When the architect started the architectural and urban design of the 13 acres Sanlitun Village retail mixed-use project in the centre of the entertainment district in Beijing in 2004, they took the decision, in conjunction with the developer, that the project should adopt an open and permeable urban pattern, comprising of a number of building blocks. Many streets, lanes and alleys, crisscross the Sanlitun development. The design aims to reinstate the age-old relationship between shops and public realms. Many designers and tenants were invited to design the elevation of the buildings. The architect called this approach the Open City concept.
Phase one of the Sanlitun Village was open for the Beijing 2008 Olympic and phase two for the 2009 National Celebration. The streets, lanes and squares in the 6-acre phase one development are open to the public 24 hours. There have been numerous public events in the public spaces of the development such as celebrations, art exhibitions, performances and parties. The public spaces were also utlilised for passive relaxation such as strolling, sitting, chatting and just people watching.
The public response has been very positive. The public spaces have been well received and utilised by both locals and expatriates of all ages. The place is particularly well liked by the younger people in Beijing, as evidenced by the hundreds of blogs and photos on the internet about their positive experience in the Village. It seems that the active internet users in the virtual world are amongst those who appreciate real human interaction and freedom to wander around, in the real world. Commercially the key operators in the Sanlitun Village benefit from the Open City concept in that they are able to fully express their identities on the facades of the buildings.