Hindustan Times, Mumbai

- When and why did you launch Manifesto United Mumbai? What do you hope to achieve through it?

MUM was a direct outcome of the research we have carried out in Mumbai since early 2012 for the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Early in our research, we came across many encouraging independent initiatives that are trying to improve Mumbai’s urban condition. At the same time we became aware of the many, often extremely ambitious, efforts to increase the capacity of public infrastructure across the city. The parallel existence of these micro and macro scale projects seem to precisely correlate with the two sides that constitute Mumbai’s urban and social landscape – informal vs formal. However, our experience with Mumbai and elsewhere has shown us that ambitions at either scale will only have very limited prospects if they are not aligned to each other.

It is clear that an integrated vision for the city is becoming increasingly urgent: an overarching vision that incorporates the many smaller local initiatives and connects those with citywide strategies. MUM is a first attempt to formulate such an approach, based on concrete proposals for micro interventions that are imbedded within spatial master plan for the island city of Mumbai.

- Totally, how many design ideas – product-oriented (eg. water bench & grooves) and large-scale infra-visions (rickshaw highway or the land link, for instance) – are part of the manifesto? Which of these, in your opinion, are more feasible to implement?

For the initial phase we’ve developed around thirteen design proposals. Most of these can either connect to, or be integrated within the existing larger system. Far from finite solutions, the proposals are designed to evolve incrementally and become increasingly sophisticated over time. In fact, all proposed interventions start by reaching for the lowest hanging fruits. For example, for Skywalks the very first upgrade proposes the installation of public seating (ideally for women only), while for local transit we propose opening up bike lanes along the long tracks of pavement already in place in between the city’s water pipelines. Steadily, we envision these proposals to become supported by more technology and form advanced networked solutions that extend to the scale of the entire city. We hope that by engaging local communities and authorities with simple initial interventions, the notion of integrated upgrading can more easily take hold.

- How long did you research to formulate this manifesto? And will it be a work-in progress, in case your team comes up with more ideas?

Altogether, we have been working on the MUM for the last 15 months. Our work first concentrated on carefully mapping the urban landscape, as data is still scarce. From this we moved to analyzing where the urban systems are most under pressure. Surprisingly, although Mumbai is renowned for it, congestion seems not the primary concern, but rather is a symptom of a socially and spatially fragmented cityscape. The next stage was trying to represent this data in a persuasive fashion, such as a very large and detailed density map we have built for the island city. This was intended as a tool in workshops with local experts and as a deliberately large conversation starter aimed to trigger a response from officials. The model illustrates that spatial divisions cut across the island city and, that in a way, formal and informal settlements are fully intertwined virtually everywhere. This is a unique condition, even amongst cities in boom economies that transform at such a speed that makes existing planning strategies essentially obsolete. This basic conclusion, became the starting point of a new set of planning principles we feel are needed. The underlying assumption is that planners can help bridge the social divide by bridging the gaps in the urban fabric, and the divisions in access to public space, amenities and infrastructure. These are large ambitions starting from humble interventions that will require the participation of local stakeholders – individual and institutional – to adopt, improve and own.

- Personally, given your research and engagement with Mumbai so far, which design idea/s will be the most challenging to implement, and which are seemingly more practical?

Implementing any of the proposals will face us with many challenges. Not so much because they are technically challenging, or even costly, but because they require a new mindset of cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration. Our experience has shown that this is difficult in a country like Holland with a population of sixteen million people. The task becomes even more difficult when faced with a single metropolitan region like Mumbai that is a third larger.

However, considering regulations are in place that encourage rainwater harvesting, we feel here much progress could be made relatively quickly. Additionally, because funds have already been allocated to expand and improve the Skywalks, it should be possible to deploy these towards designing more effective systems that are better equipped to meet user requirements and much better connected to where to highest concentrations of commuters actually are located. Most difficult to achieve, I believe, will be our proposed urban planning formula that aims for a equal split in land use between formal, informal and open space, or what we’ve coined the 1/3–1/3–1/3–model.

- So far, which government bodies, agencies, NGOS, individuals, architects and locals have you spoken to about the manifesto? And what has their reaction been like?

During the Lab, we have invited a great number of NGOs, experts, community leaders and officials, active in fields ranging from traffic to water and sanitation, public space planning and housing. Many if not all participants seemed to agree with the central premise that an approach that is cross-scale and inter-sectoral would be of great value for the long-term planning of the city. However, while it is very easy to point fingers where these collaborations fail to take shape, it is much harder to instigate them. It seems, the strategy to start from smaller more tangible interventions can also help to facilitate the formation of more diverse teams. For us as initiators, not having a permanent foothold in Mumbai doesn’t make it easier. Recently we have been reaching out to entities that could act as a platform from which we can operate also from abroad. Ideally this could help us to maintain our somewhat odd, outsider-insider perspective, many of our collaborators seem to find quite useful and refreshing.

