Songyu Ferry Terminal Redevelopment Design Review


Located on an island off Xiamen, a major city in southeastern China, Gulangyu is a small 0.77-square-mile pedestrian-only tourist destination that is home to approximately 20,000 residents. On Gulangyu’s narrow streets, only electric tourist buggies and a few fire trucks provide any vehicular traffic.

Songyu ferry terminal had currently become inadequate to meet the demands of local and international visitors to Gulangyu. Intervention was necessary to address urban planning issues such as public transit, vehicular access, pedestrian safety, and the overall tourist destination image.

In its current performance, the terminal allows local residents to commute via a short 5-minute ferry ride to and from Heping Ferry Terminal. Tourists and non-locals, however, must utilize a 20-minute ferry ride from Dongdu International Terminal or a 15-minute ferry ride from Songyu Terminal. This latter terminal has the potential to serve not only as a transportation facility, but also as a prime location for waterfront development. Songyu Terminal can become an iconic gateway to Gulangyu and other Xiamen destinations.

SBA will undertake a development project increasing the lot area from 67,900 square meters (730,869 square feet) to 75,500 square meters (812,675 square feet). Our aim is to minimize environmental impacts while turning this ferry terminal into the center of the development. In anticipation of future increases in visitor traffic, the ferry piers have been expanded to include more docking areas for new routes to be added later.

The design concept focuses on a central public realm that serves as a rich, diverse focus point that offers waterfront recreation, pedestrian and bicycle access, physical and visual water access, and passive- and active-use spaces. Individual districts will radiate from this public area. 

The proposed plan for the public realm is guided by the following principles:

  1. Create continuous public access to the waterfront throughout various districts.
  2. Visually organize the development by balancing simplicity, clarity, and orientation with complexity, idiosyncrasy, and surprise. The overall experience should be one of discovery.
  3. Program the public realm to complement and extend the various building programs. Lower-level shops and restaurants, for example, can spill into the boardwalks.
  4. Incorporate plentiful and generous site furnishings, including: pedestrian-scale lighting, seating, signage, banners, beacons, fountains, trash receptacles, bike sheds, and other amenities. These are critical to making the public realm into its own unique destination.
  5. Integrate legible, safe circulation systems to accommodate various levels of pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile access, within a visually discernable hierarchy reinforced by plantings, lighting, and signage.


To integrate the natural environment into the terminal’s overall identity, we incorporated visual and physical corridors to link the terminal to the surrounding mountains and ocean ecosystems. Water elements form a consistent motif throughout the district, with ornamental water fountains, cascades, views towards the wharf, and more.

Energy savings and reduced environmental impacts were prominent concerns for the development. The orientation of buildings, fill requirements, and proposed water run-off designs have all been configured to reduce energy usage. To encourage natural ventilation, buildings are arranged in relation to the prevailing wind directions. Open ground floor plans further encourage natural cooling processes.

The terminal redevelopment proposal is designed to be a car-free zone on the ground floor. Car entry and service delivery areas are arranged underground, with car drop-off available in front of the entrance plaza and at the hotel entryway. A separate car path will provide vehicular access to the nearby coast guard and Maritime Affair Bureau sites.

With a focus on pedestrian traffic, the project will offer a system of safe pathways along street edges and the waterfront district. In the entertainment district, legible pedestrian connections will guide walking traffic through a paving and landscape system with connections to the ferry port and nearby public transportation.

The development also includes two hotels that will occupy a central portion of the site adjacent to the public realm. With 400 rooms, these high-end hotels will include amenities such as a spa, health club, fitness room, restaurants, and cafes. Occupants will enjoy ample views to Gulangyu and the surrounding ocean.

“Ocean Park” will become a new focus for the development. This open space surrounding the sheltered harbor will act as a buffer zone between the urban area and the seascape, and will become an attraction for tourists. This space will become activated by activity entering from all sides. It will also retain aspects of the quieter “Old Songyu.”

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