China’s economic transition in the late 70’s centered around its connection points to the rest of the world, namely the bay areas along its coast, which have long served as transition points between mainland China to the pacific ocean and the rest of the world.

Nowadays, these focal points outgrew their historic role as mere trade centers, and became essentially global all-in-one shops: developing, producing, trading and transporting in the same place, driving the vast bulk of China’s economy within concentrated special economic zones, while being home to a vast portion of china’s population - working people that are drawn from all over the country to the opportunities that these richly developed economic zones offer.

The GBA (Greater Bay Area), is the largest and most important of these points. It is home to over 140 million people, of them, 60% are migrant workers - typically young, poor and uneducated, coming temporarily into the GBA in order to help power this vast economic engine while making money for themselves and their families before going back to their home provinces, as China’s civic policies discourages long term internal migration.

This short term and temporary nature of participation of these working migrants prevents the formation of meaningful communities, suspending this tremendous population in a state of flux, disjointed from their surroundings, gaining or giving nothing more than what they specifically came to the GBA to do- work, earn, and eventually return to their previous life’s circumstances a little richer than when they left, but essentially unchanged. The established minority of the GBA also gains little more than cheap, untrained interchangeable labour, while its space is left chaotic, exclusive and segregated.

The relation between the GBA and its floating, disjointed majority is utilitarian and impersonal. Mutually beneficial in the short term, but promoting no real growth or positive change for any side involved. However, this momentous influx of young, able and highly motivated people is a force that can be harnessed for the sake of A vast and meaningful change within the GBA. By placing the floating poor as a central and integral part of its space and cities, by providing them with real social investment, long term social inclusion and a strong communal identity, The GBA would strengthen functionally and financially while enjoying an increasingly more able and more committed workforce and citizenry.

Thus, the GBA Could become a global leader in more aspects than just economics, serving as a model for social mobility and cultural development that would be replicable in other global mega cities in China and the rest of the world, all the while, lifting tens of millions out of poverty, giving them a meaningful place to join and to stay and fulfill their potential.


The Team

Ohad Shapiro is an Israeli architect who obtained his BArch in Architecture from the Bezalel arts academy in Israel. Currently he is studying Urbansim (Master Degree). Experienced in large scale planning for poor populations, his interests are in the sociological, anthropological and political aspects of planning, and how spatial design can affect change within weakened communities


The Quest

The target group

"Those people who travel beyond a certain limit, leave their registered permanent residence temporarily, and travel to and from their homes on an irregular basis. It includes temporary residents (including those who have temporary residency permits for six months or longer), those who travel to and from on the same day, and those who change trains on the way."

(D. Li, 1994)

Work condition and opportunities

"Rural migrant workers account for a large proportion of the work force in manufacturing and construction. The 2000 Census data indicate that 68 per cent of all jobs in the manufacturing sector and 80 per cent in the construction sector were filled by rural migrant workers."

(Research Office Project Team, State Council, 2006)

"The majority of migrant workers face considerable insecurity in terms of employment, income, social protection, and access to education for their children. Their housing conditions are much worse than those of local urban residents, and even worse than those they would have experienced in their place of origin if they had not migrated. "

(L. Shi, 2008)

Life condition inequality and vulnerability

"Among other elements, disaster preparedness and management plans are vital components of an adaptation strategy. But to design these, we need a better understanding of which people and systems are vulnerable to what kind of climate hazards; also, what makes them vulnerable and where they are located."

(A. De Sherbinin, A. Schiller, & A. Pulsipher, 2007)


The Challenge

How can we make the floating population land and stabilize in the GBA?

How can we improve the work and life condition of the floating population?

How can the natural environment be included in the transition towards a service-based economy?


The Game

Polycentric model

The first iteration of the gameboard explored three different scenarios of placement of villages and industrial zones: the concentric, eccentric, and polycentric model. After SWOT analysis for all the different models, we decided to explore further polycentrism.

Improving the life and work condition

Our main intention throughout the project is to provide the opportunity for the floating population to stay long term in the GBA. Due to prior analysis, we understood that currently this group is not well integrated in the urban tissue. In addition to that they also are not provided with equal opportunities and conditions as other residents. With the 2nd gameboard iteration we explored what it would mean for the region to add new targeted educational, leisure and health facilities in the most vulnerable areas. Furthermore, we saw that there currently is a trend of shifting from manufacturing towards hi-tech and service-based economy, so we played with the same rules.


In the 3rd Iteration we decided to broaden our focus to also mobility because we understood how importance mobility is between different centres in the GBA. Mobility knots which target ones again the improvement of the condition of migrant workers, are placed following strategic rules.


The Vision

The vision was built within the principles of the game, adhering to the same pixelated logic of it, while also setting up in preparation to gradually brake away from its formality as the scales will increase in detail as the project progresses.