In your introductory video, you say Mumbai cannot and should not emulate Shanghai. Can you draw a few parallels as to what has worked in favour and against for each of these cities, as far as their urban planning is concerned?

Shanghai has strong parallels with Mumbai. Both are the major economic engines of the two largest, most densely populated, and rapidly emerging economies. Both are also harbors, with a rich cultural history that puts them in the list of the world’s foremost cosmopolitan cities. However, as much as they are comparable, the differences are equally stark. Shanghai has achieved much of its glitz through harsh top-down measures that excludes many of the people who built the city, to settle down within its urban boundaries. Instead in an organic process, Mumbai has become a dynamic urban tapestry that has been able to accommodate countless different communities. Shanghai’s mirror opposite. Beyond denouncing one or the other, we are learning that both models hold pivotal lessons for different contexts. Ultimately, we hope these models will be united so they can begin to complement each other. This is the end goal for MUM.

- Why do you think there is a disconnect between government agencies responsible for city planning and those for whom it is being planned? What role can the private sector play, at least in terms of funding, to bridge this gap?

Culturally, planning related challenges have primarily been considered through the lens of engineering. Obviously, in order to address people’s needs as part of a complex society, urban planning (including infrastructure design, etc) will need to incorporate a profound social understanding. This is where architects can sometimes help but they too need to be informed by broader teams of specialists. Interestingly, since sustainability has become part of the equation, solutions are steadily becoming more human focused – as opposed to simply adding roads or including new technologies. Issues of sustainability are also facilitating promising new funding principles. Green technology, is per definition a long-term investment. This requires a willingness to seek out new models for economies that are defined by very short investment cycles.

- As an architect, what according to you are the biggest urban planning constraints in a dense and diverse metro such as Mumbai? Which are the most obvious areas where existing planners have failed?

Working on solutions for such a dense environment as Mumbai has helped us to formulate a basic premise for the city and its people: for a city to operate effectively, a minimum of public space is required; for an individual citizen to thrive a minimum of private space is required. We have become convinced that even in the densest cities, like Mumbai and Shanghai, design can overcome this seeming contradiction. One could argue, that planners and designers – and that includes us – have so far failed to create the socio-political conditions to implement their design solutions, or that developers should be more socially responsible. Personally, I think it will be crucial that responsibilities become shared. For instance, an ideal situation would be, if planners work towards socially diverse environments that also make business sense, architects design spaces and products that are sustainable, and so on. No more single, but integrated objectives.

- Can you tell us something about your book - Manifesto of Mistakes - and, when is it likely to be released? How will the Manifesto United Mumbai be accommodated in this book?

The research we have been undertaking in Asia over the last ten years has painted a picture of the strong organic tendencies that are driving urbanization. China and India represent the two extremes of this process. China’s cookie-cutter planning creates large carpets of sterile urban expansion almost overnight. However, looking at the larger scale of their onslaught reveals they merge together into perfectly organic growth patterns. The slums seem to evolve in the opposite direction, facing constant resistance, their outcome is increasingly well organized and formalized.

Manifesto United Mumbai is half of the story of our new publication Manifesto of Mistakes. A book that explores how planners can begin to embrace the inherent organic nature of the urban landscape and work with its ongoing expansion rather than against it. Every three months over the coming year we plan to release a chapter online, until the book has grown to its full potential.


Stacked Population Index - The new density model of Mumbai
For this project, we have introduced a number of new indices that aim to chart the city from the perspective of the individual, rather than merely in technical terms. We have created the Stacked Population Index (SPI) which combines the data we collected on population density and land-use to produce a measure that reflects the experience of density by calculating the actual built surface area of living space available for individual Mumbaikers in different areas.

Time and Space Scarcity
We have coined two new terms that seek to capture the way technical and structural aspects of Mumbai’s landscape affect individual Mumbaikers everyday lives. First, ‘time scarcity,’ relates to the time people spend in order to have access to basic services, utilities and resources. A major problem in Mumbai, where the poorest residents must give up considerable amounts of time to accommodate in their most basic needs, time scarcity impedes opportunities personal growth and self-development. Second, ‘space scarcity,’ measures the actual free space citizens have at their disposal when both private space and (accessible) public space are mapped for a specific individual. In a city with one of the lowest levels of public space per capita, notions of what is public or private space shift constantly demanding new a measure to describe the amount of space Mumbaikers can call their own throughout the course of the day.

The LandLink
The Landlink* is an answer to Mumbai’s infamous Sea Link and the first prototype to tackle Mumbai's time-space conundrum. In contrast to the Sealink, it provides pedestrian, bike and rickshaw connection between two of the city’s main slums by readopting the (soon to be) outdated Tansa Pipeline. The Landlink crosses a famous mangrove lagoon, revealing it as a large park in the heart of the city while providing space for public functions that cannot be accommodated in the compact surrounding settlements.

