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ZHA – Zaha Hadid Architects to Transform Sanya’s Waterfront with Spectacular Cultural District

The harbourside cultural district is set to redefine the city as a vibrant cultural hub and gateway to the breathtaking waters of Sanya Bay and the South China Sea

Render by © Brick Visual

In a significant development for the vibrant city of Sanya in Hainan, China, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has emerged as the winner in an international design competition to shape the city’s new harbourside cultural district. This ambitious project is poised to redefine Sanya as a cultural hub and gateway to the tropical waters of Sanya Bay and the South China Sea.

Render by © Negativ

Sanya, known for its tropical forests, pristine beaches, and a yearly influx of over 80 million tourists, has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving into a bustling city of over a million residents. At the heart of this transformation is the Sanya Bay, a bustling hub housing leisure activities, shopping districts, and a thriving business community, including bustling yachting marinas and one of China’s busiest cruise ship terminals.

Positioned at the entrance to Sanya’s bustling harbour, the new harbourside cultural district by ZHA will be adjacent to the Jiangang Road terminus, which serves as a crucial connection for Sanya’s tram network, linking residential and hotel districts on Sanya Bay to the high-speed rail station in the city.

Render by © Negativ
Render by © Negativ
Render by © Plomp

This visionary project aims to establish the harbour as the epicenter of Sanya’s cultural life. A central axis will connect the new cultural district with the existing urban landscape. It will divide the cultural programming, featuring a performing arts theatre and exhibition galleries, from the commercial programming, tailored for conferences and trade fairs. Both of these facilities will share a new public square offering panoramic views of the harbour, a welcoming space for visitors, audiences, and delegates.

The defining architectural feature of the cultural district is its layered roofs that cascade outward from their highest points along the central axis. These roofs, visible throughout the harbour and from Sanya Bay, appear to float above the water like sails in a sea breeze, evoking the natural beauty of the Hainan interior. Rising gently from the ground surface of the district’s new public square, these roofs shelter the entrances of the cultural and conference centers, creating layers of public terraces with breathtaking views of the waterfront.

The 26.7-hectare cultural district will incorporate new public plazas, gardens, marinas, and harbourside boardwalks, alongside cultural, exhibition, and conference facilities capable of hosting a wide range of performances and events by local, national, and international artists, institutions, and companies. Additionally, the district will feature city-center residences, offices, hotels, and various dining and shopping amenities to cater to the millions of tourists visiting Sanya each year.

Render by © Negativ
Render by © Negativ
Render by © Negativ

Considering the tropical climate of Hainan, the project incorporates sustainable design elements. It features photovoltaics and rainwater collection integrated into large roof areas, with deep overhanging eaves to provide shade and shelter for outdoor public terraces throughout the year. The district’s orientation and landscaping are designed to maximize natural indirect sunlight and ventilation, taking advantage of cooling on-shore winds. A central plant will include high-efficiency equipment and sea water heat exchangers for cooling. Furthermore, a smart building management system will automatically adjust shading, lighting, and ventilation to optimize comfort and efficiency.


The project also highlights a commitment to sustainability through the use of timber cladding sourced from certified sustainable forests. This cladding is chosen for its resilience to local coastal weather conditions, eliminating the need for chemical treatments. Procurement for each building within the district will prioritize the use of local and recycled materials, further emphasizing its eco-conscious approach.

Render by © Brick Visual

The project team, led by Zaha Hadid Architects, includes a consortium of consultants and experts in various fields, ensuring the success of this groundbreaking endeavor. With a total built area of 409,000 square meters, Sanya’s new harbourside cultural district promises to be a transformative addition to the city’s landscape, bringing culture, sustainability, and architectural excellence to the forefront.

Project Team
Client: People’s Government of Sanya City Consultants
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)
ZHA Design: Patrik Schumacher
ZHA Competition Project Directors: Nils Fischer, Lei Zheng, Jakub Klaska
ZHA Competition Project Architects: Chun-Yen Chen, Matthew Gabe
ZHA Competition Team: Shajay Bhooshan, Joshua Anderson, Vishu Bhooshan, Daniel Boran, Chun-Yen Chen, Hung-Da Chien, Nils Fischer, Matthew Gabe, Charles Harris, Jinqi Huang, Yen-Fen Huang, Ivan Hewitt, Jakub Klaska, Hannah Kopeliovitch Simmons, Henry Louth, Sonia Magdziarz, Patrik Schumacher, Svenja Siever, Tul Srisompun, Yaobin Wang, Yutong Xia, Simon Yu, Lei Zheng, Han Hsun Hsieh

Executive Architects: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Local Architect: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Structural Engineers: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Quantity Surveyor: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
M&E Engineering: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
MEP: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Transport Consultant: Parking Management
Organization Fire Engineer: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Landscape Consultant: ZHA Lighting Design: ZHA Acoustic
Consultant: Cundall Theatre Consultant: Cundall Theatre
Management Consultants: Cundall Theatre Equipment
Consultants: Cundall Site Surveyor: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Signage Design: SHIYU Urban Signage Planning and Design

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