Rapid economic growth in China over the past decade has prompted a major shift in focus for trade and industry operations as closer ties are forged with western countries.
With many of China's exports heading offshore from the southern provinces, the country has responded to a need for a new financial gateway to the south just as Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, was developed as a new industrial centre to service the growing export market.
The Shizimen Central Business District in Zhuhai has been earmarked for this role, and the recent soft opening of the Zhuhai International Convention and Exhibition Centre is the first stage of the masterplan.
The development, strategically located on the Zhuhai waterfront, is designed to maximise Shizimen's close proximity to Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau it is envisaged the development will be a catalyst for economic development of the entire Hengqin Region.
Establishing a new CBD from the ground up has also given the Zhuhai Municipal Government an unprecedented opportunity to create purpose-built facilities and distinctive architecture. Architect Gordon Affleck, formerly of RMJM and now with 10 Design, was commissioned to design the concept plan and lead the design team right through to the detail design phase.
"Commercial sustainability was critical," Affleck says. "Many centres are admired for their civic grandeur, but they do little to activate a site outside of the days when conventions, conferences and exhibitions are being staged. They are often empty for long periods, or used for private functions. This facility needed to provide a public amenity as well as a civic one, and this principle has been adhered to throughout the whole design process."
In keeping with this aim, the team designed a lively pedestrian plaza linking the main road in front of the centre with a waterfront plaza behind. This in turn is activated by retail, food and beverage and garden areas.
"A commercially successful development also requires a complementary mix of uses to make it work as a stand-alone destination, with continual occupation beyond the limited convention and exhibition centre operations," the architect says. "So we set out to create an urban waterfront destination. In addition to the conference and exhibition centre, the first phase incorporates low-rise offices, serviced apartments, an international 5-star hotel and a Super 5-star hotel on top of a 62-level office tower, which is still under construction.
"All these facilities will be used on a permanent, ongoing basis, so the retail and food-and-beverage outlets will be sustainable, with constant revenue. And they will in turn attract more business."