The Water Wall
Water storage is critical if Mumbai is to embrace rainwater harvesting. The Water Wall aims to save space by storing water within the cavities of a structural and modular wall system that is connected to the roof and has different compartments for washing and drinking. The translucent tanks allow daylight to penetrate the mostly dark and dingy homes.

The Weather Tap
The Weather Tap is an affordable and scalable solution that collects solar energy in the dry months and harvests rainwater during the monsoon. Collected rainwater is filtered to become potable, while solar energy that is collected is used to desalinate sea water into fresh drinking water, resulting in a continuous local fresh water supply all year round.

The Groove
The Groove is a simple roof mat that unrolls to fit the grooves of Mumbai’s omnipresent corrugated panels. Made of local coconut coir, the mats are extremely affordable and fully recyclable. The Groove helps insulate against the clatter of monsoon rain on the rooftops and keeps indoor temperatures moderate during the summer heat. As the plant root bed develops, the neighbourhood is transforms with a green roofscape.

The Water Bench
The Water Bench combines standard outdoor furniture with water storage functionality. With each bench parks and public spaces can become more water independent.

The Tasty Tray
The Tasty Tray, is a roof solution capable of producing homegrown vegetables in both formal and informal settlements. The trays slide in a secondary roof structure, under which a cool storage space is created. As the crops grow trays are pushed along the tracks until they can be harvested.

The Rickshaw Highway
The Rickshaw Highway is a proposal convert unused infrastructure into a localised transportation network for autos and bicycles by adopting the interstitial spaces of existing pipelines. This could connect poorly accessible urban areas to the transit network, while offering connections between highly productive slums in the centre and large industrial suburbs.

The Skyride
The Skyride adopts the simple technology of the Skywalk to offer dedicated two level elevated decks for bicycles and rickshaws, in order to connect transit infrastructure to where the people are. Together, the Rickshaw Highway and the Skyrides complete Mumbai’s formal transit system with high frequency, cheap, and local commuting options taking pressure off Mumbai’s stressed transit corridors and providing better access to areas of extreme population density.

Heart of Mumbai
As Mumbai becomes increasingly polycentric, the new centre of urban gravity has moved north to the Mahim area which has the potential to become a new Heart of Mumbai, a green and highly accessible hub that can help decongest South Mumbai. The Heart of Mumbai concept aims to forge connections between North and South Mumbai; formal and informal areas. It promotes the geographic centre of the island as a strategic hub for future development with great potential for access to public space and amenities.

Collaborative Planning, or the ⅓ – ⅓ –⅓ model
The Municipal Corporation is now preparing the city’s next development plan, scheduled to run from 2014–2034. We suggest that planning must be coordinated collectively and reflect the different solution components in equal measures of 1/3 formal development + 1/3 informal development + 1/3 green and open space. However ambitious this land-use formula may seem, our research shows that this configuration has evolved in many patches across the island. By creating a typology that combines extreme population density with an impressive built volume and much needed open space, Mumbaikers can have their cake and eat it too.


With Manifesto United Mumbai, MARS Architects has developed an ecology of solutions that address the most urgent issues from access to drinking water, to public space and transportation. Implementation occurs through a generational approach: Individual technologies evolve to become increasingly sophisticated and connected, supporting each other. In order to survive in a context where minimum space remains and all renewal projects operate at either end of the spectrum, exacerbating what can only be defined as a split city.

United Mumbai must be the result of collaborative planning. The first principle demands for each United Mumbai project stakeholders commitment of community representatives, NGOs or private entities and government representatives in an equal capacity.
GOAL: Nurturing public-semi-private partnerships and new business models viable within the unlevel playing field of Mumbai.

United Mumbai projects must operate at the intermediary scale, bridging the gaps between conditions on the ground and top-down planning projects. This demands detailed mapping of existing conditions and should foster a stronger role for the Ward Sabhas.
Goal: Initiating local projects that can be scaled up in order to impact the citywide level.

Accessibility is the main criterion to quantify and evaluate United Mumbai proposals. However, evaluation can no longer occur merely from an engineering perspective, but must incorporate the social and individual perspectives. Time-scarcity and space-scarcity are two measures must be considered in attempts to bridge technocratic and human-centric approaches.
GOAL: Promoting solutions that increase the access to public utilities and facilities, public space and transportation.

Western notions of planning have proven inadequate within the harshly fragmented urban context of Mumbai. United Mumbai projects acknowledge the resilience and richness of organic urban fabric and embrace home-grown solutions as viable urban strategies.
GOAL: Promote projects that nourish localized efforts into sustainable settlements as the seeds of city-wide sustainability.

