Unicorn Island masterplan by Zaha Hadid Architects

Unicorn Island masterplan by Zaha Hadid Architects

Located in Chengdu's evolving Tianfu New Area, on the eastern shore of Xin Long Lake, Zaha Hadid Architects' 67-hectare ‘Unicorn Island’ masterplan in Chengdu is slowly beginning to take shape with the near-completion of its first building, the Start-up Exhibition and Conference centre.

The masterplan's catchy name ‘Unicorn Island’ might make it sound like some sort of utopian theme park, but the name is a reference to the multitude of ‘Unicorn’ tech start-up companies that operate in China (Unicorn companies are start-ups valued at US $1 billion).

As China transitions from being a cheap labour source to a technology powerhouse, there is a need to create space to accommodate and nurture these fast growing and economically influential businesses. This Eastern equivalent of Silicon Valley needs to be attractive, inspirational and effective.

Rising to that challenge, Zaha Hadid Architects created a mixed-use masterplan to provide for as many as 70,000 researchers, office staff, residents, and visitors.

Developed in collaboration with Ramboll, Zaha Hadid Architects says its design was influenced by the region's historic natural engineering projects, like the nearby UNESCO-designated Dujiangyan irrigation system – a UNESCO world heritage site and irrigation and flood control project in China - and the contemporary hydraulic engineering that is re-establishing Tianfu New Area's wetlands.

Inspired by the environmental goals of these projects, Unicorn Island incorporates green spaces, water conservation, and enhanced connectivity. It also includes natural water management systems and urban farming technologies to provide locally-grown produce to residents, workers, and visitors.

When the masterplan reaches completion, it will form part of a series of visually similar buildings arranged in "clusters" around a central plaza and metro station.  The height and composition of each cluster will be established organically as the masterplan expands, and will directly respond to varying requirements of function, program, and efficiency. The result will be a group of diverse, interconnected buildings designed at a human scale to create a sense of community.

And each cluster of buildings will be located a few minutes walk or cycle ride to the plaza and station, to ensure the entire island is easily accessible.

“With China’s economy evolving from traditional industries to internet and technology-based organisations, the country is now home to a third of the world’s technology start-ups valued at over a billion US dollars.” ZFA stated.

“The 67-hectare Unicorn Island masterplan within the Tianfu New Area will foster the continued growth of China’s digital economy, creating living and working environments for Chinese and international companies.”

Zaha Hadid Architects was founded in 1980 by the late architect Zaha Hadid. Other projects in China include a giant starfish-shaped airport and the 45-storey Leeza Soho skyscraper containing the world's tallest atrium.