top of page
  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

The Three-Tier Structure of Living District Planning and the Residential Quarter Model

In China, the traditional planning theory divides the urban living district into three tiers: Residential District, Residential Quarter, and Housing Cluster. However, there is a lack of discussion on its origin and connection with the newest planning theory. In the practice of urban living district planning, it is often found that, except the population size and spatial size, these three levels have some other huge differences such as planning, implementation, using, and daily operation. All these planning and designing problems should be further discussed. In the past, it was only focused on the residential district planning, which is obviously not enough and may even cause confusion and chaos. For instance, the stipulation of the population size and spatial size at each level; the boundary between different planning and design stages; the skills and techniques of each stages. These points should all be integrated and deepen further. This article is trying to underpin the idea of residential quarter under the three-tier structure. And people need a clear understanding about the concept meaning and crucial differences of these two ideas, ‘Residential District’ and ‘Residential Quarter’.

In the Chinese Code for Planning and Design on Urban Residential Areas, there is a crystal definition that, in short, the residential district is enclosed by an Arterial Street, while the residential quarter is enclosed by a branch (may also include arterial streets or collector streets). The core idea is that the residential quarter should never be crossed by urban transportation. This is an essential difference between the two concepts.

Moreover, to keep an unimpeded traffic flow, as the end of urban road network, urban branches should be kept on a certain density level. On the other hand, the inhabitants of a residential quarter need a comfortable environment, a basic internal traffic connections, and a good outdoor functional space. Putting these two aspects into consideration, a suitable residential quarter size, road network density and direction have to be discussed in the planning process. It may cause a traffic chaos and even affect residents’ safety if unregistered vehicles can easily get in the residential quarter.

In the 1980s, it was a high speed developing period of China’s residential district. In that period, around 300 national demonstration quarters were built. According to the statistical analysis, when the size of residential quarters is growing, the urban road network density tends decrease. Based on practical experience, the size of residential quarter is a big issue and it should be taken seriously.

By summarizing around 200 quarter cases, a suggestion can be made as follow that, as the ideal spatial scale of a residential quarter, the site area of residential quarter should be between 5 to 9 hectares; the interval of road network should be larger than 230 meters but no more than 330 meters. When the interval of urban road network is between 330 to 500 meters, it is necessary to increase the road density for the residents’ transportation demand. For the rest, the internal roads should be well connected with the external urban road network. The short distance transportation should not be connected with arterial street, while, long distance traffic would better if it doesn’t cross the branch roads. By doing so, the rapidity of urban transport could be well guaranteed. At the same time, the internal environmental quality of residential quarter can be improved. Nevertheless, residential quarter managers may take a flexible method to implement the closed-off management and prevent external disturbance.

As a response to a reasonable scale of land use, the population size should also be controlled on a corresponding level. As the Chinese Code for Planning and Design on Urban Residential Areas indicated that the population size of a residential district should be between 30,000 to 50,000 individuals. What’s more, for a residential quarter, its population size should be bigger than 10,000 but smaller than 15,000. In other word, the population size of a residential district is 2 to 5 times as large as a residential quarter. However, this standard is different from the current situation and it is quite unreasonable. Still, based on the around 200 cases’ statistical analysis, the proper size of a residential quarter should be around 3,000 people. The size of a residential district should be at least 10 times big as a quarter. In other words, a residential district should include at least 10 quarters.

In regard to the housing cluster, the bottom of three-tier structure, its relation with residential quarter is not as clear as the relation between residential districts and residential quarters; there is no clear belongingness or coverage. Besides, housing clusters are neither divided nor enclosed by internal roads of a residential quarter. In fact, the morphology of housing clusters cannot be understood simply as building clusters but also as courtyard spaces which are enclosed by the building itself. The group structure of courtyard space is the foundation of housing cluster; a large number of real life cases show that housing clusters can never be identified by the division from internal roads of residential quarters, particularly when the internal roads are not enclosed. The cluster divide is completely unnecessary or even useless in the procedure of planning, construction, and operation.

Nonetheless, an integrated living district must contain amenity to satisfy the daily needs of residents. The experience on current stage is that it should be a set of completed amenity in a residential district and the main indictor of a residential district should be a middle school. Whereas for a residential quarter, the main indictor should be a kindergarten. Notwithstanding, it is not recommended to arrange fragmented communal facilities in housing clusters.

The practical experience from the construction of a living district shows that residential districts are closely related with regulatory detailed planning and residential quarters tend to relate with constructional detailed planning. Thus, the planning of residential quarter has to deal with two core issues. First issue is based on the urban function and it follows shaping urban spatial structure. Second issue takes into account improving and optimizing the traffic organization and road network of the plot. The urban growth and formation is a long-term process full of complexity. Moreover, in China, the rapid developing construction of living district provides a wealth of experiences and lessons on the practice. As an architect who has participated in this field for a long time, I have the obligation to build a framework of theoretical system on residential quarter’ planning to offer a valuable reference for the urban managers when making decisions on living district development.

All in all, tracing it back to the Garden City theory, neighborhood unit theory and even today’s Neo-urbanism, these western planning theories raised new ideas for a livable city. Up to now, after 30 years’ development, it is time for Chinese architects to contribute to the future world.


About the Author:

Yingfan Wu is a Senior Fellow of the Architectural Society of China. He graduated in Architecture in 1966 from the Harbin Institute in Technoloy and holds a Master's degree in Architectural Design and Theory from China Academy of Building Research and another Master's degree from IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam obtained in 1982. Having worked for 35 years in architecture around the world, Yingfan Wu is one of the leading figures in global architecture with numerous papers and books published. You can get in contact with him using the following email address:


bottom of page