Buildings and Places, China, People Spotlight

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting an urban designer from our Buildings+Places (B+P) business line in the Greater China Area as he shares insights into what inspires him in his planning and design work.

Chao Zheng, associate director, B+P, is an expert in master planning that’s based in AECOM’s Shanghai Office. Developing his expertise during the rapid infrastructure development of China, he has been with AECOM for more than 10 years. He has comprehensive experience for urban design, regional planning, and city branding, including public, private and government clients.

What inspired you to join the industry? I became fascinated with art and drawings before entering the university. After finishing my undergraduate study in architecture, I felt very interested and attached to open spaces in urban areas and how folks’ lives are interconnected to it.

With Chinese, US, and European education backgrounds in architecture and urban design, I have diverse views and deep understanding on how ecology, culture and politics can shape these urban spaces. When I went back to Shanghai with AECOM, it was at the peak time of fast-growing urbanization in China. It was the career experience of a lifetime to witness the good and bad of this urban wave.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why? After my first 5 or 6 years with AECOM, I was looking to join some new, refreshing projects that were different than the new industrial town master planning I was working on. Luckily, I got three projects all in Tibet. The amazing landscapes and townscapes opened up my career focus to include a mix of culture, ecology and settlement. Later, I had chances to do macro-planning in a gorgeous town in northern Xinjiang. All of these projects not only revealed my special interests and strengths in cultural and eco-related projects, but also brings in more reasonable and impactful development to the land and people.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community. One of our cultural renovation projects, Ningchang Ancient Town, created an Innovative Conservation & Regeneration model for remote historical towns. Because of the area’s traffic congestion, industrial obsolescence and very little farmable land, the Ningchang Ancient Town had previously been almost completely uninhabited. We developed a vision plan for the town with full respect of the 5000-year-old heritage, to meet the needs of public tourism, hospitality and local community upgrading.

Our one-week site investigation from house to house made the local people realize the value of the town while our report to the government gave them new ways to develop this area. More proudly, our development plan won the AIA HK (American Institution of Architects Hong Kong) Honor Award for Urban Design, which spread the good image of the town to a wider public.

Is there any career advice you’d like to share? Don’t be afraid of trying new things, especially in your first 5 years. That’s an important time to discover yourself, learn more about the industry, and enhance the skills that are needed. After 5 years, you are entering a phase of building up your own career identity. You should prove yourself with solid projects or related sections in a comprehensive project, other than big words.

Originally published Jun 2, 2021

Author: Chao Zheng