The development of the Chengdu Panda Reserve comes just in time. 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?
Protecting the species and its native habitat
The global design firm “Sasaki” has recently revealed one possible answer. The Chengdu Panda Reserve is a non-profit breeding and research facility for giant pandas and other endangered species. The facility is located in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in the People’s Republic of China. Behind the title “Chengdu Panda Reserve” lies also 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.
Space for urban education
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.
Nearly like the natural environment
The paths are flanked with thick fernleaf hedge bamboos, Qinsi and other ornamental bamboo oriental cherry, lindera megaphylla and other ornamental plants compatible with the natural environment of the panda base.
The panda base is also inhabited by other endangered wildlife, including red pandas, swans, peacocks, birds, butterflies and hundreds of insects. Visitors can get closer to the rare giant pandas and closely observe the animals of different ages resting, eating and drinking, playing with each other, or watch female pandas nursing their cubs in the nursery rooms.
Training of juvenile pandas into the wild
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.
To enhance the visitor experience, Sasaki developed PandaQuest – an educational app that allows visitors to explore the three sites and learn more about pandas and their habitat through an interactive game. Wildlife enthusiasts around the world can also connect to the sanctuary through the app.
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?
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