The MiM workshops have underscored a concern for the practice of post-planning, which leaves Mumbai perpetually catching up with reality. United Mumbai aims for future proof solutions and underscores the importance of long-term, ambitious and visionary objectives. GOAL: Promoting vision-based projects and scenario-based planning to achieve a value-driven development plan.

Initiatives that are solely policy-driven have proven to be toothless within the pragmatic context of Mumbai. United Mumbai calls for parallel multi-disciplinary collaborations around producing strategic prototypes at neighborhood levels. The pilot projects lay the groundwork for policy level proposals. GOAL: Testing viability of policies by implementing tangible proposals through public-private partnerships.


- Could you please share the most startling facts/figures about Mumbai (water, sanitation, sewage and density-related) that you discovered during the course of your research?

There are 13.34 million in Mumbai's Island City, resulting in a massive density of 36,200 people in each square kilometer. However, informal settlements comprise 20 percent, or 74 square kilometers, of the city’s geography—yet accommodate as much as 65 to 75 percent of the population. These settlements are largely limited to low-rise structures that on average are not taller than two stories, meaning those areas have a high density of tightly packed inhabitants. While in Mumbai’s high-end apartments, residents enjoy around 57.5 square metres living space per person, in Mumbai’s slums, people are only afforded 3 square metres each.
The current water supply to Mumbai is 4.2 billion litres per day of which 3.3 billion litres reaches the consumer. The rest is lost through leakage or illegal tapping. As much as half a million people in 21 slum communities across the city are subjected to severe water crisis. Only 20% of piped water in Mumbai goes to the slums which accommodate up to 75% of the population. Within Mumbai’s slums, 30% of people collect their daily water needs at public taps while up to 16% get their water from vendors, neighbourhood wells or illegally acquire their water. The ongoing lack of access to a steady water supply prevents the installation of sanitation and sewage treatment for as much as 70% of the population.
Additionally, the water Mumbaikars receive has grown markedly dirtier. By the civic body's own admission, of the tens of thousands of water samples it tested in 2012-2013, 19% were found unsafe for consumption. This was far worse than in 2011-2012, when the tally of samples found undrinkable was 16%.
In the greater Mumbai area, 43% of sewage goes through a piped sewage system; 8% goes to a septic tank and 49% is counted in informal sanitation. In Dharavi, it has been estimated that there is one toilet per every 1,440 people.
Rainwater Harvesting Potential
In Mumbai city, if eighty percent of rain water on all the terraces is captured, it will yield more than 500 mld water. A serious contribution to the flushing need (40 liters pcpd) for which untreated rainwater can be used. Though mandatory for building projects larger than 1000 sqm, storage of Mumbai’s monsoon concentrated downpours remains a serious challenge, there has been little support for water harvesting projects.
The entire water demand in Mumbai’s slums could be satisfied if the rainwater that fell on those slums was harvested.
The Water Wall is one possible micro-level solution that we have designed to assist with capturing and storing rainwater in Mumbai’s slums. The Water Wall aims to save space by storing water within the cavities of a structural and modular wall system. Connected to the roof, rainwater is channelled in for washing, while smaller compartments can be taken out to retrieve drinking water. The translucent tanks allow daylight to penetrate into the dark homes.

For more potential micro-design solutions including the Groove and the WeatherTap, please see https://burb.tv/view/Manifesto_United_Mumbai


- How was the idea of the WaterBench conceptualized? In the Publicity Pack, Neville says that all roads lead to water. Why does he say that?

During the BMW Guggenheim Lab we’ve aimed to tackle many different issues with the strong intention to relate them to each other, combining solutions for traffic, housing, urban planning, architecture and water. The issue of water proved particularly telling as our research revealed that it is ineffective to consider any aspect from sanitation to surface water pollution or safe drinking water independently. Water is the most obvious great connector. We found that even the increasingly large water infrastructure, pumping in from reservoirs ever further removed from the city, is not able to keep up with demand. The conclusion was simple. We need to consider more local solutions. We developed several concepts that expand into larger systems. Rainwater harvesting was a particularly obvious choice as the regulations are already in place and the monsoons in Mumbai, at least in theory, are a sufficient annual source. The challenge is how to store water. These were the first considerations that lead us to develop the Water Bench.

- Is it a unique design that is Mumbai-specific or has been used in other parts of the world as well?

In that sense the Water Bench is specifically developed for Mumbai and the local climate. A full Bench contains an above and an underground tank. Together the storage capacity of up to 1000 liters is well suited for the local precipitation. There are, however, several other regions around the world, such as parts of Australia, South-East Asia, Latin-America where similar conditions of a wet and dry season can be found.

- How will the WaterBench create a substantial impact on the city and its water storage?

In these regions, the Bench is an ideal standalone installation for small plots and private gardens. At the scale of the city, however, we have always considered the Water Bench as part of a larger group of water conservation solutions. These include smart wells, ecological sanitation, use of indigenous vegetation (as opposed to large lawns), even small-scale solar powered seawater desalination. These solutions work to lower demand, increase supply and create buffers to minimize the impact of floods and droughts. Together they complete the traditional infrastructure and make for a much more resilient and flexible water management system.

- How is it related to the problems of urban design, development and architecture?

Each of these solutions – and the Water Bench is a good example – becomes feasible by combining different functions, to make them, space and cost efficient. The water harvesting installations are proposed as integral parts of existing structures, such as skywalks and stations, while storage solutions are integrated within the walls of homes. Steadily, we hope, the traditional silos between engineering, architecture, planning and product design will be replaced by more cross-disciplinary and holistic methodologies.

- There is an indication of bridging ground and top-down projects? What do you mean by that? And how is that intended?

Mumbai has taught us some urgent lessons. Projects at both ends of the scale, either city-wide or community level, are crucial, but these would be much more effective if their efforts would be aligned to each other. Currently Mumbai often seems to operate in parallel worlds. To build the integrated water supply system we envision central and decentralized parts to work together. Currently that means attention will need to be focussed on solutions at the intermediary scale of larger district and Wards. The Water Bench is an ideal solutions for small plots of land. Grouping them together they can work at a neighborhood scale. Combined with water run-off and smart wells they can make parks and public spaces independent from district water supplies, and so on. Not a silver bullet, but networked micro-scale interventions are required.

- How does it exactly serve as a bench?

The Water Bench is actually hollow, this allows the Chesterfield cushions we have moulded in the plastic, to funnel water to the buttons which act as water inlets. This offers a comfortable slightly bouncy seating area with the added benefit that the surface is dry almost immediately after each rainfall. The size of the bench is intentionally awkward, encouraging up to three people on either side to interact and converse. We have just installed the first benches as Horniman Circle and Cross Maidan and it seems this gentle form of social encouragement works quite well. At least people have been flocking in to sit on them. Other parks with very different and unique qualities such as Joggers Park in Bandra and Park Mankhurd in M Ward are coming up next.

- Which other projects as part of the Guggenheim Lab have been devised or are already into implementation?

For the Guggenheim Lab we have developed an extensive urban vision, that we have coined Manifesto United Mumbai, which stems from a new sustainable transportation corridor as the backbone for, what we believe, is the new map of the city. Many of the corridors we suggest are created by readopting spaces above existing infrastructure, such as the Tansa Pipeline that offers pedestrians beautiful views over Mahim Creek. In our proposal these larger structures are supported by projects even at a material level. The Groove is a natural roof material for informal settlements that keeps homes cooler during summer and less noisy during the rainy season. It also allows plants and even veg to be grown on them, turning the informal neighborhoods into green oases. Other projects include a Water Wall, which stores water in the cavity of a load bearing structural element, and the Weather Tap, a combined rainwater harvesting and solar heat collector. The Weather Tap is a serious attempt to make desalination of seawater an affordable alternative.

- How can the common man participate in the development of the city?

These proposal are by no means finite solutions. They are part of a larger ecology of ideas that we hope local stakeholders will adopt, improve and own. This includes you.

More at https://burb.tv/view/Manifesto_United_Mumbai

09-09-09 Day of Sustainability

March 2009, Neville Mars 何新城

Presenting the first model of the E_TREE to the minister of Economic Affairs of Holland and the Minister of Energy of China

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The Urban Darwinist

By Wen Haijing


对于他荷兰建筑师的身份,常居北京的荷兰建筑师何新城(Neville Mars)即骄傲又焦虑。骄傲的是荷兰建筑设计流派,无愧为当代建筑设计的先锋,他们视野开阔又相当自恋,他们都走火入魔般地追求技术之完美,并无畏地将此贯彻于超大建筑,之后还满怀热情地推销治疗城市乃至世界的乌托邦式解决方案; 焦虑的是中国的建设也已经完成过半,本地建筑事务所似乎更容易受青睐,总担心那些超大项目会在瞬间被建完。当然,事实很快证明,这担心全无必要。

七年前, 何新城与朋友们都不约而同地来到中国。欧洲已经建完,中国大而快的造城运动对欧洲建筑师来说就是终极诱惑。而事情的导火索是,中国的民政部长在当年宣告,要在20年内新建400座百万人口的新城。何新城要搞清楚,相当于半个欧洲人口的4亿农民,将如何在20年内城市化。古板的欧洲人只知道他们钟爱的欧洲城市都至少生长进化了五百年。

在中国的头五年,何新城成立了动态城市基金会(Dynamic City Foundation),跑过20多个城市,拍过6万多张照片,完成了700多页的《中国梦-建设中的社会》。这本书试图传达的是,中国今天必须以荷兰阻止洪水一样的大胆和傲气,来引导都市化的洪流,才能领跑全球的下一代城市化。
对于他曾在荷兰大都会建筑事务所(OMA)——中央电视台新址的始作俑者——任职的经历,何新城不愿提及。倒不是因为网路上对于中央电视台新址的嘲——在他看来,推翻了摩天大楼柱状结构的CCTV新址主楼,是当代建筑最有力的创新;他倒是不愿被“又一个库哈斯克隆”的标签淹没了个性。建筑圈的一脉相承早已臭名昭著,出走OMA的前辈包括扎哈.哈迪德,MVRDV的Winny Maas等,这“恶名”并不差。事实上何新城身上鲜明的OMA的印记也很难被抹杀。何新城也是永远缺乏睡眠的城市爱好者加设计完美主义分子,与大多数OMA人一样。

“当市场之手在调控城市化方面显露出严重缺陷之时,时间却证明是城市化健康有序进行的保证。”— 何新城

“绿色建筑并非拯救中国城市的良方。哪怕是最先进的绿色建筑的集合,也很可能造就功能低下且不可持续的城市。”--- 何新城

我们情愿相信, 当经济发达了,自然地,城市的生活也会更美好。

然而过去三十年的经济发展偏离了我们的一厢情愿。城市向外爆炸式扩张, 越来越多的人不得不依赖于私家车,马路不断地被拓宽、交通却仍然日益拥堵、城市人只必须拼命赚钱,好在无论墙外多嘈杂、墙内也是落英缤纷的封闭式小区,然后关上小区的大门。这样的美丽气泡正日益膨胀充满城市内有限的空间。没有人再提起城市的本质是公共空间,而它们正堕落为美丽气泡之间的无人看管地带。我们的城市发展正在失控,城市正日益成为生活的麻烦制造者。



何新城当市场之手在调控城市化方面显露出严重缺陷之时,时间却证明是城市化健康有序进行的保证。缓慢进化的城市天然地密度高 、功能多样且可达性很高,因为城市扩张必定沿着现存的城市组织进行,陡峭的房租曲线更让城市保持紧凑,比如阿姆斯特丹、巴黎、纽约。而速生的城市,尤其是中国的新城组织却相当松散。事实上,中国飞速的城市化已经频频超越规划,城市化往往听任市场摆布,于是蔓生组织四溅在规划区域之外。




“将城市当作一块蛋糕来切割的规划惯例,是漠视了城市有机体的生长进化过程。” – 何新城



荷兰建筑事务所MVRDV 的创始人Winny Maas兴奋地说,这很可能带来城市规划工作方式的革新。受邀参加的建筑师团队均为进化城市规划的概念而振奋不已。五支中国团队包括学术界最为权威的清华大学建筑设计院、设计经验最丰富的都市实践事务所、设计形式感极具冲击力的马岩松建筑设计事务所、倡导将农田引入城市创建超级网格的Brearley建筑与城市设计事务所、以及对中国城市形态有最深切的关注及最深入的研究的《城市中国》设计团队。

五支荷兰团队的设计理念也各不同:有将理性的计算发挥到设计极致的MVRDV、将城市当作需要食物来产生能量并排泄粪便的生物体来对待的Z.U.S.,致力于设计高度灵活的菜单式建筑的Rocksteady Design,擅长于应对海平面上升并处理水系统的Powerhouse Company。何新城主持的事务所亦作为设计团队参加,他致力于设计不依赖于绿色科技插件的环保建筑。

何新城希望能从这一项目中探索很多解决方案。他既希望项目能给未来绿色城市以足够的想象空间,又希望为曹妃甸政府提供当下的商业解决方案需求。他希望探索规划如何能让城市在现存的城市中心基础上发展演变;什么才是能适应中国建设速度的巨大压力和中国的规划文化;城市的效率要能超过绿色科技插件之和, 要与周围、社会及文化环境发生细密的关联……



荷兰的Rocksteady Design——来自于建筑师辈出的库哈斯家族的小库哈斯——则为曹妃甸城在接下来的三年引入了水系并为整座城市规划成了漂亮的公园城市。小库哈斯认为要想打造绿色城市,绿色城市景观应先行。




这是一次破陈规的大胆尝试,亦是一次真诚的冒险。城市规划不是精准的科学,更无法超越权力的干涉。何新城说他当然明白陈规的惯性当然强大, 但他无法因为现实的沉重而停止创新。这些有着非凡现实意义但相当疯狂的创意有多少将被采纳仍是个谜。然而这一项目将我们的新城按照城市年轮被规划生长的方式已经成为规划界的话题。


