Nanjing’s Hexi Riverfront Combines Smart Growth and Ecological Restoration


In Nanjing, China’s ancient capital, SWA Group has won a design competition aimed at turning a 7-kilometer long, 460-acre downtown brownfield waterfront into a new destination featuring parks, housing, office buildings, and man-made, water-cleansing wetlands. Nanjing is one of China’s ancient metropolitan centers dating back more than 2,500 years. For centuries, it was China’s capital. Now, it’s a major demonstration project for smart growth and cutting-edge ecological restoration technologies in China. 

Scott Slaney, principal of SWA, said: “The plan addresses larger regional and national objectives including natural resource preservation, environmental regeneration and sustainability, economic vitality and social equity while maintaining flood protection and celebrating the beauty and history of the Yangtze River.” 

The project features smart growth and ecological restoration approaches, including an “eco hotel” with rooms alongside the wetland park, a meandering boardwalk, waterfront promenades, and street plans laying out offices, parks, and housing that are designed for walkability. In addition, local residents will be assigned small plots for growing their own food. The urban farming site will harvest its own water, generate power, compost soil, providing a “productive landscape” for Nanjing Hexi.

To restore the site’s ecology, the team will apply environmental innovations aimed at improving the water quality of the Yangtze River basin. Wetlands will be constructed along the waterfront to cleanse the river, which has high levels of solids and chemicals. Indeed, the Yangtze is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. To combat the water-based pollution, thousands of strips of “man-made bio-film” will be planted along the river in small floating islands. According to SWA Group, the bio-film strips “replicate the process of water passing through living matter and cleansing out impurities, and will help stimulate further plant growth and animal habitat.”

SWA Group has recently expanded its green urban design work in China. The Nanjing Hexi project follows others, including the Asian Games complex in Guangzhou and the Miyi New South Town, Shenzhen Bay. The Miyi County project also features bio-strip technology designed to improve river water quality. SWA Groups writes: “used elsewhere in the U.S. and UK, but not on this scale except in China, the bio-strips of man-made material ‘planted’ along shores and temporary islands to mimic wetlands help clear out impurities, allowing natural plant and animal life to take over sooner.”

Image credits: (1) Nanjing Hexi / SWA Group, (2) Miyi County /SWA Group

One thought on “Nanjing’s Hexi Riverfront Combines Smart Growth and Ecological Restoration

  1. Mark Hieber 06/16/2010 / 9:21 am

    If possible, hot link the “bio-strips of man-made material”. I am interested in what this material is and how it is used in the water cleansing process.

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