Poised at the starting point of China’s historic Silk Road and home to one of the world’s busiest ports, Ningbo has been involved in the clothing trade for millennia. The city now stands as the largest exporter of textiles in the world – a distinction it will soon lose as factories move out seeking cheaper labour costs elsewhere. In the face of this new reality, Ningbo is reinventing itself from a manufacturer of textiles to a purveyor of taste, a powerhouse of fashion and design. In spring 2011, following an international design competition, PLP Architecture was commissioned to design the urban centre of the Eastern New Town, a district dedicated specifically to the production, dissemination and reception of fashion.
N+ is the first Fashion City in the world specifically designed from the ground up to work as an epicentre for the fashion industry and creative fields in general.
PLP’s aim is to create a city that works as a creative catalyst. PLP tested many iterations looking at layouts informed by street hierarchies, sequence of public spaces, massing even controlled chaos, but the solution became obvious only when they started to think in terms of differentiating programmatic elements within specific districts. From here the exercise became about orchestrating excess – of porosity, adjacency, access, layering and difference. Different organizational domains occur locally at the district level – each district contains a public space and one or several significant buildings that in turn shape multiple experiences.
PLP looked at cities across the globe to try to identify and extract desirable attributes. Sometimes a street, such as the Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Paris; sometimes it was a neighbourhood, like Clerkenwell in London, or even the energy of a single room, like the dining area in No.10 Corso Como. These are all spaces of creation, production and consumption. They are fun and also serious, intuitive but surprising, grandiose yet intimate, simultaneously tangible and surreal. The attempt is to elevate these qualities to the level of an urban gesture.
Floating above the street level a Continuous Catwalk connects all the districts. It is a performative space distanced from the reality of the city below. On the Catwalk one is simultaneously an actor and a spectator, both an inhabitant and a protagonist in the life of the city.
Simultaneously the ring acts as an environmental device – a performative structure that generates a controlled micro-climate. At its core a series of infrastructural components engage in a continuous energy and water arbitrage process between the different districts. However its main role is to facilitate a different interaction with the city – in the absence of the car it establishes a new urban typology.
Fused together, this programmatic multiplicity becomes a space of experimentation, where design interacts with research; the theatre is a playground, where market forces link buyers, brands, and shoppers in an augmented culture of urban density.
N+ is superlative, expert, growing, dynamic, continuous, open-ended…
[From the Architects]