Revitalizing the Great Wall ---- Datong Ancient Great Wall Cultural Heritage Corridor in Shanxi Province, China

Honor Award

Analysis and Planning

Datong City, China
BLLA and Beijing Forestry University
Clients: Datong Municipal Government and Datong Planning and Natural Resources Bureau

"China’s Great Wall is one of the world’s most important cultural resources, but this ancient treasure faces the deterioration of the local environment, a decline in tourism opportunities, and impoverished adjacent communities. Based on historical and cultural analysis, widespread public participation, and field surveys using the latest technologies, this master plan for a 258 kilometer-long Datong Ancient Great Wall Heritage Corridor creates a blueprint for revitalization. Rooted in the region’s landscape and remarkable cultural heritage, the planning team has begun the process of significant ecological remediation, the establishment of scenic areas to anchor tourism development, and the rebirth not just of place, but of community."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits

  • Lead Designer:
    • Xiao Feng
    • YunYuan LI
  • Landscape Architect:
    • Yunlu Zhang
    • Hualin Bai
    • Jing Zhao
    • Shi Dun
    • Hongda Wang
    • Yadi WangJialing Shui
    • Shuang Li
    • Keji Zhao
    • Siqi Chen
    • Yuhan Liu
    • Sicheng Huang
    • Yanan Wu
  • Ecological Restoration:
    • Guolei Li
    • Wenhui Shi
    • Guanggang Yao
    • Jiangang Li
    • Jie Wang
  • GIS System:
    • Jia Wang
    • Hui Li
    • Longyu Zhang
  • Architecture:
    • Wei Duan
    • Chao Zhou
  • Cultural Tourism:
    • Zhongjun Wang
    • Ruoyun Wu
  • Heritage Conservation:
    • Furen Chen
  • Other Contributors:
    • Zhenguo Liu
    • Hongdong Zhang
    • Junsheng Wu
    • Chang Song

Project Statement

The Great Wall is a world cultural heritage, and a treasure of human civilization. The Datong Ancient Great Wall was mainly built in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), and despite of all vicissitudes over history, its main parts have managed to remain till today. However, for all kinds of reasons, this cultural heritage has been constantly subjected to erosions and damages, and its surroundings now face deterioration of ecologicalenvironment, stagnation of tourism and poverty of residents.

The planning has constructed a linear heritage corridor of 258km in length and 186km2in area, which can realize relics protection, ecological remediation, cultural tourism, village revitalization and many other goals and would directly benefit people in the amount of 530 thousands along the route.

The planning has fully invigorated the derived benefits of cultural heritages, brought a balance to the benefits in a variety of aspects of protection and development, culture and tourism, industry and ecology etc., It's foreseeable that this particular area will be revitalized as a result of the protection and flexible development of the Great Wall.

Project Narrative


Since ancient times, Datong sit at the boundary of nomadic peoples and agricultural peoples, and the Great Wall served as a defense system built up by agricultural peoples. People who are unfamiliar with the Great Wall usually take it as a giant wall; in fact, it's much more complicated beyond imagination. In the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall consisted of a wall system against enemies, a beacon-fire tower & postal delivery system for intelligence transmission, a troops stationing system for garrison duty and a garrison reclamation system for furnishing supplies; it was a huge and complete defense system. In the process of constructing and defending the Great Wall, numerous soldiers, laborers and their families settled down near the Great Wall and formed many settlements. With the fading of the threats posed by nomadic peoples, the Great Wall has gradually declined day by day as well.


1 Relics protection
Due to its fragmented distribution, the Great Wall heritage has no continuous protection area. There is a lack of management over most parts of the Great Wall, and man-caused damages are widespread.

2 Ecological environment
Located in the interlaced zone of temperate grassland and temperate deserts, Datong has vulnerable ecological environment and sparse vegetation. In the Ming Dynasty, grass burning damaged the surrounding ecological environment of the Great Wall, and many parts of it collapsed due to soil erosion.

3 Approach to the heritage
There is not yet a continuous transportation system along the route of the Great Wall, Due to the failure of effective development and utilization of the resources of the Great Wall, there is a lack of scale, system and appeal in these scenic areas.

4 Social economy
Besides the low agro-economic benefits and the poverty of rural workers, there are also the outflows of young adults. The villages, habited by the elderly and children, are in ruins and depression.

Planning process

Considering the large scale and complex conditions of the project, we have built a planning team consisting of Landscape Architecture, GIS, Ecological Afforestation, Conservation of Water& Soil, Architecture, Cultural Tourism, Cultural Relics Protection among many other specialties, and hired members of local Great Wall protection associations and experts in botany and agro-economics to establish an advisory panel of experts.

