The Guangzhou Cultural Center, a vital social infrastructure with rich Lingnan ecological characteristics and cultural heritage, was officially opened to the public recently and has become a new cultural landmark in the country. Situated at the southern end of the central axis of Guangzhou City and on the shore of Haizhu Lake, this antique architectural complex covers a total footprint of 16.7 hectares and is the largest of its kind in China, including 14.5 hectares of garden landscape.

What was once traditionally enjoyed privately in homes, people can now enjoy and experience the beauty of a traditional Lingnan garden at the cultural center together with friends and family.

The AECOM–Architectural Design and Research Institute of South China University of Technology Joint Venture was commissioned to undertake the architectural and landscape design of this project after winning an international competition in 2014. For nearly a decade, we have been the master planner and landscape designer for this Lingnan-style garden.

Creating a new cultural experience for the people

The new Guangzhou Cultural Center has received great attention from the Guangzhou Municipal government since its planning. As a significant cultural facility open to the public, its purpose is not only to showcase the essence of traditional Lingnan culture, providing citizens with an enriching cultural experience, but also to offer tourists a glimpse into the distinctive beauty of the city.

Compared to traditional Lingnan private gardens that cater to individual families, the Cultural Center serves a larger number of citizens, making it imperative to prioritize safety and functionality in its landscape design. While preserving the essence of Lingnan garden styles, it is equally crucial to integrate elements of traditional symbolism and aesthetic concepts. This seamless fusion of tradition and modernity enables the center to safeguard and promote cultural heritage more effectively.

The cultural center has also become an exhibit of intangible cultural heritages of this 2,200-year-old city, such as calligraphy, quyi (Chinese folk speaking and singing art forms), and Cantonese embroidery, and provides a platform for various cultural activities.

A garden within a garden

Our design strives to create an inclusive cultural hub, a sustainable green habitat, an enjoyable environment for citizens to engage in cultural exchange, and an urban icon that showcases the charm of Lingnan culture.

Taking inspiration from the Chinese poetic theme “ten miles of red clouds and one bay of water, eight bridges and sixteen pavilions”, our design skillfully integrates traditional architectural elements with the garden space to reproduce the captivating beauty of Lingnan water town gardens.

The center consists of several gardens of different themes. The buildings are scattered around the Haizhu lake like stones and assembled into various courtyards, forming a layout of “a garden within a garden” with changing landscapes. The design incorporates the iconic landscape elements of the Lingnan region, such as mountains, rivers, fields and ponds. Notably, eight bridges run through the water courtyard, enhancing visitors’ engagement and adding further intrigue to the garden setting.

Additionally, there is an 8-acre (40,000-square-meter) public cultural area which is the core building of the center and is full of elements of the Han (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and Tang (618-907 A.D.) dynasties.

A decade of careful craftmanship and determination leads to success

The project spanned a decade, from the initial stages of planning to its ultimate completion. Throughout this extensive timeframe, our team demonstrated unwavering determination and deeply immersed themselves in the project, meticulously refining every detail. They upheld the principles of precise planning and impeccable construction standards, investing a decade of careful craftsmanship into this endeavor. As a result, this cultural complex, which pays homage to local traditions, is ultimately delivered with excellence and high-quality standards. Since its official opening, it has been warmly embraced by both the community and visitors alike.

Creating a thriving water ecosystem within the city

Throughout the project, from its initial planning to architectural and landscape design, the concept of ecological low carbon has been consistently integrated. As we introduced water from Haizhu Lake to create the water landscape, our team also undertook the task of reconstructing the water ecosystem. We diligently controlled the water quality and implemented sponge-based rainwater harvesting techniques to establish a low-maintenance underwater forest.

We have carefully chosen local plants to minimize operational and maintenance costs, and used different planting and paving methods in each themed garden to highlight the characteristics and personalities of the relevant concepts. For example, in the Calligraphy and Painting Garden, a variety of bamboo species have been planted to create a bamboo-themed scenery that reflects the artistic essence of Chinese painting and calligraphy. This deliberate selection of plant species contributes to the overall ambience.

Fun fact

Gongche notation, a traditional musical notation method once popular in ancient China, uses Chinese characters to represent musical notes. In the Quyi Garden, the mirror water feature adjacent to the stage draws inspiration from the Gongche notation of the Cantonese opera piece called “Lychee Ode”. This choice serves as both the conceptual foundation and design language, enhancing the cultural significance of the artistic space and shapes the unique details of the garden landscape.