Back in 1938, Hassell was founded in Australia by a small group of architects with a big vision. Over 80+ years, Hassell has worked on projects of every scale and type, from iconic public buildings to entire city precincts – and everything in between. Today, Hassell is a leading international design practice with studios in Asia, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In 2010, Hassell was awarded the largest architectural company in Australia and the 25th largest architectural company in the world.
Mooool focuses on landscape architecture industry. In today’s interview, we introduce Chong Wang, Principal of Hassell. We interview the prestigious design company around the world every quarter with the passion for showing the excellent design ideas.
总策划：陈科君 / Producer: Kejun Chen
主编辑：王兰芳、陈虹羽 / Editor: Via Wang, Chen Hongyu
Interview: Mooool x Chong Wang
Could you tell us about your background and your design journey? And can you explain what your approach is when working on projects?
I joined Hassell 2011 after moving to Shanghai from Dublin where I had been working for a few years after my graduation from Delft University of Technology in Netherlands. I had obtained a master degree in urban design and during my time there, I also went to the Università IUAV di Venezia in Italy as an exchange student. The very starting point of my design journey was a bachelor degree of architecture at the South China University of Technology.
If I had to summarise my approach to project work, I would say I believe successful buildings and precincts are about balancing various aspects – operations, user experience, commercial goals and requirements from the urban environment. And cultural specifities of each context play a huge role and need to be factored in as well – we know that design that doesn’t take the site’s context into central consideration is unsuccessful. This is not just my approach, but the fundamental way in how we approach every project at Hassell.
I’m always thinking about the humans who will be the end users of any of the spaces I and our team design – their functional and emotional needs. This is actually the most interesting part of design to me. As Jan Gehl famously said: “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.”
▼悉尼哈罗德公园 Harold Park, Sydney.
From your entire design career – not only at Hassell, what’s the most impressive project you have ever done? And Why?
Every project presents some sort of new challenge to me: sites are in different new locations, clients and collaborators have their own aspirations on projects and our approach at Hassell is to match the most relevant expertise and talent with every project. With the rapid economic and social development of China, people’s demands on places are changing. We have to learn quickly as a successful experience can’t necessarily be repeated, and we set a high standard for every project.
“How can design bring nature back into China’s cities?”. I saw this question in your “Bringing trees back to Shanghai” research. Would you please tell us more about the approach and what challenges and learnings you had from the research?
We interviewed people living in different Shanghai districts, trying to understand what ‘nature’ means to them and their expectations for urban space. Over 85% of the respondents thought that Shanghai wasn’t green enough and didn’t feel that human-built parks feel like nature, because they seem detached from people and don’t provide an immersive experience. They said they struggled to find spaces for a moment of escape from the busy city. We found that the design of these parks was actually keeping people away from people them.
We are always exploring the question: how to restore real nature in limited spaces rather than building large scale potted landscapes for the city. This in part requires people changing their perception about what the word ‘nature’ means. From a management perspective, nature is ‘disorderly chaotic, it’s ‘very hard to manage’ and it somewhat disrupts the high-end image of an international city. My vision for designing urban public spaces is to change these perceptions and enable more natural spaces for city people.
▼参与“让树木重回上海”调研的受访市民 Shanghai citizen who took part in our survey “Bringing trees back to Shanghai”.
What are your thoughts on the recent prevailing ‘formalism of designing for exemplar zones’? Do you think landscape architecture is science or art? In China, what specific aspect of landscape design should we be more aware of?
I think landscape architecture should be considered at a city level. The intrinsic value of landscape architecture is comprehensive and diversified. Great landscape design responds to the requirements from a functional level, it should be a vision of development as well as meeting aesthetic needs. Science and arts are different aspects of landscape shaping. Government, developers, architects and end users influence each other and together they form an enclosed loop over a project period that promotes the development of landscape architecture.
In China, with the growth of demand for quality lifestyle and diversified leisure requirements, people expect more quality public spaces. In recent years, we have seen many great public landscape projects. For example, the Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest and the North Bund Waterfront projects designed by Hassell show us how landscape can hugely lift the quality of life in cities. And during the design process, we incorporated a high level of public involvement too. So I think the ‘formalism’ you mentioned won’t survive for too long. Ultimately, urban spaces will be proved successful if people use them, engage with them, love them and protect them.
▼景观提升对城市生活品质提升的重大作用-黄浦江东岸开放空间贯通设计 How landscape can hugely lift the quality of life in cities – Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest.
▼景观提升对城市生活品质提升的重大作用-上海虹口北外滩滨江公共空间贯通设计 How landscape can hugely lift the quality of life in cities – Shanghai North Bund Waterfront.
Apart from Shanghai, Shenzhen and other first tier cities in China, have you undertaken research in more remote areas? Do you or Hassell have any plans for these ‘dry’ areas?
我们对这些主要城市群的关注不是因为这里单纯有机会让我们展示设计实力，而是因为在这里城市性问题复杂且突出，亟待解决。比如我们在深圳参与的“保障房”竞赛，关注的是这个城市的居住可承担性问题，或者我们在成都“熊猫之都”（2019年度新加坡景观设计奖 — 分析规划类别杰出卓越奖）关注的生态链中“伞护种”的问题等等。
Most of our business in China is in and around the big city clusters, particularly the cities we live and have a presence in. We have more all-round information about these areas and a deeper and direct understanding of the urban context.
