Caofeidian Virtual Simulation


The gradual elevation of the ecocity concept in urban planning circles has occurred organically. It has emerged as the logical response to the most critical challenges of our times (namely how to make an increasingly urban world sustainable). And yet, much ecocity planning occurring today is decidedly inorganic in its approach. From Tianjin to Masdar, planners across the globe are trying to build new ecocities from scratch to act as beacons for sustainable urban development. Designed to exist on a tabula rasa, these ecocities are being developed in a virtual context. The seeming absence of urban messiness derived from this particular unreality creates a unique form of top-down planning, complete with its own problems and contradictions.
For now we will leave aside our issues with the escapist tendencies present in trying to solve our current problems through the spatial-fix afforded by new cities. We won’t bring up the fact that in rapidly urbanizing regions, building new ecocities offers more starting points for sprawl. We also won’t mention the absurdities of diverting focus from the cities and regions where the bulk of humanity lives and corresponding environmental impact is determined. We don’t need to. Designing and building ecocities in this virtual context dooms them to failure simply because it ignores the organic realities of urban development. ...


VIRTUAL context because it’s a theoretically blank slate, greenfield
virtual planning is organic too – the virtual is organic – designers are organic – In BARC - strip away the reality and still produce organic development because the designers themselves are organic and their interactions will produce organic plans
organic aspects of collaboration, the reality of different actors working together produces a mess even in the absence of any external reality (i.e. even in what is effectively a completely virtual context, you get an organic hot mess)
what actually happened in CFD? Manifesto of mistakes incorporates mistakes of that process, where CFD is now as reality check for the visionary ecocity concept
society engineering to ecology engineering:

The urge to create prototypical cities stems from a belief that by constructing the built environment in accordance with particular ideals, planners could summon their ideal communities. This thinking permeates urban planning and design in many regions today. Despite the many failings of the Garden City developments that were seeded as satellites outside major cities across Europe and the United States, the practice of seeding satellites has been adopted in the rapidly urbanizing context of China and India.

Realizing these visions requires planners to engage in seeding cities. Seeding cities* refers to the practice of imposing urban thought models onto the physical landscape – the exercise of building concept towns from scratch. Seeded cities are planned developments, typically constructed in previously undeveloped areas. They may be satellites for extant large cities, designed to relieve crowding in the urban core while remaining economically dependent upon and integrated within the larger urban area. They may be new towns seeded in (relative) isolation from other cities. Either way, seeding cities is necessarily a top-down process. The residue of an engineering-driven planning culture, it is focused on the constructing the hardware of the urban form including grids of roads, pipes and other infrastructure which are stamped onto the terrain from above. Seeded cities are the product of government intervention rather than organic urban growth.

China has embraced the practice of seeding cities* to a degree that is unparalleled anywhere else.
The short-term technical and political advantages of the satellite or new town model for ecocities are plentiful. In essence, it has become China’s most streamlined method of fast track urbanization. However, the vast chasm that divides the idealised versions of China’s ecocities and realities of their development reveals the inherent fundamental contradictions within the new town approach. These contradictions between NTs and ecocities stem from the fact that NTs exhibit the same logic that got us into this mess that make ecocities such an urgent priority. This is the logic of growth and displacement whereas the logic of the ecocity is compactness and localised responsibility/accountability/bioregional footprint etc. The necessity of developing ecocities is a direct result of the socio-ecological relations established by destructiveness of the current relationship between extant urban systems and nature.

As china now moves towards ecocities – the new town hinges on this notion that nature is good for people. The ecocity hinges on the same premise, nature is good for mankind at large, ecology is good for our survival as a species, the underlying premise is the same and yet the approach to deal with that hasn’t changed – you offer people a green safe haven far out in a greenfield, virgin pastures and that’s where people I’ll find their ecological final frontier but in China you can’t find that anymore, china is a brownfield

The spectre of “architecture or revolution” that haunted Le Corbuiser was integral to

Recently, the ecocity has emerged as the pinnacle of seeding. It is the final instalment in a long chain of concept cities, the ultimate gesture of top-down control. While seeding cities had primarily focused on social engineering, attempts at seeding ecocities represent a conflation of social and ecological projects – a conscious move from social to socio-ecological engineering. Seeded ecocities are the latest attempt to plan without acknowledging the organic tendencies of cities. They reflect the continued desire to plan for a tabula rasa than to address the less-than-perfect reality that the bulk of people live in messy urban environments.

In China, they are primarily being designed through the collaboration of international architects and engineers who create idealized plans for cities that are calculated down to the last detail. Tianjin, the Sino-Singaporean ecocity outside Beijing is the most famous example of this new ecocity planning in China. Similar pilot ecocity projects are being pursued across India. They are primarily being designed through the collaboration of international architects and engineers who create idealized plans for cities that are calculated down to the last detail.


The path to seeding ecocities is long and scattered with roadblocks that lay bare the contradictions at the heart of the planning profession. These contradictions stem from a fundamental disregard for the organic aspects of urban development and change that is inherent within both the theory and practice of seeding ecocities.
When it comes to data or technology, you can never have enough parameters on your model that could capture or account for the complexity of organic urban systems.

