Designs of the Year

Walkway to nature

VIDEO: LOOK ARCHITECTS
PHOTO: LOOK ARCHITECTS

A new elevated pedestrian walkway (above) in Fuzhou designed by a Singapore architectural firm has helped "bring the mountain into the city".

The China Fuzhou Jin Niu Shan Trans-Urban Connector, or "Fudao", winds 19km through the capital of Fujian province in southeastern China - allowing the 13,000 people who use it daily to get closer to forested areas that were previously inaccessible.

The four-year project costing nearly US$100 million (S$136 million) was completed last year.

"It was a huge undertaking. You look at the scale of it, it's immense. The terrain poses lots of difficulties," says architect Look Boon Gee, co-founder of Look Architects.

The Fuzhou government, impressed by the firm's Alexandra Arch and Forest Walk project in Singapore, invited it to design the connector. Mr Look, who received the President's Design Award's Designer of the Year in 2009, says they had to work "at China speed", producing the designs in a matter of a few weeks.

One of the first things they had to do was exhume the graves that lay in the path of the connector and rehouse them in a columbarium complex they built for this purpose.

They had to sidestep military zones and rehabilitate existing structures, such as an abandoned quarry, which they converted into a visitor's centre.


PHOTO: LOOK ARCHITECTS

 
 
 
 
 

The largely steel connector has porous grating that allows light and water to filter down to the vegetation. Prefabricated modules were laid using a "launching method" where ready-built sections of the walkway were used to transfer subsequent pieces for construction.

The connector has 10 entrances leading to attractions such as a lake, a park and a sports complex. Architects drew inspiration from traditional undulating roof forms, and mules and donkeys were used to transport bags of sand and gravel.

Accessibility is central to the walkway's concept. It is wide enough to accommodate two adults and a wheelchair, and has a 1:16 gradient to allow for easier walking - the Alexandra Arch and Forest Walk, by contrast, has a 1:12 gradient.

Mr Mak Swee Chiang, a structural engineer at engineering consultancy Arup who was roped in for the project, says the connector's "cliff walk" section, where cantilevered platforms are wedged into the granite cliff face, was a challenge to execute.

Mr Look adds: "It's about giving the forest back to the people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Walkway to nature'. Print Edition | Subscribe