The main principle established in the game - the symbiocity between the floating population in their settlements and the economic clusters is the key factor in defining the vision for the GBA's future, defining a planning principle where the clusters give a region its character while the floating population settlements and cores give it its cohesion and organizational logic, establishing connections between city and factory, and creating a clear urban continuum.

The floating population settlements are not mere filler, but rather they are the new regional centers, setting a vector for a future where the floating population serves a key spatial role in the region.

Cluster map (above) and Nolli map - connective role (below)

Floating population settlements and cores connective role - current situation (left) and proposed intervention (right) 

Sub-regional functionality

Shenzhen-Dongguan sub-region

Combination of existing and new cores (above left), connection to main transportation loop, seaport access to the world (above right), grouping of clusters of the same type creates identity (bottom left), urban continuation creates a defined organisation of the space (bottom right)

Based on the spatial and functional picture established in the master plan, a smaller functional unit was defined, and sub regions were determined, who act as intermediaries for both the larger and smaller scales, either in compiling the overall vision of the GBA, or serving as a contextual framework for more detailed planning when zooming in.

Each one is actually a massive metropolitan area, home to tens of millions of people, and stands as a self sufficient unit, holding certain base elements and principles:

  • It is a combination of an established Urban core, and a new one, as in a maga mobility node

  • It is connected to main transportation loop, as well as the global market, having its own sea port

  • It has its own economical identity, as in - a collection of clusters of the same type in close proximity, and in most cases - more than just one identity, adding to its resilience

  • It is continuous and uninterrupted, offering a clear urban entity that would enable a defined spatial organization when planning on the larger scales.

The Location: Guangzhou - Dongguan

The Guangzhou - Dongguan sub region was selected as the focus area, as it offers a combination of both divers clusters along with multifunctional cores (or transition nodes) of both types - all packed in a tight space, that would allow the examination of as many principles as possible.

The meso scale plan ads new information and design features into the plan, defining the shapes of the various entities in more realistic and concrete settings of topography and existing infrastructure, adding new transportation lines and most importantly, gives the floating population settlements and cores a very important role within the emerging space.

That role is shown here as a connective and expansive action in the specific time frame of the plan, but it is also a vector for possible long term expansion, serving as a regional center, rather than just a flank.

Growth over time: initial steps (a), suggested state (b), long term future (c)

Key principles: existing sprawl incorporation (a), cores as bridging element (b), floating population settlements (c)


Micro scale plan

This specific area was selected for the micro scale plan as it offered an opportunity to explore the interaction between mobility nodes, transport, floating population and clusters - all the main elements of the project, all in one place

This scale of planning established several new meaningful design principles, adding features such as a park network that adds a less formal connective role to the urban space, providing a pedestrian centric infrastructure to complement the road system. A network of divers public buildings ads infrastructure for families and social mobility, while serving to connect existing settlements to new ones. Finally, a principled grid with different intensities creates a state of divers typologies, permeability and a defined urban structure for the settlements, ensuring they do not become formless and chaotic.

Growth over time

Key principles


Detailed plan

The northern part of the micro plan was selected for further detail, as it offered an interesting and complex meeting point between existing sprawl, the suggested cores and a substantial floating population settlement, connected by the park.

The detailed plan demonstrates a realistic and in depth examination of the spatial situation within one square kilometer, planned all the way to the plot level. This scale of detail also added new design principles such as themed connective main streets of various types that help bring these urban masses together while adding adding more depth and variety to the space, and established densities that give the settlements a specific shape, scale and atmosphere, that is more personal and communal in nature, given the mid densities established are neither to spars nor are they to impersonal.

Growth over time


Key principles


The GBA of Everybody

Humans are the transformers of their own space, designing it in a way that conforms to their needs and ambitions for the future. But not everyone is given an equal part in this transformation process, as influence over the shape and function of a space is held by the ones with the means and power to exact the type of change they desire, being the rich, the strong, the familiar and the established, while the ones without these characteristics - the poor, the different, the outsiders, are left in a reactive state, forced to conform to a rigid reality that may or may not fit their abilities and needs.

There is a very tragic element to this reality, where the circumstances of a person’s starting point in life influences its trajectory to such an extent. Perhaps the strong have a moral imperative to do what they can in aiding the weak, but that rarely happens, and even more rarely do they even acknowledge any such responsibility. For the most part, the weak are left invisible and ignored, and whenever they rise up in protest, they are quickly subdued.

If morality and empathy are sometimes limited in their efficacy to enact change, then self interest is consistently a more powerful tool. The vision for the GBA offered here offers a possible future where the floating poor are not just the recipients of aid from the rich, but are also substantial contributors giving back into the GBA, adding something meaningful both spatially and on a human level as well. By improving themselves they also improve their surroundings, by being included within the GBA space, they also enrich it with content.

The floating poor may choose to set anchor and grow with the GBA, or they may return to their families and friends in the place they see as their home from birth, but their time in the GBA however long is still meaningful and important. This silent majority that is the lifeblood of the GBA’s economy can and should have its place acknowledged, for the benefit of all involved.