UNStudio designs the first international aerial tramway connecting Russia and China
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UNStudio designs the first international aerial tramway connecting Russia and China

UNStudio’s winning proposal for the first-ever cross-border cable car will connect the cities of Blagoveshchensk in Russia and Heihe in China in just a few minutes.

by Zohra Khan Aug 03, 2019

Dutch architectural practice UNStudio won the competition for the first-ever cross-border cable car, connecting Russia and China. Aimed at connecting the border cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe of the two countries respectively, this new transport facility envisions the travel time as a matter of few minutes.

A total of 12 proposals were submitted by international architectural practices for the vision round in the competition managed by Strelka KB. In the next round, UNStudio beat Coop Himmelb(l)au to win the design proposal for the Blagoveshchensk Terminal Station in Russia. The architect for the station in Heihe, China, is yet to be announced.

This terminal will have two cable car lines running over the Amur river that separates the two regions. The lines comprise of four cabins with a capacity of 60 passengers each, and extra space for luggage. The journey time will be approximately seven-and-a-half minutes, while actual travel time from station to station will be three-and-a-half minutes.

Panoramic view of the Blagoveshchensk terminal and the cable cars running over the Amur river|  Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
Panoramic view of the Blagoveshchensk terminal and the cable cars running over the Amur river Image Credit: Courtesy of PYXID

The structure of the Blagoveshchensk terminal will portray an expression of the historic connection between the two cities. The majestic Amur river has defined a natural boundary between the two nations since the mid-19th century. In winter, the river freezes and its surface acts as a platform for cross-border activities like trade, commerce, and social connections. This frozen river became a reference point for UNStudio as it inspired them to ideate architecture, spatial, and visual qualities of the design.

“This context (the natural border of Amur river) provided rich inspiration for the Blagoveshchensk Terminal Station, which not only responds to its immediate urban location, but also becomes an expression of cultural identity and a podium for the intermingling of cultures,” said Ben van Berkel, founder, UNStudio.

A view of the Blagoveshchensk terminal | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
A view of the Blagoveshchensk terminal Image Credit: Courtesy of PYXID

The location of the terminal will enable a visual relationship between the two cities as an elevated viewing platform will be created over the Amur towards Heihe. By offsetting the terminal from the existing boulevard along the river, it would act as the new natural starting point in the Golden Mile project – a 42-hectare stretch on the bank of Amur, where plans are to establish diverse functional zones for business, cultural, public, and commercial sectors.

A series of green plateaus and terraces would provide spectacular views over the Golden Mile river-scape and act like an elevated urban park, doubling as a green space for urban arts and sculptures. These green features will blend with the adjacent park that is proposed to be built between the terminal and the river.

The design proposal is a nod to the contemporary norm that terminal buildings are more than just a transition space for passengers to arrive or depart for their destinations. However, they are now spaces where retail, hospitality, and cultural facilities can be accessed through a seamless natural route.

  • Programmes and Circulation | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
    Programmes and Circulation Image Credit: Courtesy of UNStudio
  • Programmes and Circulation | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
    Programmes and Circulation Image Credit: Courtesy of UNStudio
  • Programmes and Circulation | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
    Programmes and Circulation Image Credit: Courtesy of UNStudio
  • Programmes and Circulation | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
    Programmes and Circulation Image Credit: Courtesy of UNStudio
Cable car systems provide a new form of public transport that is sustainable, extremely fast, reliable and efficient. Although primarily a pragmatic solution, cable cars are also a very congenial way to travel as they enable us to see and experience our cities in a whole new way. – Ben van Berkel, founder, UNStudio

The proposed terminal, to be created as an ‘urban tribune’, will also connect with the existing Blagoveshchensk Cultural Centre on the other side of the esplanade. This newly proposed square forms a cultural focal point, connecting the Russian city to the river and upgrading it with a new space for events and performances.

The project is an inventive approach to join the two countries and their cultures, and make connections between them for a joint prosperous future. Also, by using the river as a key element in the design, a new model for future transport has emerged, with distinct interventions to suit the contemporary traveller.

Arrival and departure circulation at the cable car platforms | Blagoveshchensk-Heihe cable car | UNStudio | STIR
Arrival and departure circulation at the cable car platforms Image Credit: Courtesy of PYXID

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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