The Start-Up exhibition and conference centre, the first building within Chengdu’s Unicorn Island masterplan, is nearing completion. With China’s economy evolving from traditional industries to internet and technology-based organisations, the country is now home to a third of the world’s technology start-ups valued at over a billion US dollars – termed ‘unicorn companies’.

Rethinking The Future Awards 2022

Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA)
Design: Patrik Schumacher
ZHA Project Directors: Satoshi Ohashi, Michele Pasca di Magliano
ZHA Project Associates: Andres Arias Madrid, Stefano Paiocchi, Jingwen Yang
ZHA Project Architect: Maria Tsironi
ZHA Project Team: Di Ding, Chengzhen Jia, Johannes Elias, Konstantina Tsagkaratou, Martin Gsandtner, Millie Anderson, Nicolas Tornero, Shahd Abdelmoneim, Sven Torres, Thomas Bagnoli, Valentina Cerrone, Yihui Wu, Yuan Zhai, Martina Rosati, Arian Hakimi Nejad, Kate Revyakina, Vincent Konate, Neil Rigden, Juan Montiel, Christos Koukis, Jihan Shraibati, Patricia De Osma Arena, Shi Qi Tu, Irfan Bhakrani, Qiuru Pu

ZHA Competition Project Directors: Satoshi Ohashi, Michele Pasca di Magliano
ZHA Competition Project Designer: Maria Tsironi
ZHA Competition Project Associate: Jingwen Yang
ZHA Competition Team: Chafik Zerrouki, Di Ding, Konstantina Tsagkaratou, Lida Zhang, Lorena Espaillat Bencosme, Millie Anderson, Nailu Chen, Nicolas Tornero, Philipp Siedler, Sven Torres, Xinqi Zhuang, Yihui Wu, Yuan Feng

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Competition Engineering (Transport, SMART and Civil): Ramboll
Landscape Design: Ramboll Dreisetl

Unicorn Island Masterplan By Zaha Hadid Architects - Sheet1
© Zaha Hadid Architects

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has developed into a centre of excellence providing computer chips for half the world’s laptops and is a leading producer of mobile computing hardware. With a focus on next-generation information technologies, intelligent manufacturing, digital entertainment and new energy, the Tianfu New Area to the south of the city is being developed as an ecologically sustainable civic, business and residential centre for China’s technology and research sectors.

The 67-hectare Unicorn Island masterplan within the Tianfu New Area will foster the continued growth of China’s digital economy, creating living and working environments for Chinese and international companies.

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Unicorn Island Masterplan By Zaha Hadid Architects - Sheet2
© Zaha Hadid Architects

A mixed-use masterplan for 70,000 researchers, office staff, residents and visitors, Unicorn Island has been designed to enhance the wellbeing of its community; its design influenced by principles within the region’s historical natural engineering projects.

Constructed 2,300 years ago to the northwest of Chengdu, the nearby Dujiangyan irrigation system on the Min river was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000. This ancient water management system deployed the river’s natural forces to irrigate the Chengdu plain, creating some of the most productive agricultural land in China and protecting the region from flooding.

Unicorn Island Masterplan By Zaha Hadid Architects - Sheet3
© Zaha Hadid Architects

Contemporary hydraulic engineering is also re-establishing the wetlands of the Tianfu New Area as part of a comprehensive ecological project that serves as water conservation, flood control and recreation area.

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Driven by the environmental principles of Dujiangyan’s historic irrigation system and Tianfu New Area’s ongoing work to re-establish its natural wetlands, Unicorn Island’s parkland design incorporates green civic spaces, water conservation and enhanced connectivity to create its living and working environments; following concepts that are redefining the true measure of a building’s efficiency as the improved wellbeing of its inhabitants.

Integrated clusters of buildings surround Unicorn Island’s central plaza and metro station; its radial masterplan enables the entire island to be accessed by a few minutes’ walk or bike ride.

Unicorn Island Masterplan By Zaha Hadid Architects - Sheet5
© Zaha Hadid Architects

The height and composition of each cluster will be established organically over the lifetime of the development; directly responding to varying requirements of function, programme and efficiency to cultivate a diversity of interconnected buildings at a human scale that establish a sense of community.

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Within new parklands bordering Xing Long Lake, Unicorn Island will incorporate natural water management systems and include innovations in urban farming technologies to provide residents, workers and visitors with fresh, locally-grown produce.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022