Utopia Is Always Green


CLICK HERE to watch a video about this futuristic landscape vision!

BAM re-imagines a hyper-busy, continuously expanding intersection at the center of Beijing’s Central Business District.

“Instead of doing ‘little green tricks’ in the city, we will incorporate roads and bridges and extend the definition of landscape design.” BAM

“Designers must look beyond technology in their visions of the future.” BAM

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BAM believes it is the job of designers today to probe visions of future urban landscapes for social purposes. How can we reclaim our urban spaces as a true fabric of the city? How can we recreate an urban realm that is not only about pop-up retail, rental bikes, and other quasi-commercial interests? How can we resuscitate the local culture that exists in the streets and allow it to grow into a larger, more flourishing culture of the new urban spaces?

To answer this question BAM believes we must delve deep into the current conditions of our streets and the people who occupy them. By interviewing, recording, measuring, counting cars, counting pedestrians, drawing, and modelling for over 1.5 years, BAM analyzed the Guomao intersection in Beijing.


Guomao intersection is a landscape and needs to be designed as one.

The Guomao intersection constitutes the largest area of public space within the CBD of Beijing. As Beijing races to become one of the great cities of the world, this center of its Central Business District becomes a glaring contradiction to the city’s otherwise futuristic ambitions.

BAM’s analysis of Guomao examines the complicated nature of the design problem surrounding the Guomao site. The drawings, diagrams and documentation are compiled by BAM preceding a design phase wherein the entire Guomao intersection has been re-imagined.

Although Beijing development has been very fast, the damaged urban condition of Guomao has been building up over the past 30 years. Over those last 30 years it has never been designed for people, only automobiles. Although the intersection is designed for automobiles, driving through the intersection is actually the slowest way to get through it. During peak traffic hours it is faster to walk through the intersection, which given its massive size can take upwards of 8 minutes to traverse. It is almost always faster to ride a bike through the intersection than to drive.

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When examining how the intersection functions it is blatantly evident that although the intersection was really only conceived as for cars the variety of uses and programs that inhabit the space are far more diverse. BAM has categorized these kinds of programs into two basic types, HARD programs and SOFT programs. As is the case with Landscape Architecture, a specific program is often not defined, as opposed to architecture in which a buildings occupancy is limited, number of facilities are calculated and predefined, areas for programs are prescribed or suggested, landscape projects and sites more often than not lack this kind of rigorous predefined framework or requirements. In the landscape, those requirements, must be created, as the project develops, or observed as an existing cultural behavior then reinserted as a project ‘requirement’. Thus, in landscape ‘program’ can range from the functional use of a designated space, to transient activities that the design hopes to encourage either through how the site is managed or what is physically permissible, as determined by the physical and ephemeral (shade) qualities of the space.

For the Guomao analysis, HARD programs are seen as constructed, or semi-permanent functions of the space such as Bus Terminal, parking lots, green areas, HVAC and other Technical structures, subway entries, fenced off empty space (hardscape) and roads. The SOFT programs are those programs which manifest and cluster in regions at specific times then dissipate with no or insufficient constructed infrastructure or organizational system to maintain order. In many cases such programs have a grossly under-sized infrastructural facilities which during peak traffic hours cannot hold the vast numbers of people, thus quickly overflow creating large groupings of people which start to invade and hinder the flow of other aspects of the intersection.

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One such example are the local bus lines and associated street stops. These stops have small shelters associated with various bus lines, yet during peak traffic hours the numbers become so great as to entirely fill and block large portions of the sidewalks, pedestrian traffic in these regions comes to an almost stand still, food vendors are pushed into the roads and other regions of the intersection, the amassing group of bus-waiters then further grows as people start to flood the streets, which then not only hinders automobile traffic but makes it difficult for busses to fully pull over to the dedicated bus lane which is by this point rendered useless. Partially pulled over busses then cause a ripple effect with more busses jammed behind, creating greater problems for the general auto traffic. This SOFT program of ‘bus waiting’ occurs at multiple points in the intersection to varying degrees. Such other SOFT programs which encounter their own set of issues are things like food vending, and taxi pick up or black cab ride soliciting.

In the end when mapped visually it is possible to see the fact that Guomao is an incredibly complex and interconnected landscape. It is not only an intersection for cars, it is heavily used by people and it needs to be designed for these people. Guomao is a landscape.

