Analyzing River-Front Projects
I. An urban and ecological transformation: Las Salinas.
There was a collaboration of teams with the Zidell Family, West 8, Eco Northwest, Place Studio, and GBD Architects to rejuvenate the Zidell Yards in Portland, which was one of the last undeveloped sites along the Willamette River.
Figure-1: Depicting the proposed master-plan along the Willamette River. (https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/creating-a-new-model-for-waterfront-revitalization/?v=79cba1185463)
The extensive cleanup of this brownfield, which was the largest and most complex in the city, paved the way for the area to become the focal point of the South Waterfront District. This district has evolved into a significant employment center anchored by the Oregon Health Sciences University, and it is expected to encompass over five million square feet of new development that will include maker spaces, public art, and vertical farming as part of its mixed retail and residential plan.
Figure-2: The view of the active fenestration’s in the public spaces. (https://www.oregonlive.com/news/erry-2018/07/e0361af51f8546/millions_in_infrastructure_cos.html)
Unlike other developers who were primarily focused on maximizing profit by building high-rise buildings, the Zidell family, who have been stewards of Portland’s waterfront for a long time, wanted to ensure that the public had direct access to the water. Therefore, the team structured higher-density parcels around publicly accessible areas, such as parks, plazas, and art installations. When the project is completed, it will be one of the few areas in Portland that provide the public with direct access to the waterfront.
The goal for the Las Salinas project in Viña del Mar Chile was to unlock the full potential of a post-industrial site located between a hill and the ocean while also rethinking the city’s development practices. To achieve this, we had to go beyond the site’s boundaries and consider ecology and connectivity, requiring collective efforts from the community, client, and design team. The resulting vision aims to revive the local ecology, reconnect the community with its seafront and public spaces, and regenerate the vitality of the city.
Figure-3: Pathways and linkages to the river front activities. (https://americanbuildersquarterly.com/2020/james-miner-sasaki/)
The plan features several key components, such as a new 100-foot public elevator connecting a neighborhood to the sea, community trails, a significant new public space in Viña, and carefully designed towers that minimize disruption of views. Street-level activation also maximizes commercial viability and urban quality, while the ecological framework enhances the hillside landscape and increases habitat connectivity and biodiversity. The overall vision is to restore this waterfront neighborhood as an inclusive and welcoming place for a diverse range of people, balancing real estate and civic value for long-term growth and sustainability.
Meanwhile, the Suzhou Creek project in Shanghai sought to rethink the edge conditions of the industrial waterway and expand its role in shaping a new district identity. Originally a design competition in 2016, the project evolved to encompass the adjacent urban blocks and redefine the waterfront experience.
II. Ecological and urban transformation: Las Salinas
The project at Las Salinas in Viña del Mar, Chile aimed to transform a post-industrial site by considering ecology and connectivity beyond the site boundaries.
Figure-4: Master plan of Las Salinas. (https://images.app.goo.gl/TdLLZkCtk1MAch9L7)
The goal was to restore the local ecology and re-engage the community with the seafront and public spaces and involved the collaboration of the community, client, and design team. The plan includes a new public elevator, community trails, a significant public space, towers that minimize view disruption, street-level activation for commercial viability and urban quality, and an ecological framework to increase habitat connectivity and biodiversity on the hillside landscape.
Figure-5: Massing and activities at Las Salinas. (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/las-salinas–369998925640312385/)
The vision seeks to create an accessible and welcoming waterfront neighborhood for a diverse population that balances real estate and civic value to position Viña del Mar as a forward-looking Garden City by the sea.
Figure-6: View of the active sports venues. (http://designawards.architects.org/projects/campus-and-urban-planning/las-salinas-an-ecological-and-urban-regeneration-in-vina-del-mar-chile/)
III. The revitalization of the industrial waterway – Suzhou Creek.
The plan for Suzhou Creek involves creating additional public spaces near the river to relieve the high-density development in the area. The goal is to provide a cohesive pedestrian experience along the waterfront, with key public spaces interspersed throughout. The plan includes the creation of pocket parks near the creek and within existing neighborhoods, spaced no more than 500 meters apart. These new spaces respond to the city’s long-standing desire for more vibrant and community-oriented open areas.
Figure-7: View of the vibrant neighborhood. (https://aasarchitecture.com/2016/10/sasaki-reshapes-shanghais-suzhou-creek/)
The restoration of Suzhou Creek not only provides access to open space in the center of the city, but it also presents an ecological opportunity that never before existed along the industrialized waterway. Floating wetlands, terraced wetlands, rain gardens, submerged plant species, and strategically placed snags have been added to increase wetland surface area, improve water quality, provide habitat, increase the watershed’s storm water capacity, filter urban runoff contamination, and offer perching and nesting opportunities for birds.
Figure-8: Activating the streets by providing social gathering spaces. (https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/nov/26/shanghai-suzhou-creek-clean-up-redevelopment)
Current waterfront development projects across the globe, including those in China, Chile, and the United States, are redefining the ideas around ideal waterfront development. The new model prioritizes a measured approach to real estate development, cultivates a lively public realm, embraces ecology, and emphasizes connections back into the city fabric through powerful planning and beautiful design. As cities continue to embrace their waterfronts, this new model will continue to bring waterfronts to the people and people to the water.
Figure-9:Edge modification strategies. (https://worldlandscapearchitect.com/creating-a-new-model-for-waterfront-revitalization/?v=79cba1185463)
Additional references include: