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Danish and Chinese ideas on the 'Harmonious City'

Danish and Chinese architects are trying to solve the problem of how China can proceed with its ambitious projects to improve the living conditions of its people without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life. Fei Lai reports on their work so far.

The global challenges of sustainable development today are calling for cooperation through international and interdisciplinary alliances.

To promote more exchanges and collaboration between China and Denmark in this field and also create more awareness about the issues of sustainable urban development among the public, an exhibition entitled "Co-Evolution - Danish-Chinese Ideas about the Harmonious City" is being held at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.

It was commissioned by the Danish Architecture Center and curated by UiD, a networking urban consultancy offering innovative research, concepts and strategies for the development of dynamic and diversified urban environments. It was internationally recognized by the Architecture Biennale in Venice last year, where the project was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion.

It is the first time the full extent of "Co-Evolution" has been shown in China. It consists of four projects developed by a team of talented young Danish architects, Chinese professors and students from Beijing's Tsinghua University, Chongqing University, Shanghai Tongji University and Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology.

"They have been put together to present their suggestions for sustainable urban planning in four cities, namely, Shanghai, Chongqing, Beijing and Xi'an, where the four universities are located," says Kent Martinussen, chief executive officer of Danish Architecture Center.

"China is like a big construction site and there is so much for the young architects to do. They are exponents of radical new tendencies in architecture where the key words are communication and openness," Martinussen adds.

The side-by-side work tries to offer solutions to the question: How can China proceed with its ambitious projects of improving the living conditions of its people without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life?

"City Wall" is a project that attempts to explore the economic potential of mass tourism in Xi'an as a means of supporting the preservation of historical sites, without the tourists destroying the sites and the local environment.

"In ancient times each city in China had its city walls but few of them have been preserved. With a length of 13.7 kilometers and covering an area of 10.8 square kilometers, the Xi'an city wall is the largest one left," says Henrik Valeur, UiD's director.

"However, a stressful situation has been created by mass tourism. The large number of tourists demands even a larger number of facilities for places to stay, to eat and to have unique experiences. Great pressure has been put on the public facilities and the cultural heritage," he continues.

To meet this challenge, a new city wall is proposed around the historic city wall for both residents and visitors. A continuously differentiated perimeter structure is intended to provide better transport and accommodation. Being a "hypermodern circum-central cityscape," it is closely related to the ancient cultural artifacts.

The project called "Magic Mountains" sets out to explore how Chongqing, a mountainous city located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, makes a new green central business district.

A number of so-called "five-minute cities" accommodating some 10,000 inhabitants each spread across a sloping site facing the existing downtown area. The mini-cities are shaped like mountains to reduce energy consumption by supporting passive cooling in summer and passive heating in winter.

The "Performative Urbanism" project transforms a six-square-kilometer industrial site located between the fourth and fifth ring roads in Beijing into a green living environment for various social segments of the city's fast-growing population.

It involves the treatment of 10 million cubic meters of contaminated soil left behind by the huge industrial complex which previously occupied the site and the implementation of Transit Oriented Development as well as water recycling and mixed housing.

The "Shanghai Subcity" project proposes a combination of "super-nature" and "super-urbanization" focused on the suburban Jiading District, known for its car industry and trade.

"The inner city of Shanghai is exploding in density. Overpopulated and suffering from heavy congestion, the city center population must be reduced. In other words, the curve needs to be flattened," says Professor Pan Haixiao, from Shanghai Tongji University.

"Moving a bit of urbanism into a rural area can relieve the core and urbanize the periphery. To counter the urban image and deal with the sprawl, we suggest that the city be designed as a giant version of the Chinese character 'che,' the word for car. It is both a powerful image for the city and a beautiful outline, emphasizing the close relation between city and nature," Professor Pan says.

"Co-Evolution" is a demonstration of how a new generation of architects with roots in the Danish tradition are meeting the new global reality of their time. It will create concrete proposals for sustainable urban development in the new century.

Besides the four projects mentioned above, Danish sustainable development achievements such as heating and cooling, waste water treatment, the fortification of Copenhagen, city bikes, creative environments, water management, sustainable transportation and holistic engineering solution are presented at the exhibition.

"During the past 30 years, Denmark has developed some experience, know-how and technologies to meet the challenge," Pan says. "They may not always be the right answers for China - after all Denmark and China are quite different - but we hope that through increased research and development, together we will be able to find answers that will not only benefit China, but the whole world as well."

"Co-Evolution" exhibition

Date: through October 12, 9am-4pm

Address: 100 People's Ave

Admission: 40 yuan

Lecture on "Co-Evolution - Danish Chinese Ideas about the Harmonious City"

Shanghai Daily readers can reserve tickets for free by sending e-mail to ma@uid.dk or call 1356-431-6967 (please e-mail or call to confirm the time and venue).


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