Moreover, the design problem of the Guomao landscape is not just about how to fix functional issues, nor just about achieving a Hong Kong level of efficiency and interconnectivity. Guomao is a landscape that represents the center of the Central Business District of the capital of China, and there exists a problem between the idea of the space and the reality of the situation. In photographic representation and indeed in people’s imaginations, Guomao is a majestic show of ingenuity. However, when actually experienced at the scale of a person the environment is much different.

The idea of Beijing’s CBD is one of incredible shiny building and amazing architecture, yet the reality of Guomao is a disorganized, messy space this is difficult to walk, drive, or bike across. The idea of the CBD is modern, efficient, advanced, but the reality of Guomao is that it is random, disorganized, and under regulated. The idea of the CBD is that it is a leading center of business for the world. The reality of Guomao is that it is not designed to meet even the basic standards of local city transportation. The idea of the CBD is that you must build skyscrapers because the land is so valuable, yet the reality of Guomao is that the land is so undervalued that huge areas remain empty, unused, and dirty. Devoid of value, both financially and emotionally.


When taking on an entirely theoretical project, such a Guomao, the critical questions which BAM continues to grapple with is the extent to which the final proposal manifests as a utopian vision. Is the intention to be a fully practical and implementable proposal or is it simply an exercise in unfettered imagination? Are we intending to imagine what the condition could be in 5 years or are we envisioning how it would ideally function in 100 years?

We believe that a middle road must be taken. As with all things Chinese the contradiction is in fact that we envision the project to be a chabuduoa (more-or-less) implementable ideal yet not fully utopian proposal. For example, we know, as does everyone in Beijing, that under Guomao there is a secret network of pathways and military infrastructure, there could in fact be an entire subway system that we are unaware of, thus it is almost inevitable that the design proposal will conflict with such unknowable secret infrastructural networks and we simply have to trust that if the vision for Guomao is seductive enough that such issues would not be viewed as prohibitive to the implementation of the proposal. Yet on the other hand the proposal has to reign in its futuristic utopian visions as to not simply function as an icon but to actually offer concrete solutions to current problems such as the car.

In a theoretic design proposal, it would be easy to simply remove all the roads from the site and propose that, what was once road is now a park. No doubt a green, sustainable, utopian vision for the city. Yet such a strategy only serves to further ingrain in both the general public as well as the design community that the roads, and the intersection are not landscape. Such a proposal would only exacerbate and inflate a dichotomy which doesn’t exist, it promotes the misinterpretation that the roads and intersection are not a landscape, and since the entire existence of this theoretical exercise is to define ‘what landscape is’ promoting such a sophomoric ideal wrapped in the guise of beautiful renderings and pseudoscientific analysis serves to better educate no one. Thus, the roads and how or why we choose to deal with them is one of the critical founding pillars of the design proposal’s intent.

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Simply removing the roads and making the area green seems like the most obvious “landscape” solution. The choices we have made about the scope of the design and what items will be designed for are intended to expand the standard understanding of where landscape design lies. Just removing the roads and replacing it with green, such as Ma Yansong’s theoretical project in Beijing for Chang-An Jie, simply displaces the problems of the system elsewhere, outside of the arbitrarily defined site. If the Guomao proposal were to remove all roads and not deal with the automobile traffic as a central issue of the site and just make this region a park or plaza or pedestrian street, there would be two major draw backs, one for the design problem which we have set for ourselves and the other for the definition of landscape design.

The first is that we would be pushing a major portion of the design material (in the form of the automobile traffic problems) out of our designated site area, which then creates only two options, one to either fix the auto circulation outside of our designated site in order to free up our site of such requirement or two, given it is only a theoretical pursuit, ignore the fact that we have displaced this major issue elsewhere. If we were to go with the first option of designing the auto-traffic to circumvent the intersection and free Guomao from traffic we would be confronted with the paradox that the site which we have designated as the critical site for landscape oriented thinking, in fact is not the site which takes the lion share of effort to determine, because any region that actually deals with the auto will be a more complex problem to solve. To free our chosen site, the Guomao intersection, of cars we would in fact have to focus not on the site itself but on peripheral sites. The problem then turns form the issue of dealing with one intersection (Guomao) to the 4-6 other intersections directly adjacent to Guomao all of which have their own unique problems and conditions. By attempting to remove the automobiles entirely from the Guomao intersection, a condition is created in which the region of design focus has the tendency to continue expanding. By pushing the critical design aspect outside of the proposed site for intervention, the size of the site continues to enlarge itself, potentially infinitely.

