TLS sensitively renews the lake and landscape of Baiyangdian in China

Italian architect Stefano Boeri, shares in his book Green Obsession, how we perceive “biodiversity detached from poverty, forest-related issues detached from hunger, and soil exploitation detached from a pandemic, while all of these are interconnected.” This realisation that everything is connected, seems to be the driving force for mankind to act towards caring for the planet. While most people might argue that a pandemic was necessary for humans to be warned and for them to actively take action, it isn’t quite right. The results of the deteriorating state of the earth, its species, and natural resources have always been here, hidden in plain sight. Activists and stakeholders have been responding to protecting, reviving, and renewing the natural ecosystem for a long time, at least since studies placed a sand clock to reverse changes from the climate crisis and global warming.


Due to centuries-long effects of industrialisation, urbanisation, and technological advancements, our natural environment has been in a continuous state of deterioration. Acting upon them, architects and urban planners along with government organisations and NGOs have ventured to take up projects and initiatives to revive the ecosystem. In this spectrum of natural resources that require immediate attention are the shallow lakes and wetlands on the outskirts of expanding towns and future cities. Shallow lakes have now become an archetype of an unstable state, caused by environmental degradation. In Northern China, home to a number of vast shallow lakes, California-based TLS Landscape Architecture responded to the renewal of Baiyangdian Lake through a responsible and sensitive intervention.

  • Baiyangdian, the site in the new city of Xiong’an is the largest shallow lake in Northern China Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The lake has always been fragile and highly susceptible to agricultural pollution as well as cycles of flood and drought | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The lake has always been fragile and highly susceptible to agricultural pollution as well as cycles of flood and drought Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The design of the Baiyangdian Waterfront Park is inspired by the original landscape pattern of ‘Lotus Pond-Reed Sea’ | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The design of the Baiyangdian Waterfront Park is inspired by the original landscape pattern of ‘Lotus Pond-Reed Sea’ Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu

Baiyangdian in the new city of Xiong’an is the largest freshwater lake in Northern China. The vast regional watershed has a depth of only three metres, even when nine rivers feed the lake. However, the lake has been in a fragile state because of agricultural pollution and the effects of climate change causing cycles of flood and drought. The design of Baiyangdian Waterfront Park had to solve these concerns and create a public space in the sensitive ecosystem. Inspired by the original landscape pattern of ‘Lotus Pond-Reed Sea,’ the landscape architecture of the project deals with these concerns in two parts: a series of eco-levees and a new public marina. On talking about the objective of the intervention, the architects state, “Normally the outputs of a new city of a million people would only make matters dramatically worse, but this project does the opposite.”

  •  With a series of eco-levees and a new public marina, the architects intend to solve the ecological issues relating the shallow lake | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    With a series of eco-levees and a new public marina, the architects intend to solve the ecological issues relating the shallow lakeImage: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  Through a regional effort the inputs from the watershed have been cleaned up and a complex series of planted levees are introduced | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    Through a regional effort the inputs from the watershed have been cleaned up and a complex series of planted levees are introduced Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The design of the Baiyangdian Waterfront Park is inspired by the original landscape pattern of ‘Lotus Pond-Reed Sea’ | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The levees are of varying scales, and locks and regulates water levels Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu

Bringing hydrological stability to the lake are levees and initiatives to manage pollution. Through support from regional stakeholders, the watershed was cleaned to introduce the eco levees. Levees are a type of embankment built to prevent the overflow of a river. In the design of Baiyangdian Waterfront Park, a complex series of planted levees of varying scales are placed to lock and regulate the water levels. Addressing the pollution of the lake, initiatives have been taken to extensively manage and recycle the runoff from the new city, depositing only clean water in the lake. Through these interventions, the lake adopts a renewed ecosystem that allows it to begin cleaning its waters and sediment through lush native reeds and lotus, as it used to be. Along with reviving the lake’s ecological health, the development of the new city of Xiong’an in the vicinity encourages the implementation of these measures to bring the lake back to life.

  • The runoff of the new city is now extensively managed and recycled within its own systems | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The runoff of the new city is now extensively managed and recycled within its own systems Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The new hydrologic stability now allows the lake to begin to clean its waters and sediment once more through the lush native reeds and lotus | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The new hydrologic stability now allows the lake to begin to clean its waters and sediment once more through the lush native reeds and lotus Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The lake has a long cultural history and has been a source of community well- being through the harvests of fish, reeds, and lotus root | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The lake has a long cultural history and has been a source of community well-being through the harvests of fish, reeds, and lotus root Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu

After the ecological concerns of the lake were dealt with, the architects had to envision the waterfront to act as a public space. One which acts as a sphere at the confluence of people, culture, and nature. Often referred to as the ‘Kidney of Northern China’, the significance of the lake comes from different reasons. The lake is home to about 50 varieties of fish and multiple varieties of wild geese, ducks, and birds. With a number of lotus, reed, and other plants in its surroundings, most locals in the area make a living  through harvesting this flora and fauna. However, the exploitation of the lake, mainly by industries, has led to an alarming state for the lake since the 1980s.

TLS started participating in designing the Baiyangdian Waterfront Area in 2019, after winning the Xiong-an urban design competition in 2018, along with SOM. In their attempts to revive the shallow lake and its surroundings, TLS aimed to revive the ecosystem and strengthen the relationship local people had with the lake. The landscape architects share, “People love boating within the maze of channels through the reeds and open water which has led to the construction of a new marina to serve the communities’ desire for natural experiences and peaceful recreation.”

  • The lake is home to about 50 varieties of fish and multiple varieties of wild geese, ducks, and birds | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The lake is home to about 50 varieties of fish and multiple varieties of wild geese, ducks, and birds Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Site Plan | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Site Plan Image: Courtesy of TLS Landscape Architecture


  •  Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Illustration of the walkways through the forest | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Illustration of the walkways through the forest Image: Courtesy of TLS Landscape Architecture


  •  Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Illustration of the walkways extending to the water and wetland | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    Baiyangdian Waterfront Park: Illustration of the walkways extending to the water and wetland Image: Courtesy of TLS Landscape Architecture

Accompanying the new marina are walkways along the levees and embankments, extending up to the reeds and water. The new Baiyangdian Waterfront Park also has a series of reed-roofed pavilions full of exhibits and historical demonstrations. At the juncture of the sculptural pavilions and a landscape design—engrossed by ponds, bridges, and boardwalks—the project dynamically and sensitively presents the best of Baiyangdian, for an experiential encounter. As the new waterfront development along with renewing the lake creates a place for the people to reconnect with nature. Narrating the resultant change in the social and ecological sphere of the city, TLS mentions, “The recovered lake can become the key ecological amenity and open space of a new city without being destroyed by urbanisation, but in fact improved and renewed by it. The eco-levee and marina project is the first open space/natural system project for Xiong’an, a powerful demonstration of new ecological priorities and first principles of the new city.”

  • The construction of a new marina serves the communities’ desire for natural experiences and peaceful recreation | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The construction of a new marina serves the communities’ desire for natural experiences and peaceful recreation Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The recovered lake can become the key ecological amenity and open space of a new city | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The recovered lake can become the key ecological amenity and open space of a new city  Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


  •  The landscape surrounding the pavilions is a composition of ponds and bridges displaying the ecological dynamics | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
    The landscape surrounding the pavilions is a composition of ponds and bridges displaying the ecological dynamics Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu


With more developing areas prioritising the protection and revival of their natural environment, we are witnessing the power of design and architecture in creating a sensitive intervention—that addresses both nature and humans. We are at a point of reversal where human beings are deriving solutions to the problems we created. The same problems brought us to a sand clock denoting the time left to reverse climate change. In such a scenario, projects that intervene in sensitive ecosystems, and revive and protect them are important initiatives for the future. However, while applauding ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmental’ interventions, it is also important to dive into and understand if the construction and subsequent use of the project also follow the same principles, prescribed in its conceptualisation.

 The eco-levee and marina project is the first open space/natural system project for Xiong’an | Baiyangdian Waterfront Park | TLS Landscape Architecture | STIRworld
The eco-levee and marina project is the first open space/natural system project for Xiong’an Image: Xiaohui Jin and Mu Yu

Project Details

Name: Baiyangdian Waterfront Park
Location: Xiong’An, China  
Architect: TLS landscape Architecture  
Completion Year: 2020
Gross Built Area: 1,06,500 sq.m
Typology: Waterfront, Park, Public Space
Client: Administration Committee for the Xiong’an New Area; Anxin Government
Lead Landscape Architect: Tom Leader, Wei Chen, Wanpeng Zu
Core Design Team: Xin Zhong, Shuang Zhao, Aiai Bao, Yayun Luo, Si Zheng, Yang Yu, Shuping Ye