神秘的灵感降临的一刻,加上理性分析的好多天可以概括何新城做设计的全过程。 灵感的产生总是愉悦而激动人心的,完成设计却是不断受挫、自我否定与艰难选择的漫长艰辛。何新城做设计时相当偏执地竭尽全力,不找到理想的解决方案绝不罢休。而他挑战自己设计极限的方法是,首先要确定新项目最大的矛盾体是什么,然后才在极限的边缘设计出看上去不可能的可能来:是要在艰难的地理条件下提供高档住宅的品质,是要在高密度区域实现最宽敞宁静的居住体验,还是要在最繁忙的区域将碳足迹降到最低。

何新城在为厄瓜多尔设计一个高档连排别墅时, 陡峭山坡上的公寓将天然面对自然采光的巨大难题。于是他为建筑植入数个开创性的天井,为40多套高档公寓引入了双面乃至三面采光。在了解到北京人对于郊区生活方式以及对市中心位置的双重需要之后,他为寸土寸金的北京市中心设计了独具形式感的“L形层叠建筑”方案。L形单元的错落叠加解决了实现项目的经济性,又让郊区生活方式爱好者能在市中心自在愉快。

极不舒服的场景往往能激发何新城的设计神经。当他看到世博会上两个暴晒的停车场,就有冲动要为这里带来阴凉,他想到了树。既要让北边来的光线能够穿透,又要能挡住从南方直射的阳光,添加能适当调整角度的光伏板已经非常自然了。于是诞生了太阳树(Solar tree)这个在网路广为流传的设计,它的光伏板树叶既能遮荫又能采集太阳能,为停泊树下的电动车补充能量。



向日树是为又大又难看的停车场设计的, 是让你的车凉爽让城市变酷的新概念。它让开电动车的型人们在停车的时候有地方充电。

















VPRO Radio (in Dutch)


Phaidon 10x10_3

10 Curators x 10 Architects.
Shumon Bashar invites architect Neville Mars, DCF Beijing
3420 3419

Urban Flux

Introduction Special issue Dutch Design

March 2009, Neville Mars 何新城











于是陷入了两难的境地。为了应对全球化的经济衰退,中国仍需要乘大规模都市化的浪潮,加速建设比以往任何时候都要重要。这似乎解释了“根本没有时间设计” 的成因,令人悲哀的是这很快成为了自我实现的预言。残酷的事实是自从开放政策以来,两个并行的世界以同样的步履生成:亮闪闪的自上而下的城市景观,以及周围的无序组织。标志性的塔楼和大型商场对应的是半都市化的村庄和半工业化的区域。但是,即使是这样明显划分的空间,在近距离审视时,发现它也是含混不清的。这两种都市形态即相互惧怕,又相互滋养。就在本土和外来建筑师都相当乐意为下一个封闭社区作设计的同时,此类项目的集合以更为市场化的无意识开发之形式(MUD)扩张了城市的景观。







然而,速度也是动态密度的救赎。只有中国能够将此力量大规模使用,至少是在机会之窗关闭之前。那些缓慢的欧洲城市就是城市化的拼缀工程。它们永远在调整以适应最新的要求和技术升级。这使得它们可爱,风景如画, 然而他们只能在小范围内运作,因为解决方案不过是在缝缝补补— 在像巴黎这样较大的城市,我们能看到同样唐突的双重性;像博物馆一样美丽的核心区被麻烦重重的现代边缘地带所环绕。







Neville Mars-何新城

Raised in the Lowlands

March 09, by Neville Mars

It’s remarkable how much attention Dutch design has received in China. Not so much because the quality of the work doesn’t deserve it, but there are barely a dozen design firms with a decent foothold in the region. Sure, one of China’s most prominent buildings, the CCTV tower by OMA, is a product of a Dutch company, but they make precarious efforts to cast themselves as an entirely global office, minimizing any reference to their Dutch descent.

As a Dutchman I can relate to the reluctance to be identified as such. It is in fact, I want to argue, a quintessential component of our culture. It is a national sport to be outwardly melancholy and explicitly critical of anything homegrown. No tradition is sacred, no hero or star architect spared from critique.

Yet it is hard to be so critical of the work of my fellow countrymen within the context a Chinese magazine. Five years in China have taught me the self-depreciation we love in Holland is often misunderstood and frowned upon by my Chinese friends and colleagues. Let me take this opportunity to put this odd behavior in perspective. It is exactly this sense of distrust for dogmas, society’s unwritten rules and irrational customs that is at the heart of the Dutch success. Counterintuitively, the malleability of our cultural identity is an essential component of our national pride.

A stubborn trust in the future
So, though small in numbers, something quite distinct can traced in the approach of Dutch design companies in China. In general terms the cliché of ‘Holland nation of traders’ holds some merit. When the central objective of a society is to make money, and particularly through international trade, this can purge any false ambitions and install a (sometimes ruthless) sense of pragmatism. Altogether not an unimportant feature of good design and architecture. However, as we see in China, pragmatism alone is not a driving force behind innovation or creativity; quite the opposite.

