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November 16, 2011

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This building's for the birds

THE proposed Tower of Nests complex will be home to humans, birds, squirrels and insects in a multiple-use project likely to be built in the Pudong New Area. It wins top honors at a major architecture festival. Hu Min reports.

Birds, squirrels, bees and other insects are expected to call the proposed Tower of Nests in Shanghai home.

The building, a new kind of high-rise integrating human and animal inhabitants, has been honored as Future Project of the Year for 2011 at the World Architectural Festival in Barcelona.

Another China project, the Sanlihe Greenway in Qian'an City, Hebei Province, was named Best Landscape Project for its transformation of a polluted waterway, garbage dump and sewage drainage facility into an ecological corridor and natural habitat.

The awards were handed out early this month. The Shanghai project and the Hebei landscape were the only two China entries to receive top honors at one of the world's largest and most prestigious architectural events.

Shanghai's Tower of Nests is likely to be built in the Pudong New Area, though the designer's 50-story vision may be scaled back because of cost. There are no immediate plans for construction. Designers hope for a visionary developer.

The environmentally sustainable multiple-use tower project will have a facade of natural materials, such as wicker, straw, clay, mud and stone, as well as birds' nests. The facade, or outer skin, also provides insulation in warm and cold weather.

It will include residential and commercial areas, green indoor space and parking.

Population density is increasing in cities, which leads to vertical instead of horizontal development, says Joakim Kaminsky, chief designer of the Tower of Nests at Kjellgren Kaminsky Architecture AB, based in Goteborg, Sweden.

"We propose a super-sustainable building that aims to become a symbol, not of power nor wealth, but of a new era of harmony and interplay between nature and mankind," says Kaminsky who worked on the plans for around 10 months with five colleagues.

"In the era of 'green' architecture, when sustainable building is becoming commonplace, what if the collection of green buildings could go a step further and actually become a functional habitat for birds and wildlife?" Kaminsky said.

China's "green" architecture is in its infancy and there's not much of it, says Guo Qiming, a representative of the China Design Center, Bauhaus University, and a teacher in urban planning at Shanghai Tongji University.

"Green" buildings are highly energy-efficient with recyclable and eco-friendly construction materials like wood. But at least 95 percent of buildings are constructed with reinforced concrete and consume a lot of energy, Guo says.

Only a few buildings such as the China Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo site can truly be called "green," he says.

The Tower of Nests consists of a central core that contains air circulating and other equipment. The structures provide space for community activities, a shopping center and public spaces - all illuminated by natural light and open so that birds can fly through.

Upper levels are intended to be residential, surrounded by a facade made of wicker that extends to the top of the tower. The wicker, which is woven in various ways, allows for windows to open and promotes ventilation.

"The wildlife and human residents of the building will coexist harmoniously rather than interfering with each other," Kaminsky says, describing scenes of residents standing on their balconies and seeing birds flit around.

"We selected Shanghai, and ideally the Pudong New Area, because it represents a contemporary dense urban metropolis and a fast-growing city," says Kaminsky.

The plan calls for a 50-story building. "But I can foresee it would be very expensive, so we hope to implement the draft on a smaller scale," Kaminsky says.

The team hopes for bold developer with vision and knowledge of sustainable architecture.


The Sanlihe Greenway in Qian'an City, Hebei Province, used to be a polluted land fill and sewage drainage facility along the foul Sanlihe River, a tributary of the Lu'an River.

Today land and water have been cleaned up, replanted and landscaped as an ecosystem; now there are flowers in bloom, lush greenery and clean, gurgling water.

The 13-kilometer-long Sanli River is considered the "mother river" of Qian'an. Before the 1970s, the river bed was covered with pebbles and springs bubbled up; people used to go fishing along its banks.

But as the area developed and industry expanded, the river was badly polluted by sewage and industrial discharge. The Lu'an River's water quality declined sharply and the Sanlihe River dried up, its channel blocked by waste.

In 2007 the government decided to reclaim and revive the area through the Sanlihe Ecological Corridor project, which includes three sections: upstream water source, the city section in the middle and a wetland park downstream.

"The river is like a paradise for locals who spent their childhood catching fish and insects along the river," says Shi Chun, a landscape architect with Turenscape, a Beijing-based design institute that carried out the project.

"We aim to revive the feeling of nature and make the river an area of joy," he says.

The design for the ecological corridor takes full advantage of the changes in elevation as the water flows down into the Lu'an River.

The corridor incorporates observation platforms, a children's play land, cultural facilities, teahouses, bridges, parks and wetlands connected by walkways and cycling paths.

The area has been replanted with a wide range of indigenous trees such as willow and poplar, shrubs, plants, reeds and grasses.

A key part of the strategy is the creation of bead-like wetlands that regulate floods by collecting and distributing urban storm water runoff. When the river's water level drops to its lowest point, pools of water remain in the beads as wetlands. Wetlands also purify and filter river water, which is now a usable source of "gray" water.

The upper two sections are complete, while the wetland downstream is still under construction. The cost is estimated at 630 million yuan (US$97 million).

Judges at the World Architecture Festival awards said the greenway project demonstrates "how a desolate and polluted wasteland can be transformed into a wilderness of natural beauty. As such they have gifted us with a shining exemplar and a beacon of hope."

WAF Awards, now in its fourth year, attracted more than 700 submissionsfrom 66 countries. The annual event is held in Barcelona.

Some candidates

from China

? New campus of Fudan University School of Management (Shanghai)

Miralles Tagliabue EMBT, Spain

The new campus aims to create a new core in the community.

? Apple Flagship Store (Pudong, Shanghai)

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, USA

Apple's flagship store is accessed via a 13-meter-high glass cylinder made from the world's largest toughened glass panels. Glass stairs lead down to subterranean retail space.

? Philips Lighting Zero Carbon Emissions Building (Jiading District, Shanghai)

Arup Associates, UK

This project acts as a lighthouse for surrounding areas and creates healthy innovative working environment in a zero-carbon, naturally ventilated building.

? Guangzhou Opera House (Guangzhou)

Zaha Hadid Architects, UK

The heart of Guangzhou's cultural development, the new opera house draws on its riverside environment, and has a glass and steel exterior.

? Parkview Green (Beijing)

Integrated Design Associates Ltd, Hong Kong

Four independent buildings at the four corners of a site, linked by a footbridge at the diagonal corners.


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