Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”
Posts tagged with "urbanization":
The housing problem in Hong Kong is critical. Studies estimate that the city of seven million will have to house another 600,000 people over the course of the next 30 years. With rapidly increasing urbanization rates, leading Chinese metropolises are speculating on fast and intelligent ways to manage population growth by creating additional housing within their existing borders. While some cities are growing taller and others are mulling developing rare and cherished park space, Hong Kong is taking a different approach. Officials and engineers have thought about something else: developing an extensive underground city. The plan calls for building a cross-harbor pedestrian corridor equipped with residences, shops, retail outlets, sports, and entertainment facilities located under Victoria Harbor. As the government is searching for any and all options that could create space for housing, it has already identified fifteen urban areas that could be used for underground development by the end of 2015. In their 2009-2010 Policy Agenda, the city’s Development Bureau released a new initiative to launch strategic plans to develop Hong Kong’s underground space in a sustainable way. The study, entitled Enhanced Use of Underground Space in Hong Kong, explores different techniques that would employ the city’s underground territory for additional housing and long term demographic and economic enhancement. Despite the ambitious nature of the plan, there remains many drawbacks and obstacles preventing its implementation. Experts argue that the development of Hong Kong's underground would be extremely costly, and much more so than surface projects as the costs of construction would be higher. Moreover, the laying out of such plans is extremely lengthy, and the need for housing in the city is pressing. Therefore, potentials of underground space development might not be the immediate answer to an urgent problem. Still, others continue to push for bulldozing green space in favor of more development. Gordon Wu, chairman developer of Hopewell Holdings Ltd and Vice President of the Real East Developer’s Association, labels people’s attachment to city-parks as “stupid” and not something that Hong Kong should pride itself on. In line with Wu's statement, many city officials find parks to be extremely problematic as over 230,000 residents are on a waiting list for public housing. Another option being explored would be to take over the sea and to create man-made islands which would be in close proximity to the city's center and financial district. The Development Bureau estimates a need to extend the city's built environment by up to ten square miles in order to accommodate residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. This proposal remains opposed by residents who argue that such construction would have a negative impact on the value of water-front apartments, and would hinder the view of the city's famous and breathe-taking panorama. Environmental activists also object to the proposal as they are concerned with the safety and well being of dolphins and other marine animals.
At the end of September, the AIA released “Cities as Lab”, a report stipulating how innovative design can help strengthen modern urban America. Presented during the National Leadership Speaker Series in Washington D.C., it stressed how resilient cities are better suited to address upcoming social, economic, and physical challenges. The report is part of a larger framework looking to guide the international development agenda for decades to come. As a whole, it seeks to fuel the progress of critical sustainable programs around the world. The AIA report states that by incorporating innovative design and technology within their internal structure, cities would have the power to lead the way toward the future. Urban enclaves are being reconfigured in order to respond to changing realities and contemporary human and economic needs. Some of the key examples stated in the report include the Boston Innovation District, North Carolina's Research Triangle Plan, and the Downtown Project in Las Vegas. These programs focus on a series of urban experiments seeking to promote knowledge exchange and economic opportunities, to develop new technological hubs, to mitigate the ecological footprint through sustainable design, and to introduce new architectural archetypes in order to foster creative place-making. All of these ideas are critical linchpins for visionary and sustainable planning. In its concluding remarks, the report indicates that intelligent design and wise policy choices help create places that are suited to meet the needs of future populations, to respond to economic challenges, and to manage natural disasters. The general idea is to create more resilient communities and sustainable infrastructures that will be able to sustain future economic and physical challenges. The initiative focuses on ways to create more valuable, healthy, secure and sustainable built environments by exploring solutions to pressing issues that urban enclaves are faced with.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows announced today that it will award the 2013 Latrobe Prize of $100,000 to the proposal, “The City of 7 Billion." This ambitious research study will explore how population growth and resource consumption, on a global scale, affects the built and natural environment looking "at the world as a single urban entity." The winning team, consisting of Bimal Mendis and Joyce Hsiang of the Yale School of Architecture and Plan B Architecture & Urbanism, will create a geospatial model of the world with different sets of data—including demography, finance, geography, infrastructure, and resources—that will shed light on patterns of urbanization to better understand how resources can be more effectively used. This model will ultimately serve as a resource to help architects "address the challenges of global urbanization." The Benjamin Henry Latrobe grant is awarded biennially by the AIA College of Fellows for "research leading to significant advances in the architecture profession."