Shanghai, CN


Dragon Skin River - The Ecological Spine of Xi’an

By gossamer_design
Jul 23, '19 10:10 PM EST

GVL Gossamer have been selected as one of three prize winners in an international competition for a 19km stretch of waterfront along the Jing River, one of the 8 great rivers of Xi’an, China. The proposal celebrates the site’s history at the origin of the Silk Road though design strategies that tap into ancient and enduring histories of traditional architecture, merchant trade and agricultural innovation.

Weaving these influences with responses to major climactic and environmental challenges Gossamer propose a new interface between the planned Jinghe New City and the river corridor. Located on the One Belt, One Road land axis, the Dragon Skin River offers a template for growth and remediation by creating an active ecological spine & world class waterfront for greater Xi’an.

The design proposes a ‘Three Skin’ approach to site. A ‘Guardian Skin’ for climate resilience and flood mitigation, An ‘Ecological Skin’, supporting onsite water treatment and biodiversity and a ‘Cultural Skin’ capturing the rich traditional and historical context of Xi’an. The Three Skins deploy a suite of local and best practice approaches including multifunctional dike design, traditional Chinese land management techniques and interpretation of local typologies.

Reflecting on the regions architectural lineage of carving channels, mounding earth and building into the terrain the project leverages the sculpting of earth as a primary driver. These motifs establish a design language for 12 destinations along the river, including the Merchant Village, Wild Goose Lake, Dragon Scale Wetlands, The Museum of Earthen Architecture and Jing River Agro-Tourism Hub.

The Guardian Skin – Multifunctional Flood Resilience 
 Over the centuries mass deforestation and changes to the river corridor have exacerbated challenges posed by  flood seasons, increasing issues of erosion, sedimentation, onsite pollution and biodiversity reduction. Working with major flooding levels, three raised pathways, The Protector, The Dreamer and the Sleeper delineate four unique landscape zones that meander along the river corridor. The zones allow planting and activities to be chosen based on climate resilience creating diverse landscapes comprising of wetlands, flower fields, food orchards, grasslands and forests. Within the river corridor floodable activities such as adventure play, sports fields, biking/walking trails, BMX tracks and skate parks activate the foreshore. The Protector, Dreamer and Sleeper counteract erosion via soft, mixed and hard edge solutions in addition to wave break forests, bend way weirs, terracing and channel diversion into the new Dragon Scale Wetlands. By diverting the watercourse the wetlands help slow water speeds, while the “Scale” formation offers an optimized shape for establishing wetland eco systems by dispersing water while minimizing bank separation.

The Ecological Skin – Environmental Synergy with the City
A rage of biodiversity regeneration strategies reinstate native habitats and clean domestic, industrial and agricul-tural pollutants. The historical pond landscape of Xian is returned via a stepped network of ponds, swales and creeks that capture, store and clean storm water. By staging these systems behind and in front of the Protector dike creates both ephemeral and protected sponge city networks, allowing for clean water detention all year round and a solution to local water scarcity. The proposed Wild Goose Lake leverages this strategy boasting a boatshed and beach with canoe hire, fishing and volleyball. A terraced lakeside aquatic centre creates a swimming and wa-ter experience attraction for everyone featuring saunas, spas, lap pools, kid’s pools and ice skating in the winter.  Biological and mechanical responses to soil pollution utilize dikes for capping while providing Phyto-regeneration forests, wetlands and farms. Phyto-farm locations correspond with primary agricultural corridors for Agro-tourism and the preservation of local farming villages. Here traditional village layouts are extended incorporating enhanced fish ponds, orchards and farmscapes where visitors can experience sustainable farming and lifestyle practices.

The Cultural Skin – Celebrating Xi’an’s Unique Identity
The main 1 in 100 year Protector dike breaks away from traditional flood wall concepts by promoting opportunities for adjacent activities, this ‘multifunctional dike’ allows for integration of landscape and architecture structures creating a multitude of uses along the river edge. Here a series of distinctive cultural hubs fuse the existing urban fabric with the water edge. A Museum of Earthen Architecture merges with the Protector dike through a series landscape buildings and carved access ways responding to traditional architecture of mounded and rammed earth. Further west along the river, a new Merchant Village establishes an urban center for events and activities, bringing the river edge to a planned new CBD district. The village responds to traditional massing, cultural events and brick materiality establishing a landscape of arches, laneways, sunken courtyards and plazas contributing a distinct modern interpretation of regional features. A new civic plaza and landmark viewing bridge offers unparalleled views across the river, whilst housing sponge city infrastructure. This modern vaulted brick aesthetic is continued in a series of stilted eco-lookout pavilions and bridges responding to important vistas and connections.


Xi’an, China

Site Area
20 km2 (19 km long)


Shaanxi Xixian New Area Development Group Co., Ltd.

Service Scope
Urban Design
Landscape Architecture
Sponge City

Hydraulic Engineering & Water Management Advisor: Royal HaskoningDHV (Australia).
Environmental Remediation Advisor: SESL Australia

GVL Gossamer