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The International Design Competition of the Xiangjiang Gate

Several months ago I was invited to China by the Hunan OCT (Office of Culture and Tourism) to advise them on a new monument being built in Hengyang, a city by Chinese standards that was very small (roughly 1 million people live in Hengyang) but was very important due to the convergence of 3 major rivers (the Xiang, Lishui and Zhengshui).  Not knowing what to expect as I had not been in the countryside of China before, I was incredibly surprised by the fresh air and beauty of Hengyang.

(view up the Lishui River behind my hotel)

(view up the Lishui River behind my hotel)

This project, the selection of a monument entitled the Xiangjiang Gate, is part of a much larger 13 sq km master plan that Hunan OTC was working on entitled the Laiyan New City Project or the Happy Harbor Program.  Our work was simple, a group of 5 experts (including myself) were assembled with the intent of selecting two of five concepts for Hunan OTC to move forward with into a final selection.  The other four judges were well respected Chinese professors and professionals.  The reason I was chosen, take a look at the speculative renderings produced and surely my work with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis will give you your answer.

Hengyang Rendering2.jpg

 After reviewing five very different models and proposals we heard presentations from each team and just as no proposal was the same, no presentation was the same.  Truly a world class competition, teams from China, the United States and Germany were primaries and subconsultants on the project ranged from even more countries.  While every team noted the significance of the geese migrating every year to Hengyang, as well as the rivers converging you can see the difference in how they each tried to portray this significance.  Take a look below at the five different models:

 These five, very different designs brought up a great deal of discussion from the judges, including feasibility of building the structures, uniqueness of the designs, ability to be seen as a monument, tourism attraction interest, symbolism related to the history of Hengyang, capability of each architecture firm to deliver the structure and much more.  All of this led to very spirited and interesting conversations amongst the jury.  With all of this said, Team’s 1 and 4 were shortlisted with Team 4 receiving the most votes.  From here the top two teams will be subject to public input before moving beyond the concept stages with one project.


And so much more…

Not only is this monument a part of a 14 sq km planned community being built that includes an amusement park, residences, office space and commercial districts but the city as a whole is a welcoming beautiful destination to visit.  At the foot of Mount Hengshan, one of the five famous mountains of China, you are a short drive to a pilgrimage of one of the National Key Scenic Sites. 


 As you ascend to the top of the Zhurong Peak by both bus and Gondola, you are dropped off about 4 km short of the peak where millions of people every day walk to the top.  Or in some cases take a ride in the rickshaws or pedicabs, where these men carry you to the top.  These men have to be in the best shape of almost anyone I’ve ever seen, routinely carrying people to the top on their shoulders ascending to about 5,000 feet above sea level. As you ascend you see further and further out, with a view of the valley and Hengshan. The Zhurong Peak is the highest peak in China, along the way to the peak you cross many vendors selling local goods and foods.  Upon reaching the Zhurong Peak you will find a Taoist temple filled with people coming to pray for their loved ones, their health (Mount Hengshan is the “Longevity Mountain in China”), or many other things.  In fact, you can’t make it into town without passing thousands of vendors selling incense. 

In what was truly an enjoyable experience we next found ourselves at Shigu Academy (or Stone Drum Academy).  The academy boasts more than 1,200 years of history, including being destroyed in 1944 during the second Sino-Japanese War.  It was rebuilt in 2006.

Definitely a trip worth taking…

Hengyang was very different than the many experiences I’ve had in Shanghai or Beijing, or even Baotou.  It was beautiful, country and mountainside that gave the sense of a more traditional community while still having the amenities of modern day.  As the Laiyan New City Project continues on there is no shortage of other development going on as I counted 20+ cranes hard at work throughout the city building new apartments, new office space and who knows what else.  With a monument to come that anyone would be proud to recognize and more importantly tourists will flock to see Hengyang is definitely a city on the rise.