Re-imagining Guomao, Beijing, China
Ballistic Architecture Machine

Although the automobile was one of the greatest inventions of the previous century it also must be held accountable for ruinous effects on our urban environments. Thankfully change is afoot for several reasons, one of which being the technology of automation and driverless transport. Yet just because the harbinger of change in this case is another technology, BAM believes that designers must look beyond technology in their visions of the future.

BAM believes that it is the job of designers today to probe visions of future urban landscapes for social purposes. How can we reclaim our urban spaces as a true fabric of the city? How can we recreate an urban realm that is not only about pop-up retail, rental bikes, and other quasi-commercial interests? How can we resuscitate the local culture that exists in the streets and allow it to grow into a larger more flourishing culture of the new urban spaces?

To answer this question BAM believes we must delve deep into the current conditions of our streets and the people who occupy them. By interviewing, recording, measuring, counting cars, counting pedestrians, drawing, and modelling for over 1.5 years, BAM analyzed the Guomao intersection in Beijing.

When examining Guomao it became evident that although the intersection is conceived for cars, a diverse variety of uses and programs inhabit the space. BAM has categorized these kinds of programs into two basic types, HARD programs and SOFT programs. HARD programs are constructed, or semi-permanent functions of the space such as bus terminal, parking lots, green areas, HVAC and other technical structures, subway entries, fenced off hardscapes, and roads. The SOFT programs are ephemeral programs which manifest and cluster in regions at specific times then dissipate with no or insufficient constructed infrastructure or organization to maintain order.

Based on the extensive analysis BAM re-imagines the Guomao intersection as a theoretical design problem. In the redesign, BAM’s goal for the HARD programs is an organization that allows the landscape space to coalesce in the center, in a simple form that is clearly defensible as a public space not to be invaded by architecture. After studying multiple options with traffic engineers Systematica, the pill shape road system emerges as handling the greatest volume and being best suited to future automation technologies with its easy vertical interchanges.

For the SOFT programs BAM reorganized all the ephemeral programs such as the vendors, the impromptu marketplaces, and the meeting places into a central park space. BAM built upon these programs with the rich variety of park programs from Chinese urban zones including exercise facilities, chess, kite flying, dancing, badminton, and neighborhood gossip.

Depending on which neighborhood, city, or district designers are imagining how to reclaim the streets as urban landscape, they must seek to understand and build upon the local culture of that particular street. We must start at the street and build up the real SOFT programs of our cities again, many of which may be slipping from our cultural memory.

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