The giant panda is an icon of Chinese culture and a symbol for wildlife preservation efforts around the world. With only about 1,800 left in the wild, it is one of the most vulnerable species on Earth. Although a staple at many zoos around the world, giant pandas are native to only one region in western China near Chengdu, which is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Although urbanization and conservation are often in conflict with each other, the 69 square kilometer Chengdu Panda Reserve provides a framework for the protection of the giant panda and its native habitat, and strategies which will lead Chengdu into a more resilient future.
Designed by Sasaki, the master plan for the Chengdu Panda Reserve represents the launch of China’s increasing communication, collaboration, and awareness of its pioneering strategies to protect the species and its native habitat. Conservation efforts have multiple benefits, as pandas serve as an ‘umbrella species’ for other wildlife which indirectly benefit from the protection of their shared habitat. Sasaki’s plan for the reserve provides a framework for the protection of the species through a robust expansion plan focused on conservation, education, and research—with the ultimate objective of improving their ability to thrive in the wild.
With over 20 million people expected to visit the Chengdu Panda Reserve each year—a figure that surpasses current annual visitors to Disneyland—the city has a tremendous responsibility to advance its development in a manner that is mindful of protecting the panda’s habitat.
“The city needs the panda and the panda needs the city,” says Sasaki principal, landscape architect, and urban designer Michael Grove, ASLA. “The reserve creates a series of destinations around Chengdu which increase public awareness of the giant panda, educates about its habitat, and highlights ongoing research efforts to protect this complex ecosystem. Our plan reconciles Chengdu’s urbanization with a conservation strategy for the panda, providing a sustainable framework to allow both to thrive. The plan creates a framework for their shared future, which was a tremendous design challenge that benefitted from Sasaki’s expertise in the integration of urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, and ecology.”
The three disparate sites which comprise the Chengdu Panda Reserve are organized by their primary functions, as well as the amount of human interaction and disturbance. The first site, Longquanshan Panda Village, is located near Chengdu’s new airport and provides an abbreviated glimpse into conservation efforts and highlights Chengdu’s distinctive culture. This gateway into the city will provide an educational overview of the region’s history, food, and wildlife, including the prized native panda.
The second site, Beihu Panda Park, builds upon the existing “Panda Base” visitor experience by providing an urban education center to accommodate those seeking a more immersive experience. This urban destination, close to downtown and linked to the city by public transit, introduces the panda to the millions of people who come to Chengdu each year to experience them up close. Here, visitors can learn about the daily lives of pandas and their companion species, their shared habitat, and get a glimpse into ongoing research and other efforts to protect them.
The third and most remote of the three sites that comprise the Chengdu Panda Reserve is the Dujiangyan Panda Wilderness. Primarily focusing on research, including breeding techniques and assimilation into the wild, this more isolated area of the reserve is located at foothills of the Tibetan plateau. As one of the gateways into the Giant Panda National Park, researchers here focus on pre-release training to acclimate juvenile pandas born in captivity prior to final release into the wild.
It is difficult to name an animal more beloved than the giant panda. The near-universal adoration of this endangered species was never far from mind as Sasaki collaborated with city leaders to thoughtfully grow the city while building a resilient future for the species.
“Embedded within a long debate around wildlife conservation is a big conflict between wildlife protection and urban development. How do you reconcile human land use and wildlife protection?” questioned Sasaki principal, landscape architect, and ecologist Tao Zhang, LEED AP NP, SITES AP. “With this project, we’re aiming to set a new baseline for how cities can achieve a sustainable model that generates win-wins for ecology and development through extensive educational and environment stewardship programs and a fully-integrated design approach.”
Images | Sasaki