The lack of clarity which would arise from a continuously expanding site is not something that we wanted to have happen in the design process. The site needs to be defined. The solution for the site needs to be a localized solution which deals with the problems of that specific condition without pushing major design elements or constraints onto other parts of the city. This would be true for other such programs on the site whether or not they are HARD or SOFT programs those functions cannot be placed outside of our designated site. For this theoretical design problem to illustrate the power of understanding and designing the urban landscape everything that is currently contained in the site must be designed for. This also has the effect of taking the idea of the project one step away from purely theoretical towards potentially feasible.

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However, the complexity of the site does not fully allow for a clear distinction between what is and what is not the Guomao intersection. Furthermore, Guomao’s iconic flyovers are extremely large and touchdown much farther away from the Guomao intersection itself. For the intersections north-south flyover the elevated roads actually start and stop in different intersections in seemingly completely different parts of the city as is the case for the Shuangjing intersection to the south which is directly connected to Guomao via a very long flyover. Thus, BAM has organized the site into two basic scales, the smaller scale, which is the Guomao intersection itself, the point at which all roads, metro stations, bus lines, intersect, this is the ‘Site.” The slightly larger scale, called the “Extended Site’ is determined by where all of the various flyovers touchdown.

Ultimately, the most important reason to not ‘push’ the problems of the site, such as the roads, out of our designated area, is that this would essentially perpetuate the almost ubiquitous understanding that landscape design is a dressing. Often people don’t see roads and especially highway like interchanges such as Guomao as the purview of landscape architects, or the landscape at all. Architecture, Landscape, and Urban designers are generalist, their purpose is to be able to problem solve across varied fields to help arise at a holistic vision in order to function in the people’s best interest. By contrast Engineers typically are specialists, their focus and expertise are often only one aspect of what a building, landscape, or city is. Yet in situations such as Guomao there is no ‘designer’ advocating for the integration of various engineered aspects. Essentially Guomao was designed by engineers, not designers, and the result is an atrocious human experience. The exercise of designing Guomao is a method through which BAM can insist and illustrate that landscape design is not just the “parsley on the pig.”


BAM’s exploration of the Guomao site does not stand alone but is one among a growing discourse surrounding the site, both theoretical as well as professional. On the professional end of the spectrum, Beijing’s CBD is more than doubling its size. SOM was the winner of the masterplan for the CBD expansion. Guomao is considered the central hub of the first half of the CBD, and as such plays an important infrastructural role in the CBD expansion.

Additionally, the last plot of the first half of the CBD, which is directly adjacent to the Guomao intersection and boarders the intersection’ North East corner. This plot is being developed as a series of ‘iconic’ tall towers designed by star-architects such as KPF and MAD. The base of the towers there will be a small park lined with ‘luxury’ retail.

The professional discourse surrounding the site functions as a reference for how in the future Guomao is intended to be used and understood, which is essentially entirely in alignment with how its currently being view and understood. While the future development will further strain the traffic condition at Guomao, which are already far past capacity, how the intersection is functionally viewed is essentially the same.

On the other hand, the theoretical discourse of Guomao gives a much more interesting perspective on how prominent designers and thinkers are viewing the problem of Guomao. While there are just a handful of people who have considered this condition, the most prominent and purposeful to analyze are proposals by Rem Koolhas of OMA and the other by Ma Yansong of MAD. It possibly should not be noted however, an EXTREMELY under-whelming proposal for the Guomao intersection was created by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, entitled ‘Golden Cross Sky Ring’ which won the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design ‘International Architecture Awards for the Best New Global Design 2011.’ However, it is clear that this proposal contains essentially no value in either illustrating a point or arguing one, and even mentioning it as is done here probably gives it more standing than it is worth.

OMA’s proposal was not directly for the Guomao site but for the last plot of the first half of the CBD, which in its current form add a handful of new towers adjacent to the intersection. Rem understood Beijing’s urban condition and typologies. Beijing is inherently not a vertical city, but a horizontal one, and like in many cities across China, original typologies be they from pre-modern times or post revolution industrial times are being systematically destroyed and replaced by the ‘Corbusian mistake.’ Thus, in an effort to maintain something classically ‘Beijing’ Rem, clusters all the required GFA into one large super building which occupies and bridges the interstitial space of the Guomao intersection leaving the plot which was indented to be built on, available for low density, low rise Beijing style markets and habitations.

Rem’s proposal for Guomao is ingenious. While architecturally and urbanisitically the super structure over the Guomao intersection does further complicate the intersection, the current built situation of the intersection is already an amalgam of band-aid solutions never considered holistically. Thus, the insertion of architecture is simply one more element which would prompt more add-hock development of the space. While this may seem far from ideal, given the already dismal condition of the intersection, it essentially can’t be any worse. A building would be welcome.

While in this proposal the intersection itself would be almost impossibly complicated, however what is gained on the last plot of the CDB which was intended to take upon this architectural mass is instead a low rise urban condition which is sensitive to it context, not only historically and architecturally, but humanistically. A low density, low rise, environment would provide great potential for respite in the overly crowded hyper dense, overpriced, bustling busy, dirty and loud Beijing CBD. However ingenious Rem’s proposal is, in the end, it is more of a protest then an active solution. Yes, the idea is great, and yes, the city would be much better if considered this way of proceeding, however, this proposal does not take into consideration the Chinese mindset for developing, nor put in the real time and effort to be convincing design proposal. Rem’s proposal is really more of a ‘fuck you’ to the Beijing government as well as any and all architects participating in the competition for the last plot design. Let’s be perfectly clear, BAM is all for ‘fuck you,’ however with regard to this critical site we believe that a more profound exclamation regarding the values of landscape oriented design can be made, and a more proactive proposal could be used to enlighten the current thinking about the site as opposed to alienating the Beijing audience, and when all is said and done, the proposal is still only an architecture-centric perspective, in which buildings are seen as the only solutions to urban problems. If one were to make a stand and speaks out against this rampant development perpetuating the unavoidable Corbusian architectural dogma, why continue to propose architecture at all?

In contrast to Rem’s proposal which can be lauded from a variety of perspectives, Ma Yansong’s proposal is laughably sophomoric and speaks to the shallow and A-intellectual aspects of Chinese ‘technology driven’ architectural thinking. Given that Ma Yansong’s flashy and smooth designs have thrust him into the spot light of Chinese architecture and he is seen to be pushing the boundaries of the profession, the impetus to advocate for Beijing and China responsibly and intelligently is heightened, yet his retrograde, early-modernist-eutopian-nature-romance thinking does not deliver in today’s day and age.

Ma Yansong’s proposal is a giant alien like structure which floats over the entire CBD which supposedly supports a park on top of the fluid shiny form and Ma Yansong’s states the following about the proposal:

The CBD in Beijing was built according to a western vision of modernization created in the last century. We need to jump ahead and create a city centre for our post-western, postindustrial society. The future of Beijing needs to be interrelated rather than a sea of individual glass boxes, each striving to be taller than the last.

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There are so many things wrong with this statement. Firstly, even the term CBD is not entirely a ‘western’ fabrication. European and American cities developed over time, their ‘down towns’ flourished and failed, and the cycle repeated and again, but the CBD or Central Business District is not a result of the ebb and flow of capitalist markets. The CBD is not the result of the expansion and contraction, the diaspora then re-congregation and gentrification of urban centers which over time has solidified clusters of economic prowess in European and American cities. The CBD, as a term as well as an existing place is a planned, constructed, and injected with economy and is nothing but a direct result of booming developing world economies looking to create cities overnight. Dubai, Shanghai, Jakarta, and the list goes on. The creation of a CBD itself is predominantly a ‘developing world’ phenomenon. Ask a New Yorker, or a Londoner, where the Central Business District is, you will receive a cock eye glance seeming to say, “What are you talking about?” Go to any city in China, Southeast Asia, or the Middle East and ask the same questions, chances are you will be taken to the correct place. Its laughable to equate a CBD with western ideologies or economic modes.

In the global economy, ideas clearly do not stay put, but the driving force behind the creation of CBD’s was the demand created by the booming east, not an idealized vision enforced by the west. Additionally, visions of New York City, and London, with their skyscrapers are manifestations of capitalist markets and the resulting wealth and prosperity. China is infamous for constructing entire towns of skyscrapers which stand completely empty, apart from entire cities built for nonexistent inhabitants, similarly entire CBDs are build, with no tenants in mind and do not reflect market needs. While this driver to create entire new cities may not be unique to China it is certainly and by far more present in China than anywhere else in the world and it seems misplaced that Ma point the finger at the west for China’s ubiquitous use of the skyscraper.

