With a population of over 15 millions of inhabitants, Tianjin is the fourth biggest town in China, after Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.
Tianjin is not among the most popular cities of the East of the world but its urban structure and history make it a unique place, worth to be explored.
Developed in the shadow of Beijing, from which it is only 130 kilometers away and 30 minutes away by high speed, Tianjin plays a major cultural and economic role in the North of China, thanks to its position on the coast and to the presence of an important commercial port.
Indeed, the commercial port generates most of Tianjin’s wealth and, thanks to the increase in the number of the cruises routes in the Estern Asia, it is now becoming an important landfall for numbers of tourists.
Moreover, Tianjin is an important industrial hub and the birthplace of modern mechanical engineering and textile industry. The rapid growth of high tech and new tech (electronic and IT) have encouraged the industrial development of the city along with the advancement of services industry (retail trade and finance).
The City of Tianjin has always fostered important relations at international level, especially between the second half of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century. During that period, following the intervention of international forces in the suppression of Boxer Uprising,
the Chinese Qing dynasty ceded pieces of the city as concession territories to a number of European countries, the U.S. and Japan. There were nine concessions in old Tianjin altogether.
Each of the countries which settled down in Tianjin built in its concession places of worship, schools, houses and malls, making the architectural identity of the City something unique, due to the variety of the styles gathered in here.
And, it was in the heart of the italian concession that it took place such a peculiar urbanistic experiment to be still studied with interest. During the first half of the Nineteenth Century, the Italians who lived there, in spite of being thousands of kilometers far away from Italy, transformed the face of their neighbourhood, building a variety of the architectural styles popular in Italy at the time, including Liberty.
Low-rise buildings, squares, gardens and churches which combined the best of the urbanistic tradition of the time. They ended to build an authentic city within the city, which now they are trying to protect from the rapid expansion of the metropolis.
Currently, Tianjin is a modern city in which European and Japanese style buildings coexist perfectly with the different architectural expressions of 20th and 21st century China. A contemporary city that wants to play a central role in today's China.
But Tianjin, along with other Chinese megacities, has grown rapidly overnight and is constantly struggling with problems that are not easy to manage, such as traffic jams, unbreathable air and difficult sanitary conditions due to the inadequacy of sewerage and waste disposal systems.
Issues that have pushed towards the planning of new urban settlements and the design of new eco-sustainable neighborhoods. Futuristic projects of new Chinese-style smart cities are underway, such as Caofedian, Nanjing Green City or Hainan Future City.
40 km from the center of Tianjin, Tianjin Eco-City came to life designed by a consortium of Chinese and Singapore companies. An ambitious project which upon completion will house the tune of 350,000 inhabitants in 30 square km.
The epochal process of urbanization which has taken place over the last twenty years has placed the issue of sustainability in urban development at the center of Chinese rulers’ agenda.
Tianjin Eco-City is a significant example of the design of a new hyper-technological and sustainable city, where energy efficiency and urban green are the two fundamental characteristics.
A city within a city, just like the district of the Italian Concession used to be. Tianjin Eco-City represents an urban design concept revisited and adapted to the very strong housing demand that exists in Tianjin and to meet which it makes use of new technologies.
A Garden City that aims to provide the answer on how the metropolis of the future should be: interconnected, energy efficient, with a public transport network suited to the mobility needs of the population and with a portion of urban green that makes it as “human-sized” as possibile.
Not only eco-sustainability but urban development taken forward by several examples of contemporary architecture.
This is the case of the Binhai district where there is the Tianjin Binhai Cultural Center with the famous Library of MVRDV, the Binhai Science Museum of Bernard Tschumi Architects and SOM’s Tianjin CTF Finance Center, in the nearby TEDA district, which is the third tallest skyscraper in China with its height of 530 meters.
Tianjin's Municipality cultural policies also focus on design. In 2019 Tianjin is a candidate to become one of the "Cities of Design" in the UNESCO Global Creative City Network, thanks also to the Tianjin International Design Week, a global scale event born in 2014 which during the years has hosted internationally renowned designers, including Carlo Ratti, Masayuki Kurokawa and Riccardo Dalisi.
The future is already here, in Tianjin. The city is working to gain a central role in the development of the country. A colossal project is already underway: to merge Tianjin, and its harbor, with Beijing and make them a huge single entity which will end to include the entire Hebei region.
Its name will be “Jing-Jin-Ji” and it is aimed to be the biggest megalopolis of all time. 130 millions of inhabitants over 100 thousand square kilometers.It will house the heart of Chinese “empire”, and it is already under construction, connected by high-speed trains and founded on hi-tech.
And the hidden aim reveals an unprecedented ambition: to create a new idea of urbanization, putting an end to the Nineteenth Century’s focus on Western industrial cities, and give birth to an era where hi-tech regions will mark the centrality of East over the West.
This brand new megalopolis extended from the Tianjin Sea to the mountains bordering Mongolia and the Yangtze plains leading to Shanghai, will absorb hundreds of rural villages and second-rate cities now isolated dormitories, industrial districts, poles of research and power, satellites orbiting around the two big cities.
Each one of these urban areas will have a precise role to play in the harmonious and integrated development of the region: Tianjin will be the center of research, distribution and energy resources, the present Beijing will focus on culture and hi-tech services, Hebei region area focal point will be the enhancing of a manufacturing industry made of small and medium-sized enterprises.
The great goal of this project is to make order to China organizing the country in huge, green and based on ICTs megalopolis: Jing-Jin-Ji in the North, Shanghai in the Center, Chongqing in the West and Guangzhou in the South. This is a hugely ambitious mission which will be pursued by means of the implementation of economic and political reforms. And the attainment of this objective will determine the survival of China itself.
Huge super-cities with hundreds of millions of inhabitants, based on fast trains, electric cars, green energy and led by a new ruling class. This will represent a big challenge for the services industry: from food and water supply, from education to waste collection systems.
But as stated before, Tianjin is already with one foot into the future, it already represents the new idea of a modern city/region.
In September 2019, the futuristic Beijing - Daxing airport designed by Zaha Hadid studio came into operation. The new international terminal, which is supposed to host 72 million passengers per year, is located in the middle between Beijing and Tianjin, marking a clear desire to move the commercial and cultural center of gravity to the sea, where Tianjin plays a central role. And it is foreseen to play an even more leading role in the years ahead.