Our focus on these city clusters in China is partly a response to complicated and acute problems that need immediate responses. For example, in Shenzhen, we have been involved in the International Affordable Housing Competition. The design we delivered was trying to address the affordability issue which is becoming increasingly pressing around the world. And the Panda Land Masterplan project in Chengdu focuses on how master planning can support biodiversity by designing for ‘umbrella species’.
▼“熊猫之都”总体规划聚焦如何通过为“伞护种”设计来促进生物多样性 Panda Land Masterplan- How master planning can support biodiversity by designing for ‘umbrella species’.
▼“熊猫之都”总体规划 Panda Land Masterplan.
我们还通过环境与社区设计领域（Environment and Communities），更人性化地关注城市化进程中的多个维度。我们与全世界最优秀的研究人员、业内专家和设计人才协作，为面临着特殊挑战的社区打造更平等，更具韧性的未来。
Through our Environment and Communities sector, areas like rural China come more into focus, as we collaborate with the world’s best in research, industry and design to create a more equitable and resilient future for communities that are facing specific challenges.
▼深圳南澳西涌城市设计 Xichong Recovery Plan and Urban Design.
From a spectator’s view, we see that the quality of realizing or delivering projects are far from what we have seen in other developed countries. What do you think is the reason for this? As an international design practice, how does Hassell impact the increased quality of final design outcomes?
From concept to completion, the entire life circle of a project requires collaboration between many different parties. Each part of the process can go wrong, and this can then have an impact on the design and the design outcomes. But this is something that can and does happen in all countries.
Hassell has studios around the world and we have an integrated approach managing projects. We share our research results and project experience and our design leaders look after global projects. We approach projects with the same philosophy – aspiration, context, function and beauty and ultimately creating great experiences for people using the space. With our holistic way of designing and managing collaborators and partners, we have strong delivery capacity as we manage outputs throughout the design stages. And this helps us deliver great design outcomes and ensure the quality of the built project.
Our valuable, specific experience acquired here in China also helps build Hassell global design standards.
▼上海三林印象城 – 通过改造原有老旧过时的商业开发，创造了全新的社交中心、风尚目的地和社区中心 Sanlin InCity Mall – By reviving a local retail development that was on the decline, Hassell created a new social hub, lifestyle destination and community heart.
Do you think the current design quality in China is getting closer to that of developed countries?
I can see that that the design industry is going from strength to strength rapidly all across China. All the big cities, including Shanghai, are striving to become work class metropolises within the next 10-15 years.
To some extent, China has a strong capability in delivering super-large scale projects. The efforts are visible to local citizens and the visitors. People are now enjoying improved urban spaces and liveability – such as more accessible waterfront spaces, park cities and all sorts of urban renewal projects taking place. Other countries that went through economic growth and improving quality of life earlier are setting higher standards for environmental sustainability, although China has made incredibly rapid progress in this area too.
▼宜居体验提升 – 滨江建设：上海虹口北外滩滨江公共空间贯通设计 Improved urban spaces and liveability – accessible waterfront spaces: Shanghai North Bund Waterfront.
▼城市更新 – 新桥开源智创城 ：将深圳新桥转型为在社区居民共同参与中不断演进的智慧、生态和可持续的城市片区 Urban renewal – Xinqiao Open Source City: The vision for the future of the project is for an intelligent, ecological and sustainable urban district that’s continually co-designed by its community.
Hassell has quite a lot built projects in China, could you please take us through some key projects? What’s the concept and why they are different?
China’s cities have been experiencing rapid development for decades, going through repositioning and urban renewal. An increasing number of projects are integrating the idea of resilience, allowing recovery and regeneration of the natural ecosystem and the underutilised urban spaces.
People expect urban spaces to be both rooted in the local, but of an international standard. They want world-class standards of quality of life and liveability with locally relevant features interwoven to create something truly unique.
Let’s take the Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest as an example. Our design concept is bold – to plant a forest of two million trees along the waterfront: one for each child so that as they grow up, they witness the development of Shanghai with the flourishing of this urban forest.
▼浦江东岸开放空间贯通设计竞赛 – 沿黄浦江岸栽植200万棵树，每一棵树属于上海的一个儿童，由此畅想上海在未来随着这片森林的成长而成熟 Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest – to plant a forest of two million trees along the waterfront, one for each child so that as they grow up, they witness the development of Shanghai with the flourishing of this urban forest.
Another example is the Beijing Tongzhou Green Central Forest Park which opened to the public over the National Holiday. Hassell proposed a concept centred around ‘24 seasons’, corresponding to 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar. The park was divided up into just as many parts that then play to these seasons. We curated experience journeys and shaped the place with carefully selected plants to pass the story of nature and culture on to the next generations. The park is a good example of how people can engage with nature and understand more about Chinese traditional wisdom.
▼北京通州城市绿心森林公园 Beijing Tongzhou Green Central Forest Park.
