Low Maintenance Eco-Campus: Vanke Research Center


Shenzhen, China | Z + T Studio, Landscape Architecture | Client: Dongguan Vanke Building Technique Research Co., Ltd.


The rapid urbanization and profit driven development in China have made our environment extremely vulnerable. The project is a pioneering attempt to achieve the landscape design intends while highly respects the ecological context, yet requires extremely low maintenance. It has embedded various eco-techniques into the creation of aesthetically uncompromised landscape. For three years upon the completion, the project has demonstrated such a design is not only practical, but also applicable to the ever-growing urban China.


Shenzhen in South China has fame for its speed in urbanization. It was developed into one of the largest metropolises in China from a small fishing village in short odd thirty years. The unprecedented development in quantity and speed and profit driven development have made the environment extremely vulnerable. The concerns of financial cost have made it very difficult not only to create meaningful landscape design but also even to maintain. Under such a context, the landscape architect has been exploring the possibilities to achieve the design intends while highly respects the ecological context, yet require extreme low maintenance. Partnered with one of the leading and forward thinking real estate developers in China, Vanke, the landscape architect has materialized a few ecologically concerned landscape designs at the Vanke Research Center in Shenzhen.

In order to achieve the goal of low maintenance overall in the campus, two major issues need to be addressed: a) stormwater management; b) low maintenance construction and planting material.

Design Strategies

1. Run off Quantity Controlling: two small triangular sites are designed as Ripple Gardens. Landforms are employed to manipulate the stormwater movement in the site. In the Ripple Garden I, a tilted lawn panel with rolling landform reduces the runoff of rain water and keeps the water for on-site infiltration. The right angle of the triangle is covered by canopies to provide different infiltration with rolling field. The slope of the rolling landform is adjustable for the best runoff volume control in an open field. Ripple Garden II is designed with half concentric rings landform in a triangular site. Between each landform, different materials are filled as sub-grade to test the best infiltration rate in a certain period of time. At the end of the rings, a runnel filled with crushed stones will take the overflow from the different sub-grades, in which the result of infiltration by the different material will be visualized.

2. Stormwater Quality Controlling: In parcel II, the stormwater treatment system circulates the storm water to keep improving the water’s quality for reuse with minimal energy consumption. Stormwater is collected from the exit of drainage system of the surrounding built areas and cleaned for irrigation during the dry season. The central pond that is set at –1.0 meter to meet the grade of the existing drainage system is a reservoir for up to 300 cubic meters of rainwater. A wind mill is designed to pump water from the central pond (-1.0 m) to the slopped roof garden (+7.0 m) through a transparent PVC pipe. After pumped 8 meters up, the water runs over the slopped roof garden and meanders 450 meters through the sedimentation pond. The roof garden cascades wetland, waterfall, and the ground garden bio-swale, after then the water returns back to the central pond for another journey.

3. Education and Research: the rain gardens are the testing board that also visually displays the process of runoff controlling, rain water collection, cleaning and re-using.In the Ripple Gardens, the site is specially designed to visualize the water movement through the site. It becomes an educational facility to the visitor to understand the strategies behind the design. In the rain garden of windmill garden, the water cleaning process can be measured and recorded by a monitoring pond. The researcher can test the water quality there after storm. When the quality of water researches to a certain level, it will be led to a cascade and the reflecting pool for the visitors to enjoy.

4. Low maintenance construction & planting materials: a) Because of the durability and low maintenance, Precast Concrete (PC) is the major material for paving. PC paving panel also offers smooth, dense and clean surface that minimizes the collection of dirt. It is also an ecological friendly paving material that does not require concrete sub-grade which stops infiltration; b) The selection of the planting materials is based on three principles: native, air and water pollution resistant and low maintenance required. Bamboo, local maple tree, and camphor three are selected for the campus. The combination of these trees and vernacular shrubs, perennials and grass makes a graceful and ecological landscape in high aesthetic.

The project is not only a testing board for the experiment but also a springboard for many environmental concerns landscape design to be applied in the real world. So far, three years after the completion of the project, it has demonstrated such a design is not only practical, but also applicable to the ever-growing urban China.

"It’s amazing that the designers were able to create a roof garden for stormwater quality control – every square inch has this green roof and on-site filtration running. . . The success of this project is a testament to the collaboration of the project’s design and engineering team"

- 2014 Awards Jury



Lead Designers:
Dong Zhang
Ziying Tang

Civil Engineer Consultant:
Qinhui Shen

General Contractor:
Dong-Guan Boya Landscape Construction Co., Ltd.

Client Coordinator:
Liang Zhao
Shan Sun
Meng Wang
Peng Zhao
Lei Liu
Changhan Li

Landscape Architects:
Qiang Du
Hua Zhao
Wanrong Dong
Meifang Zhang
Shuhan Qin
Xiaoyu Zhang

Structure Consultant:
Haihui Chen

Corridor Garden Contractor:
Dong-Guan Boya Landscape

Windmill Garden and Ripple Garden Contractor:
Shenzhen Four Season Gardening and Flowers Co., Ltd.

Project Manager:
Yana Li

Technique Manager:
Zhipenq Sun

Windmill Contractor:
Iron Man Windmill (Wuhan) Co., Ltd. – Thomas Coulon


Precast Concrete Manufacture by Dongguan Vanke Building Technique Research Co., Ltd
Solar Panel Manufacture by Hengshui Zhongye Light Technology Co., Ltd.