The team have conducted detailed studies on historical materials, and carried out field surveys within the scope of planning for a duration of above two months and over a journey of above 2,000km. In combination with aerial images and land shot by UAV and databases of land resources and forestry information, the team have created a detailed GIS data model. What's more, the team went deep into villages & communities, the opinions of the local people were widely collected.

Planning strategies

1 Relics protection

The cultural heritage assessment method has been employed to identify the spatial pattern for ancient Great Wall heritage protection. Through the analysis, it is found that the high class heritage is mostly distributed within the range of 1,000m from the Great Wall, based on that situation, we established the spatial pattern of the heritage corridor.

1.1 Core protection area
An area of 50m in width outside the Great Wall and its associated heritages will be strictly protected by a special management and protection institution, and relics with the potential hazard of collapse will be provided with protective restoration.

1.2 Ecological remediation area
An area of 100m-500m in width to the north of core protection area will be provided with ecological remediation to protect the Great Wall heritage against ecological disasters.

1.3 Tourism service area
An area of 500m-1,000m in width to the south of the core protection area will be provided with ecological restoration, and added with scenic area recreation system and whole-route tourism infrastructure with minimized interferences.

1.4 Development coordination area
An area of 500m-1,000m in width to the south of the tourism service area will be designated to guide agricultural upgrading and develop village tourism on the basis of guaranteeing coordination with the landscape and features of the Great Wall.

2 Ecological remediation

2.1 Determination of ecologically sensitive areas
The GIS information model was used to determine ecologically sensitive areas, and coupled with the influencing factors of heritage protection, the scope of remediation will be further narrowed.

2.2 Defining of Ecological remediation strategies
Adopting local native vegetation community as blueprints and targeting the natural characteristics of five types of ecologically sensitive areas, the planning has predefined matching models of planting, constructed basically vegetation community requiring low-maintenance and provided habitats for endangered species.

3 Establishment of Approaches

3.1 Selection of resources and determination of scenic areas
The cultural heritages and natural resources along the Great Wall have been assessed by grades and rated to determine 12 areas with concentrated high-quality resources as scenic areas for key construction.

3.2 Tourism facilities system
A sightseeing road & bike lane system, 255km in total length, will be built to connect the Great Wall into an organic whole; a green corridor will be constructed on the exterior to create a continuous recreation system, where full consideration will also be given to the overlooking relation with the Great Wall.

12 service centers attached to the scenic areas will be set up along the road to create a continuous system of facilities for tourism services. On top of service centers, there are a variety of services such as parking, dining, accommodation, and information enquiry for tourism to be configured. Cautious consideration has been given to the visual relation with the Great Wall in the architectural design of each service.

3.3 Scenic area planning
In the Scenic area, through the recovery of natural topography, the vegetation restoration and tourism facilities in the scenic areas have been carefully considered.

A system of scenic area services and interpretation will be built, consisting of sightseeing trails, leisure & recreation, dining & accommodation and other service facilities, supplemented by tour guides, and popularization facilities for culture and natural science.

Based on a comprehensive analysis on ecological sensitivity, relics distribution, building suitability and other elements and for the purpose of coordinating the features of the Great Wall heritage, careful consideration has been given to the layout, materials, colors and forms of all facilities in these scenic areas to blend them perfectly into the heritage environment.

4 Industrial guide

4.1 Agricultural guide
By means of fiscal subsidies from government, support by scientific research institution, operation of scales and so forth, rural people will be guided to plant oil plants, medicinal materials and other economic crops, so as to develop sightseeing agriculture and increase their income.

4.2 Village tourism development
Based on assessment of villages along the route, ancient villages with mature conditions will be moderately developed, and villagers will be guided to develop homestay hotels, rural tourism & dining, local specialty production & sales among other tourism services, in order to lift the local rural people out of poverty and make them better off.

Current Achievements

So far, the project of sightseeing road & ecological afforestation with a total investment of 360 million USD has been basically completed, some scenic area have been opened to tourists, the blooming apricot flowers and the charming Great wall have attracted a large number of visitors.


The planning has fully invigorated the derived benefits of cultural heritages, brought a balance to the benefits in a variety of aspects of protection and development, culture and tourism, industry and ecology etc., It's foreseeable that this particular area will be revitalized as a result of the protection and flexible development of the Great Wall. What's more, the project fully demonstrates that landscape architects can play a core role in such complex, large-scale projects which require cross-disciplinary collaboration.


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