Ma does recognize the issue that people often mistakenly view cities not for the landscape, which functions as a connecting tissue, but for the buildings which define the skyline, yet falls utterly flat and in fact contradicts his own feeble statement in the design proposal itself. He critiques the model of ‘western’ urbanization for its one-upmanship of building heights yet proposes a structure far taller than any building in Beijing, and possibly the world, far beyond what is considered to be possible. Ma calls for Beijing to be more ‘interrelated’ yet ignores the ground plane proposing a park atop an impossibly tall structure which has no relationship to the city as is, nor to how people use the urban landscape or parks.

Ma claims the Beijing CBD is a western vision yet utilizes a design language which has developed from western architectural discourse, utilizing digital tools created by westerns in the west, not to mention his western education which no doubt played a role in his exposure to the discourse. Yanson’s confusion and discontent with the Chinese urban condition is understandable, as we at BAM also search for answers to similar questions, yet to have ones work so clearly represent the antithesis of what one says, suggests that the west’s burning desire for logic, maybe the only thing from the west Ma Yansong managed to miss.

To continue along the academic vein, MA state that his proposal is in contrast to the west’s vision of modernization yet does not delve nor propose a definition of ‘western modernization,’ or how it got to be that way, or in any way shape or form illustrate a knowledge of the condition being contrasted points to fundamental lack of any meaningful position. Yet, as a utopian vision Ma Yansong’s Guomao proposal cannot be attacked for its imaginative qualities for which it is clearly strong. Utopias, are typically build upon social issues or technological advances and in some cases pure fantasy. Ma’s utopian vision tend more towards pure fantasy than anything real however when such an idyllic proposal is placed in the context of a city which is facing serious, long term and globally impacting social, organizational, and environmental issues to be publicizing such a proposal as a vision for Beijing in the year 2050, with no recognition of the actual urban issues the city faces, is entirely vapid. This proposal amounts to no more than architectural masturbation with computers, lacking any content, vision, or intellectual basis. BAM stands in direct opposition to this evangelical non-thinking, and meaningless formalism which is no more than early modernist visions of the ‘machine-for-living’ or the ‘machine-the-garden’ masked by computing.

In response to these various proposals for Guomao both theoretical and real, BAM believes there is a void. The theoretical proposals tend to not deal with the real condition of the site nor with a consideration for of how the city intends to develop. On the other hand the ‘real’ proposals are simply corporate architecture and planning companies fulfilling requirements as set forth by bureaus and developers, and completely lack any consideration for what would be better for the city. Regardless of whether these Guomao proposals are theoretical or ‘real’ they are entirely envisioned through architecture and exclusively by architects. BAM’s proposal for Guomao intends to illustrate the true power of not just design thinking, but of LANDSCAPE oriented thinking when applied to desperate urban conditions, and work to debunk China’s architecture-oriented visions of urbanity.


点击这里 观看关于这个未来风景愿景的视频!


“我们将道路和桥梁融入城市的脉动,以此拓展‘景观设计’的定义,而不是使用所谓的‘绿色小把戏’。” BAM

“设计师在对未来的想象中必须有超越现有技术的视野。” BAM

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国贸桥的再设计是一个纯理论层面的规划项目, 畅想和希冀暂时只停留在图纸上,我们这种乌托邦式的设想究竟只是一场头脑风暴、还是切实可行的,以及我们是否需要考虑今后5年的情况、甚至说是否需要想象它会在100年里完美发挥功能?


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从另一个角度来说,纯理论性的规划与探讨,则为有志于改善国贸周边现状的设计师和有识之士打开了更广阔的视角。尽管参与者并不算太多,但其中不乏有库哈斯(来自OMA)和马岩松(来自MAD)这样世界知名的建筑事务所代言人,提出他们大胆且具有问题针对性的方案。这里有个有趣的案例:来自芝加哥的Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill建筑事务所曾设计了一个名为“天空之环”(Golden Cross Sky Ring)的项目,尽管该项目获得了芝加哥雅典娜建筑设计博物馆颁发的“2011国际建筑奖”,因为其看似过于“架空”背景的“突发奇想”,成为了理论性项目过于空泛而无法产生任何现实效应的例子。

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