The numbers are alarming: with a population of only about 1,800 left in the wild, the panda has become one of the most endangered species in the world. The giant panda is elementary for Chinese culture and a well-known symbol for wildlife preservation. However, providing adequate protection for this endangered species has long been neglected – until now.
The giant panda is originally native to a region near the city of Chengdu in western China. At the same time, the city of Chengdu is one of the fastest growing cities worldwide. How can urbanisation and conservation become part of a common strategy? The global design firm “Sasaki” has recently revealed one possible answer. Behind the title “Chengdu Panda Reserve” lies an ambitious masterplan. In order to save this highly endangered species from extinction, “Sasaki” proposes a 69-square-kilometer panda reserve. Symbolically, “Chengdu Panda Reserve” represents the beginning of “China’s increasing communication, collaboration, and awareness of its pioneering strategies to protect the species and its native habitat”.
More than species protection
However, it’s not only about species protection. The project expects over 20 million visitors each year – comparable to or even surpassing the number of current annual visitors to Disneyland. The combination of both aspects poses a major challenge for the design, particularly since improving the pandas’ reintroduction into the wild is perceived as the project’s ultimate aim. Consequently, “Sasaki’s” masterplan provides three individual sites that represent a combination of conservation, education and research.
All sites are organised by their primary functions and the projected amount of human interaction and disturbance. The first site, “Beihu Panda Park”, works as an extension of the existing “Panda Base” visitor experience centre. It provides a space for urban education where visitors can learn about daily lives and habits of pandas, as well as ongoing research and protection. The first destination is located close to downtown and directly linked to the city by public transport. This makes the project a potentially popular and easily accessible destination for visitors.
The second site, “Dujiangyan Panda Wilderness”, provides a much more remote atmosphere. This isolated area is located at the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. Programmatically, the second site focusses on research on breeding techniques and pre-release training of juvenile pandas into the wild.
The third site, “Longquanshan Panda Village”, is located near Chengdu’s new airport. As a “gateway” into the city, it offers a programme more oriented towards the public. “Panda Village” introduces visitors to Chengdu’s conservation efforts and distinctive culture.
Meet a panda in the wild
“Chengdu Panda Reserve” proposes an ambitious masterplan, located somewhere between eco-tourism and tourist attraction. By developing different sites with their very individual programmatical and spatial qualities, it takes on the complex task of understanding urbanisation processes and conservation as a whole. And – who would not want to meet a panda in the wild?