Our Park Avenue Central (PAC) project in the Jing’an District of Shanghai is a high density mixed-use project, blending premium office space with retail, natural and public art experiences, all within a vibrant, green public realm.
▼进行中的吉宝静安中心 Park Avenue Central project is in progress.
Could you tell us more about the Shenzhen Longgang Blueway project? And what’s the difference between the concept of ‘Blueway’ and ‘Greenway’ that we are more familiar with?
The Longgang Blueway project is a 24 km portion of the Five Rivers and One Lake program which will protect and enhance tens of thousands of kilometres of waterways in the Guangdong Province. Being one of the exemplar projects, the Longgang Blueway is committed to addressing the challenges the River faces while making the city prosperous and beautiful again by developing quality waterfront public spaces.
Hassell teamed up with local design institute UPDIS and has been announced as the winner of the competition, among strong international contenders. We are working on the downstream work and detailed design for the exemplar section.
▼深圳龙岗河干流碧道项目概念方案 – 将公共开放空间转化为多功能绿色基础设施 The Longgang Blueway project: transforming public open space into multi-functional green infrastructure.
Our vision is to return ‘water’ to be the core of urban communities, so our three design principles are: shelter, connect and continue.
Longgang River is a key eco-corridor for the entire watershed with limited ecological space for flora and fauna to live and thrive. The design approach integrates the waterways and the urban parklands as ‘green infrastructure’ – eco-corridors that provide shelter for the flora and fauna of the river, and concurrently purifying the water discharged to the waterways.
The design proposed for Longgang River Blueway includes a 60km pedestrian and community ‘slow track’ on both sides of the river to improve access and help create a tourism and recreation grid, connecting the city with the water and the adjacent urban areas. By expanding the water edge, the new pedestrian network helps achieve the community-desired need for increased leisure, destination and fitness facilities.
▼深圳龙岗河干碧道项目——与水亲近，增加水岸到达 The Longgang Blueway project: By expanding the water edge, the new pedestrian network helps achieve the community.
The design not only restores the eco-system and improves the quality of the landscape and river edge public realm, it also reimagines the waterfront as a centre for city and community development. At the same time, it creates cultural and recreational destinations that respect and recognize the southern Chinese Hakka cultural heritage.
The winning aspect of our design proposal I think is positioning Longgang River Blueway as a driver for the next stage of development of the entire city, therefore balancing between ecology, quality of life and production. And this is one of the essentials of ‘Blueway’ concept.
▼活动场所体现在地性文化，遵循本土的客家文化特征 The design creates cultural and recreational destinations that respect and recognize the southern Chinese Hakka cultural heritage.
Which areas will be the focus of Hassell to improve urban environments in future? And could you send a message to our audience in the design industry?
多元化的视角和开放的合作心态将激发创意和原创思维，从而应对愈发复杂的情况和日益增加的要求。最有影响力和持久的设计需要了解对关键事物有深刻的见解，也需要如了解最新的研究结果和科学技术。保持热情 – 不断对话和学习将驱动我们不断获得设计灵感！
The next decade promises to bring even more dramatic societal shifts and will place new and different pressures on the spaces, places and cities we design for people. To succeed over the next decade and beyond, international design businesses like ours will need to combine strategic intelligence with creative design.
A number of years ago, Hassell merged with FreeState, an experience design consultancy, who work to create more unique and rich experiences for end users of spaces. With the pressure of limited available spaces, the demand from users and our clients is changing. So in most of our projects, we advocate for ‘building less and experiencing more’ to introduce more creative ways of experience – rather than building physical and visible spaces. In this way, it’s easier to curate more up-to-date content for people to experience and also saves investment in construction.
The challenges climate change presents requires resilience for urban spaces. We are committed to bringing resilience to all of our urban and community work. We value the use of big data technology models for the spaces people will be using. Data helps us monitor and collect information and problems when the place is in use. Then, immediate responses and solutions are provided in a more timely manner.
As the value of well high quality places increases, so does the value of impactful design. Great design is ambitious. It deals with complexity to achieve outcomes that shape not only our physical world, but also our culture – our lives and experiences.
Diverse perspectives and open-minded collaboration unlock the creative, original thinking that is needed to navigate increasing complexities and requirements. The most powerful and enduring design requires insight about what matters most to people, as well as the latest research and technologies. Keep being passionate about design and open to conversations – these are key to being inspired!
▼Hassell近期项目作品——西澳大利亚Karratha健康医疗片区 Recent project by Hassell – Karratha Health Campus, Karratha.
▼Hassell近期项目作品——西澳大利亚Carine St Ives退休养老村 Recent project by Hassell – Carine St Ives retirement village, Carine.
▼Hassell近期项目作品——旧金山科尔马河（城市韧性设计挑战赛的延续）Recent project by Hassell – Colma Creek, San Francisco as part of Resilient by Design Challenge.
▼Hassell近期项目作品——合肥中央公园总体规划及景观设计 Recent project by Hassell – Hefei Central Park.
Thanks to Chong Wang for the deep cooperation in this interview, as well as the coordination and assistance of everyone involved.
更多 Read more about：Hassell