Theoretical: static/lacking adaptive capacity/ planned in static equilibrium
The virtual ecocities produced by these simulations are unable to reflect the complexity of real cities under the condition of pressurised economic growth and urbanization. They are static urban environments lacking in both adaptive capacity and site specificity simply because they are designed to be perfect from the outset.
We’re going to plan a city that’s entirely in equilibrium – that’s what zero carbon cities do. This is in equilibrium, this system works BUT it’s just pinning down what the most pressing issue of the day and freezing it in time to say that this is always going to be the case.
Planning the ecocity or having any of these models ignores the reality of growth in cities. Not just expansion sideways or vertically but the growth in complexity. Cities don’t just grow at the edges. The internal/core urban fabric itself becomes more complex and varied.
Cities grow and shift and change to accommodate social changes. They are, by definition a work in progress. From village to town to city; most big cities have developed this way. The conflict comes when you have nothing and you design a template for somewhere along this evolutionary track. “Holistic” models of ecocities are fundamentally incapable of this change because they are believed to be complete from the start. When building an ecocity from scratch with a set framework/grid, you’re building a frame for a static moment in time that never exists – it doesn’t exist when you’re building it and it doesn’t exist in the future. TED guy – a city has an almost infinite lifespan – an evolutionary trajectory or path – we’re building a framework for this unique moment in time with these technologies for these people etc but you’re ignoring that it’s immediately outdated upon realization. It’s a window in time that’s immediately scattered.

Static – fixing structures to current technologies and planning ecocities based on concepts still in their infancy…
Attempting to build ecocities from scratch in the way that is currently being pursued is confining them to a state of arrested development. The ecological city requires an ecology of solutions – a vast network of integrated ideas that can be built upon in order to coevolve with the changing needs of society.

Practical: building

CFD had a proposal by a Swedish engineering company with everything – roads, bridges, energy, tramlines – all the hardware.

CFD: Even the client had trouble – 72 km2 for 1 mil people – if we have the design today we can explain what goes wrong on a practical level if you even have the “perfect” plan there’s no place to start – they couldn’t sell plots to be built. One of the simple problems is that even if you have a beautiful design for the city, come 30 years that city will not look anything like the plan to if you’re trying to sell one plot to get people to move into your future city then they would have to wait for 30 years for their environment to develop and it no longer looks like the plans


Triangulating the concept of organic cities with BARC as the virtual context: what we have to let go of. The statement for barc is that in planning we should disregard the notion of new towns and the ideal of the ecocity in particular as the update of the seed. The ecocity is based on the ideal of technology. BARC should make the argument that tech will not save the day because for technology to work, all parameters need to be in place but for this dynamic organism that is the city – you can’t have all the parameters and approaching the ecocity from a tech standpoint simplifies the system that by no measure represents the complexity that cities should represent.
We had to come up with a solution that under extreme economic/time pressure we are forced in China and other places to deliver instant solutions that are then at the mercy of an organic growth process. That’s why we’ve introduced this relay which introduces the complexity of design which is always greater than technology, especially if it’s allowed to interfere with itself and feedbacks like the evolutionary process
In CFD – none of these models are going to be implemented as a whole – none are prefixed for eternity – they’re thought models that are adapted, modelled and worked to become this organic city that doesn’t need to be defined by a single model
BARC enables you to adapt to mistakes – nothing is perfect. The university team started with something that supported the status quo but because the method is flexible, we could respond to it
You can never triangulate reality to simulate the perfect model, esp in a context where society and environment are changing so quickly at such a large scale
Regulations: by having a long term collection vision for urban growth you are able to translate that into retrofitting regulations  concrete policy today
Then we make the final point of retrofitting regulations as a way to allow these innovations to be realized.
the lesson of BARC is that even in conditions where there was almost no reality (Caofeidian a tabula rasa site, the proposals were all unbudgeted and explicitly for a loose future) the city that emerges from a design process is not a perfect microchip-style systems-driven fully engineered product, but something far more chaotic and interesting. Designers themselves, even in the absence of reality, start to create organic development even on the virtual level because the virtual is organic too - it is a product of the minds of designers, who are themselves organic. As soon as you have people working on plans, designs, solutions etc., organic interactions and processes of evolution will start to take place that cannot be planned for, and yet will increasingly come to define the plans, designs, solutions etc. that are produced.
You want to provide a framework that works when a society is in a very primitive state so that the evolutionary track of cities can still be followed. Whatever we plan, it’s a momentary slice so we need to plan things that anticipate the radical changes that will happen down the line
People talk about making templates but they’re really referring to a grid – it can be expanded but the process of expansion is painful because you’re trying to leapfrog from one framework to another (frame jumping/scale jumping) satellite images
BARC – diversity of approaches offered in Caofeidian illustrates the multiplicity of seeds/ideas to flourish – the more good ideas, the better.
But also some not so good ideas?
Stimulating design and embracing design itself as an integral part of planning including diversity
What are the core concepts of ecocities – it becomes clear through these designs that they all focus on different aspects of the ecocity, if they did more
- Tsinghou Uni started – they almost naturally followed the status quo of engineering-driven ecoplanning – 5 villages and each one defines a different resource or source of energy
- The engineering approach says nothing about how we should live our lives – Rocksteady (Behren? Koolhaas) says we should consider how cities grow first – we should assess our best public assets (in CFD it’s the sea) so then we should try to keep this space public and try to accommodate growth within it rather than just building it up and trying to reinsert public space afterwards
- The australian dude – hierarchy of typologies – 1/3 1/3 1/3 high rise, suburban, open space – alain bertraud – chimera of the city of villages concept
- CFD home to extremely polluting industries which are ecologically offset byt his city where the workers are going to live – it’s a pipe dream – we should also argue on cleaning up industry – but it becomes a political nightmare and the discussion is over
- China infrastructure housing and industry are equal polluters (?) find stats

Posted by neville mars / 9.3 months ago / 289 hits