Asian Masterplans


Responding to recent massive urbanisation trends in Asia, OMA Hong Kong has explored a wide range of master planning projects in the region over the last decade.

We are particularly interested in the great inherent complexity of these projects that involve a wide range of stakeholders, policies, and cultural factors. Although many of the projects are commissioned by private clients, they are in response to governmental programmes concerning economic and industrial development on the national and local levels. Local municipalities respond to these programs by creating plans to develop select sites, either with a visionary municipal masterplan or in collaboration with private parties. The involvement of governmental stakeholders ensures public and/or cultural components will be part of the program brief. The successful conceptualization of the urban commons is thus a key component in gaining approval for project designs.

OMA’s methods combine a rational approach with a visual masterplan that features inspiring architectural moments. Our strength as architects is to operate across scales, from minute details to large impressions, in order to create an engaging, liveable and balanced design. To address the complexity of a new city extension, we work with consultants from multiple sectors to develop the rationale for the plan:

transportation experts, climate engineers, specific programmatic consultancies and water engineers are consulted as necessary in the design process. Our practice is to test a series of new urban futures that fit within the larger economic context of a site, while also envisioning a place for site users and the broader public. In short, we research the future by designing for it.

Due to the large scale of many of these projects, sites are often located on waterfronts where there is a large amount of available space. Whether via the replacement of redundant industrial functions or large-scale land reclamation, these projects often embody a vision of a new or revitalized metropolis. Water thus creates an opportunity: it provides views, fresh air, public open space, and new ways of living. However, given the climatic challenges the world is facing, it also is a threat. Technical responses to threats posed by water are often quite intrusive and based on hard infrastructure: flood walls or flood plains create absolute boundaries between water and land that compromise accessibility. The featured project for the waterfront along the Yangtze River in Wuhan utilizes a series of strategies to tie the river back to the city, and to use it as an advantage rather than a nuisance to urban living.


    Wuhan’s Waterfront

    OMA Asia; Chris van Duijn, Inge Goudsmit

    Originating from the three ancient cities of Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang along the Yangtze river, Wuhan is the ninth-largest city in modern-day China.

    The city is characterized by architectural diversity, with a mix of ancient Chinese, colonial and contemporary architecture. The Yangtze river functions as a lifeline for the city and its surrounding areas - it bisects the metropolis directly through the middle, separating the two riversides of ‘Wu’ and ‘Han’.

    The waterfronts of the riverbanks lack distinctive character and do not reflect the diversity of the hinterland. Seasonal flooding causes water level fluctuations up to 7 meters and exacerbates the separation between either side.

    This phenomenon has also forced the city to install protective infrastructure, such as a floodwall system, to prevent the river from flooding surrounding areas. The efficacy of the floodwall, however, is a double-edged sword: on one hand, it protects the surrounding areas against flooding; but it also disconnects Wu and Han from one another and from the Yangtze river.

    In the context of near-constant flood risk, the river has become a menace rather than an asset. How can the waterfront’s inherent value be retrieved? Can the Yangtze river be an active part of Wuhan without endangering its land and population?

    © OMA | SZDW

      Re-visiting Wuhan’s Waterfront


      Wuhan’s waterfront masterplan reinstates the river's prominence within the city using a comprehensive strategy along a 25km stretch of riverfront in Wuhan.

      The ultimate goal of the masterplan is to create accessibility to the river and its embankments while mitigating risks of seasonal flooding. To do so, the masterplan focuses on three main zones – the core, north and south. Rather than simply improving the aesthetics of the existing floodwall, the waterfront masterplan reconnects the city of Wuhan with the Yangtze river. It does so through a combination of infrastructure installations, cultural space and landscape interventions to create a range of urban spaces that reflect the best qualities of Wuhan.

      Our proposal supports these efforts in several ways. Rather than locating the proposed highway extension on the riverbank, which further divides the city from the water, we propose moving it further inland and into a tunnel below the water. Additionally, a ferry-network extension, cable-car connections and a monorail will facilitate speedy connections between both sides of the river and to the proposed cultural public programmes and housing developments north and south of the city center.

      © OMA | SZDW

        Core Zone – Activating the City Centre


        The core section of the city of Wuhan is characterized by the architecture of the old towns of Hanyang, Hankou, and Wuchang, all with notable histories.

        In recent years, water defense mechanisms have been extensively developed and implemented. Collectively, these systems have effectively created a hard boundary between the city and the river that largely prevents water access. Currently the configuration is of wide, empty parks that double as water storage facilities, or narrow and hard walls.

        Our focus was to activate and connect the urban fabric to the waterfront and the river banks with each other through an eclectic range of interventions termed 'Urban Balconies'. Specific interventions include two bridges, a pedestrian walkway, a cable car connecting both sides of the river and two public plazas overlooking the water – Moon Bay and Jianghan Guan Urban Balconies.

        © OMA | SZDW

          North Zone – City Inhabits Water


          The northern area of Wuhan has a strong residential character.

          The proposed interventions in this area are based on re-routing the road network onto the water and embracing the philosophy of Living with Water. For example, we propose the creation of a series of dikes between the mainland and the river. A series of streets are allowed to flood seasonally and transform into canals.

          The physical experience of the area will vary depending on the presence of water – when the water level is low, public space is gained; when it is high, the water will reach to just below the ground floor of buildings.

          At all times, bridges and safe passages will ensure that the connection between both sides of the canal remains intact.

          © OMA | SZDW

            South Zone – Water Inhabits City


            The riverfront areas in the south of Wuhan have a rich industrial history.

            Recently, many former industrial zones have been redeveloped into gated residential communities. Our proposal transforms these districts into diverse mixed-use areas. The focal point of this redevelopment is the new Yangtze Bridge – featuring several ‘stations’ of restaurants, galleries and shops directly on the bridge as part of an attractive and lively transition to the other side.

            In addition, the proposal adapts the former shipyard sites south of Wuchang into hotels and entertainment facilities, and initiates a public ferry service to connect both sides of the river.

            © OMA | SZDW

              Moonbay Urban Balcony


              Moonbay is an old industrial railway station located on the east side of the Yangtze river.

              It is a unique site where the floodwall protrudes from the city toward the river, in contrast with the surrounding waterfront parks. Here, OMA proposes the creation of a dual-level urban landscape, featuring elevated gardens and a sunken park.

              The pattern of the Urban Balcony is derived from the rectangular grid of the adjoining newly-designed CBD, and is in sharp contrast to the organic form of the embankment itself. This zone will act as a cultural and institutional area that connects the city with the floodwall. A former village will be restored to accommodate an outdoor theater, workshops and other art facilities.

              © OMA | SZDW

                Jianghan Guan Urban Balcony


                Jianghan Guan is a public plaza along the colonial waterfront of Hangkou on the western side of the Yangtze river.

                OMA's proposal highlights the historical context of this important place. The local road, the express highway and all parking spaces will be redirected into a tunnel below an extensive plaza. No longer subjected to traffic, the plaza will become a pedestrian area for leisure and recreation.

                The existing Science Museum, located in the old ferry terminal building on Yanjiang Avenue, will be surrounded by more open space on an elevated plaza overlooking the river. The cultural program of the plaza will be reinforced via the construction of a new Contemporary Art Museum as an extension to the Science Museum. This will enhance the character of the area and celebrate its identity as the cultural heart of Wuhan.

                © OMA | SZDW