Unless they’re literally museums, cities have a constant need to add new people and activities. They all expect to thrive in the future, yet each one is a unique urban context. That’s where Gensler comes in.
We apply a range of urban strategies to address each city’s opportunities. Here are some examples.
Image: Shanghai Shipyard
Beijing and Shanghai exemplify the urban context of established cities experiencing a sustained surge in economic and population growth.
The challenge is to densify and add needed "connective tissues" — roads, mass transit and other infrastructure — without losing the qualities that made the city special. Preservation is often part of the strategy, but so is an approach to urban-scale development that incorporates aspects of what's being replaced.
In Chinese cities, shared courtyards often made space for community in neighborhoods. A new generation of housing and mixed-use developments recast the old communal pattern at a higher density to create real neighborhoods for a growing population. At a smaller scale, form and detailing can help fit new buildings into the larger urban context, drawing on its visual qualities and ordering principles.
Paris set the precedent, taking advantage of a regional transit corridor to develop a new financial district outside its historic boundaries, thereby allowing the "City of Light" to absorb intensive new growth in the form of high-rise towers directly served by the metro and intercity trains. This took the pressure off the existing districts of the city proper, so that most of its new development has occurred only in former industrial zones along the Seine at lower heights and densities.
Gensler is working with St. Petersburg, Russia, to reclaim its waterfront at Vasilievsky Island as a new high-rise business and financial district. Metro stations on an extended line will tie the district to the existing city. Because the land is reclaimed from the harbor, Gensler planned the development to be carried out in market-responsive phases. When it's completed, the new district will make St. Petersburg — Europe's fourth largest city — globally competitive. By displacing high-rise towers to the waterfront, it will preserve the historic city center, a world-renowned tourist destination.
Established cities often have areas of discontinuity or disjunction. The causes can range from the disruptions created by freeways to underlying shifts in a city's economic base.
Acts of reconnection and suture can happen all at once by redeveloping a significant urban parcel, or incrementally, allowing a series of smaller projects to heal and transform an area over time.
Gensler works at both scales. Projects like Block 37 in Chicago's Loop and 3PNC in downtown Pittsburgh show how a compact mixed-use development can reconnect and revitalize its district. Our work in the Mid-Market Street corridor of San Francisco, from Union Square to Moscone Convention Center, has helped make that prominent street into a global tourist destination.
Even the most historic cities often have room for infill development and adaptive reuse. The former strategy involves replacing, adding to, or substantially altering existing buildings to add modest density to a district and enable it to accommodate new uses. In London, for example, Gensler's 90 High Holborn brought modernity to an older block, giving it a new lease on life.
Adaptive reuse includes the preservation of buildings of historic merit, often refitting them for uses that extend the original one or bring it to a contemporary standard. Adaptive reuse can also mean altering or substantially adding to an existing structure to accommodate the needs of a new anchor tenant.
Despite renewed interest in urban living, U.S. suburbs and exurbs continue to grow faster than the center. Yet that edge is steadily embracing a higher density and more compact form, making it possible to move away from private cars as the main form of transportation.
While it's gaining sophistication, the urban edge retains a strong connection to the land. Clustering new growth makes it possible to preserve open space for recreation, farming and wildlife.
Cities elsewhere are also cultivating their urban edge. The well-tested strategy of linking transit and development improves access, reduces emissions and commute times, and provides the mix of uses that communities need to thrive. Higher densities support a better quality of life: everything from new schools and community colleges to increased access to culture, leisure and recreation. Thanks to sustainable development, the urban edge is becoming urbane.
That resource booms give rise to boomtowns isn't new. Gulf cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai differ from their predecessors, however. These new boomtowns are investing systematically in diversification, anticipating a world that will ultimately move beyond petroleum, a finite natural resource. One precedent is Singapore. Newly independent, this city-state remade itself, first as a rival to Japan in the high-tech arena, and then as a leading regional financial and service center. It took Singapore decades; the Gulf cities are transforming themselves in a much shorter time period.
The challenge for boomtowns is to create a platform for long-term growth that allows the city to avoid choking on its own rapid expansion. Gensler is at the forefront in the Gulf at helping create new models of urban-scale development that are right for the climate, right for growth and right for cultures that value tradition — even as they embrace the benefits of modern life. These models are designed for the long haul, envisioning the world cities these boomtowns will become as they emerge as centers of business and finance in the Gulf and Middle East.
John Parman—Gensler Firmwide Communications
Shanghai Shipyard, Project Team: page 1
Beijing Hotel, Project Team: page 2a
Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, Zhong-Hai Shen: page 2b
12 Hengshan Road, Project Team: page 2c
Vasilievsky Island, Project Team: page 3
Moscone West, Roland Halbe: page 4a
Block 37, Project Team: page 4b
3PNC, Project Team: page 4c
CityPlace, Project Team: page 4d
90 High Holborn, Timothy Soar: page 5a
Bagby Building, Paul Warchol: page 5b-c
HNI Gunlocke, Nic Lehoux: page 5d
Pacific Place, Sherman Takata: page 5e
Government Communications Headquarters, Crown Copyright: page 6a
Herman Miller, Hufton & Crow: page 6b
Kent County Council Schools, Project Team: page 6c
Armstrong, Scott Francis: page 6d
Water's Edge, Benny Chan/Fotoworks: page 6e
Dubai International Financial Centre, Hufton & Crow: page 7a
Tameer Towers, Project Team: page 7b
The Edge, Project Team: page 7c
The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, Project Team: page 7d
*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.
As architects, designers, planners and consultants, we partner with our clients on some 3,000 projects every year. These projects can be as small as a wine label or as large as a new urban district. With 2,000+ professionals networked across more than 30 locations, we serve our clients as trusted advisors, combining localized expertise with global perspective wherever new opportunities arise. Our work reflects an enduring commitment to sustainability and the belief that design is one of the most powerful strategic tools for securing lasting competitive advantage.
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