Project DescriptionPoised at the starting point of China’s historic Silk Road and home to one of the world’s busiest ports, Ningbo has been involved in the clothing trade for millennia. The city now stands as the largest exporter of textiles in the world – a distinction it will soon lose as factories move out seeking cheaper labour costs elsewhere. In the face of this new reality, Ningbo is reinventing itself from a manufacturer of textiles to a purveyor of taste, a powerhouse of fashion and design. In spring 2011, following an international design competition, PLP Architecture was commissioned to design the urban centre of the Eastern New Town, a district dedicated specifically to the production, dissemination and reception of fashion.
N+ is the first Fashion City in the world specifically designed from the ground up to work as an epicenter for the fashion industry and creative fields in general.
Our aim is to create a city that works as a creative catalyst. The main organizational strategy is based on the idea of intensifying spontaneous encounters by laminating a multiplicity of programs, colors, character and atmospheres within a continuously changing and perhaps unexpected urban experience.
How do we turn the idea of spontaneous encounters into urban form? We tested many iterations looking at layouts informed by street hierarchies, sequence of public spaces, massing even controlled chaos, but the solution became obvious only when we started to think in terms of differentiating programmatic elements within specific districts. From here the exercise became about orchestrating excess – of porosity, adjacency, access, layering and difference. Different organizational domains occur locally at the district level – each district contains a public space and one or several significant buildings that in turn shape multiple experiences.
How do cities inspire? We looked at cities in the world to try to identify and extract desirable attributes. Sometimes we looked at a street, such as the Rue des Francs Bourgeois; sometimes it was a neighborhood, like Clarkenwell, or even the energy of a single room, like the dining area in No.10 Corso Como. These are all spaces of creation, production and consumption. They are fun and also serious, intuitive but surprising, grandiose yet intimate, simultaneously tangible and surreal. Our attempt is to elevate these qualities to the level of an urban gesture.
The mixture of programmatic typologies encourages creativity, sociability and experimentation. A design school coupled with a botanical garden for the creation of new fabrics, transpierces the site. It sits within an urban forest – the realm of the fantastic - linking the central park to the river. The waterfront is transformed into a cultural district, with a theatre, a museum and a yacht club. To the south, a labyrinthine neighborhood – a contemporary reinterpretation of a Hutong – mixes boutique hotels, designer concept stores, fashion villas and a very porous active ground floor.
Floating above the street level a Continuous Catwalk connects all the districts. It is a performative space distanced from the quotidian reality of the city below. On the Catwalk one is simultaneously an actor and a spectator, both and inhabitant and a protagonist in the life of the city.
Simultaneously the ring acts as an environmental device – a performative structure that generates a controlled micro-climate. At its core a series of infrastructural components engage in a continuous energy and water arbitrage process between the different districts. However its main role is to facilitate a different interaction with the city – in the absence of the car it establishes a new urban typology, a suspended agora.
Fused together, this programmatic multiplicity becomes a space of experimentation, where design interacts with research; the theatre is a playground, where market forces link buyers, brands, and shoppers in an augmented culture of urban density.
N+ is superlative, expert, growing, dynamic, continuous, open ended…