Case Study - Urban Hybrid

Bradford architect challenging the design brief in China's mega-cities


Today, in a Starbucks in Chengdu, central China, I met up with a very interesting Yorkshire export.  Kam Panesar is from Bradford – he went to Nab Wood School in Bingley, then studied architecture first at London Metropolitan then at Leeds Beckett University.  In 2008 he and co-founder Bhav Mistry set up Urban Hybrid Architecture – a Bradford-based design company whose business in now mainly in China.

I first met him a couple of weeks ago, where he was moderating a panel discussion called "The future of mobility – Chengdu 2030", sponsored by Britcham SWChina and Tesla.  There in Tesla's "Experience Centre", surrounded by the latest in electric vehicle technology, on the outskirts of one of central China's megacities, a found myself wondering "Hold on, is that a Bradford accent?"

So, coffees collected, Kam starts to tell me about some projects he's especially proud of.  One is a very unusual complex in the south part of the city – a huge high rise complex measuring 100,000m2, which combines housing, two floors of retail and a transport terminal below. 

What makes "Site B Da Yuan" (Big Courtyard) so special?  Kam replies, "We won the bid competition because our design fitted the context, and because we challenged and changed the brief. For one, we included some social housing in the design - that's very rare in China, but the developer caught the idea, and the government liked it so much they bought a 40% share in the project.  How else can you have a vibrant community if the people who work there all have to bus in? 

Secondly, most people who are after high-end housing don't want to live above a bus terminal – they don't want the fumes.  But when we re-imagined the whole thing using electric transport, and then the project began to fly!". Site B DaYuan is expected to open in August this year, and will be first terminus for electric buses in this part of China.

Chamber International - Site B DaYuan under construction, Chengdu, Sichuan Province

Site B DaYuan under construction, Chengdu, Sichuan Province 

Kam (pictured right) also shows me picture of a kindergarten (top picture) they designed in the city of Leshan where they challenged the brief again, this time taking the unusual step (in China) of asking teachers and even children what they would like from the new building, even though the owner thought it unnecessary. "We asked without telling him" Kam explains, with a grin.  "A bit later, the owner came up to me and said – So, your meetings produced some fruit then?" 

"I was a bit worried that we'd got into trouble, but now they all have a kindergarten they really love.  It's actually raised the value of all the stock housing around it, so the whole community is pleased".

It's Kam and his team's commitment to creative urban design, community generation and cutting-edge eco-technology that really marks out this company in this part of China; they've turned Urban Hybrid Architecture into an export success story that Yorkshire can be proud of. 

China now has more than 40 cities of more than 1 million population – all of them have grown rapidly in the last twenty years.  They all face the challenge of how to become better places to live – cleaner, greener, better connected, better served, more sustainable, each preserving its own identity and culture.  These are challenges to which the best of British businesses – both large and small, and in a whole variety of sectors – can help to provide answers.


By Chamber International’s China Affairs Associate, Matthew Grandage, 7 April 2016.

Chamber International - Kam Panesar, co-founder of Urban Hybrid Architecture