Green Urban Architecture in the Cities of Tomorrow

As with many other aspects of modern life, in order to look at our potential future as an urban species, China is the key area of urban planning development and urban architecture. China is a huge country, and a huge idea, and where the large swathes or rural beauty make up a large proportion of the geographical area of China, the cities and the massive urban population provide an insight into how we can make cities cleaner, greener, and more sustainable.

We all have an image in our heads of the busy, smog-ridden streets of Beijing and other large Chinese cities. You can picture the scene of everyday people walking around with face masks on at all times to avoid the air that is so polluted that it causes immediate health risks. With the large Chinese cities always at the top of the poor air quality charts there is a surge in interest in how to improve air quality, combat climate change and bolster the economy, at a time where over half the world’s construction is expected to land in China during the next decade, and the rest of the world struggles with climate change and an increasing awareness of smog-filled cities, such as London, Paris and New York, where it was previously only a concern of cities in China, India and other countries developing at a fast pace.

As part of a five-year plan in China to boost air quality in the cities, there is a new approach to making the cities green again. Green urban living is achievable, and not just an out-dated model of urban architecture that takes the form of a little nod to the problems without really addressing them in full. No longer will a small patch of green space in each city block suffice.

The Chinese government now insists that 50% of all new urban buildings must be designed and certified as sustainable. The Green Building Action Plan mandates that all public schools, hospitals and other public buildings meet the three-star rating system that regulates sustainable building standards. This system ranks developments based on land, water, energy, resource efficiency, operational management, and indoor environment quality.

The number of sustainable commercial, office and residential buildings being built in China is therefore improving massively, and this is a necessity as the urban population continues to grow in an already overcrowded and polluted environment. As well as prefabricated, sustainable steel skyscrapers that are leading the way in fast, innovative construction techniques, there is also a push for vertical forests as cities build up. In one northern hub in Shenzhen, China, there are ambitious plans to build a ‘Forest City in order to meet strict sustainability criteria and to help reduce air pollution.

We are certainly living in interesting times, with many challenges relating to sustainability and environmental improvement being met head on by urban architects and master planners. With China facing big problems and looking to overcome them in innovative ways, it could be the direction that western urban planners look to for inspiration in the near future.

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