The other obvious historic force has been our conquest of the sea. Steadily, through very deliberate and unremitting technical innovation we’ve carved out a land from the water and made it inhabitable. Apart from a decent dose of hubris, this (a nationwide dominance over nature at a time when the carefully engineered landscape could only be found in Europe’s royal gardens) has generated a near infinite trust in the power of design itself. The result: a nation of dreamers, not out luxury, but out of necessity.

In the process, the sleek technocratic lines of dikes and ditches cutting through the landscape, framing the cities, have become the basis of what can be considered the trademark Dutch aesthetic: a dry, rationalized light-heartedness. The product of a pragmatic utopia aimed to safely facilitate an increasingly mobile middle-class. Conscious of every single square meter gained from the sea, Holland has meticulously packed its merchants in efficient well-connected urban clusters. Arguably the seed of what today is branded as the compact city model. Being a small country with a high density of designers, this dry mindset has dispersed to become a strong global current in contemporary architecture, planning and design.

Still, it’s fair to wonder how this tiny, obsessively organized country is relevant to an immensely vast, booming and chaotic country like China.

On a very basic level, China must today reveal the same bold arrogance in streamlining the flood of its urbanization as the Dutch once did preventing their country from flooding. On a more subtle level, China must produce cities, designed to serve its emerging middle class; not as factory workers or even as passive suburbanized service providers but as an body of increasingly individualized, highly creative, entrepreneurial citizens - in some ways the Dutch and modern Chinese urbanites are very similar.

However, many problems seem to obstruct such goals in China. Simultaneously, both harsh market pragmatism, and politicized reasoning obscure the awareness of key problems facing urbanization. Instead - and that’s not without irony within the context of this article - Chinese planning culture reveals a near infinite trust in the ability to completely orchestrate the built environment. This is understandable for a nation building entire cities practically overnight at a scale unseen in human history, and with at best a moderate regard for the existing setting. However, unlike Holland’s manicured landscape this is by no means the result of technical research or strategic planning. We must acknowledge that without critical assessment of the underlying forces that actually drive the urbanization process, any attempt at spatial orchestration will be in vain. The fact is, even today the role of the Chinese designer is still too often reduced to that of a draftsman. The analytical phase that good architecture and planning should contain is forfeited and with it the potential to solve problems on any serious strategic level.

This introduces a serious quagmire. Warding off the global economic downturn, riding the wave of urbanization China still requires, an accelerated speed of construction seems more important than ever. This explains the general sentiment that ‘there is simply no time to design’. Sadly this is quickly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The brutal reality is that since the open door policies two parallel worlds have been emerging at an equal pace; the shiny top-down cityscapes and the obscure organic mostly haphazard urbanization that surrounds all the glitter. The iconic tower and the mega-mall versus the semi-urbanized village and the semi-industrial zone. But even this apparent spatial clarity is, at closer inspection, entirely muddled. These two urban conditions both fear each other, yet feed off each other. While architects, local and foreign, happily design the next pristine gated community, aggregated projects expand the urban landscape in the form of more market-driven unintentional development, or MUD*.

Facing such organic force, of the macro-planned merging with the micro-organic, and swarmed by urbanization faster than planners can map, any traditional notion of design will be inadequate. Impatient policy-makers bluntly copy failed Western planning models, while in fact within the context of the Chinese speed even well-researched, dry and self-critical design will no longer suffice.

Dynamic Density*
These are the terrifying, unique and exciting urban dynamics that desperately require a kind of pragmatic utopia. Not just a dream for the future, but a (dare I say Dutch) trust in design to realize this dream and carefully shape the long-term future.

The notion of MUD seems an inevitable force shaping the city, but for China there is hope. Adhering to this same inherent force we can begin to regain control over the scattered urban landscape. Studying cities around the world we’ve found very similar growth patterns. Notwithstanding culture or geography the growth from a small city to a metropolis describes a fairly typical evolution. At each stage of its development the city’s natural urban gravity seems to be able to uphold a distinct ratio of building and population density. Put simply, a slowly maturing market-driven city produces a healthy rent gradient. This in effect is a compact city, only to be dispersed or disrupted by external forces. Then so-called sprawl is the ambiguous outcome.

Sprawl, however has become a catch-all term for anything negative in urban development. In reality, based on accessibility, the specific place and cause of disruptions of the urban tissue can be assessed. For example, in Beijing excessive road building has generated what we’ve coined as ‘infra-sprawl’ (more square meters of the city are consumed by tarmac, than can serve the new urban fabric). Omnipresent ‘mono-sprawl’ is the proliferation of mono-functional areas. Among others this is caused by a surreptitious real-estate culture and the lingering past of communal land distribution. But most damaging in China are ‘policy-sprawl’ and ