in that the project’s lead designer Wenchian Shi (working under MVRDV principals Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, and Nathalie de Vries) incorporated some of the neighborhood’s extant geography into the development. Typically with new construction projects, “you have a tabula rasa in China—you just remove everything,” says Knikker. With TEDA, however, MVRDV kept the existing street pattern and trees and essentially “built a new city around them,” explains Knikker. Although the developer was initially skeptical about the costs associated with this approach, MVRDV was able to convince the firm of their value.
While MVRDV was heavily involved in the design and planning process, local firm Tianjin Architects & Consulting Engineers took the reins as ground broke on the project. At this advanced stage of construction, the Dutch firm is mostly involved in quality control, while the Chinese firm is doing the lion’s share of the work. “It’s very important to have a local partner architect,” Knikker says. “The local architect is very good at communicating with the crew, and they know the regulations.”