The attraction of China's fledgling financial city of Shenzhen not only lies in its prosperity of business and high technology, but also in the urban layout and architecture designed by internationally famous architects and urban planners.
Tourists traveling along the beaches to the east end of Shenzhen can enjoy a south China sun bath and slick public leisure and entertainment facilities, which were co-designed by SWA from US, ATKINS from UK and SGD from Singapore.
Likewise, a cluster of high-rise glass buildings and other modern architecture also carries big names in the world's architecture circles, such as America's Murphy/Jahn and German's HPP.
As an experimental ground for China's reform and opening up, Shenzhen was among the first group of cities in the country to open the urban planning market to overseas players in 1982. The design of the "Overseas Chinese Town", a profitable site for theme miniature gardens including "Window of the World" and "Splendid China", was the first project in Shenzhen to recruit overseas design concepts.
Over the past decade, renowned planning institutions, Japan's Kisho Kurokawa, Arata Isozaki and American's SOM, have left their names on a number of landmark buildings through design competitions and bidding, which helped shift the earliest special economic zone in China from an outlying fishing town into a flourishing modern city within twenty years.
Sara Topelson Ginberg, president of the UIA, said that Shenzhen has realized a coordinated development of society, economy and urban construction in the past 15 years, despite its surging population and rapid urban expansion.
The success of Shenzhen's urban construction has soon been borrowed in other Chinese cities. Nowadays, Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian and Xiamen owe much of their international reputation to the contribution of international urban designers.
"International designs make urban facilities in China complex in the demand of the future development", said John M. Y. Lee, a Hong Kong architect, who joined the construction of the international consultation on the core area urban design of Shenzhen in 1996.
"Now it has become a trend in our country to have international consultation for urban development," said Zhou Ganzhi, an academician with the China Academy of Engineering and a senior architect consultant of the Ministry of Construction.
As the blueprint for China's urban construction, urban planning towards the next century will feature the combination of reasonable use of land resources, ecological protection and creating a comfortable human settlement environment, said Zhao Chongren, director of Shenzhen Urban Planning and Land Administration Bureau.
"By opening the schematic design market and introducing architectural design concepts, China can soon get close to the world level urban construction standard," said Chen Yixin, registered architect with the Administration of Shenzhen city Center Development and Construction.
He estimates that with over 12 million sq. meters of urban construction going on every year, Shenzhen's expenditure for urban planning amounts to around 800 million yuan, which is calculated at 70 yuan per square meter of design paid to domestic designers.
However, the payment for overseas designers is usually double their Chinese counterparts, said Zhao Chongren. But money is worthwhile, as the participation of international designing companies can accelerate the improvement of Shenzhen's urban construction standard.
Shenzhen was honored an Abercrombie Honorable Mention for urban planning in 1999, while Dalian City in northeast China won a UN Habitat Award. Shenzhen will make its way to the champion contest for the International Garden City, which is to be held in the US this month.
With the implementation of China's strategic development of the vast hinterland region, overseas architects are eyeing the market in China's middle and western regions, said Wang Fuhai, vice director of Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen.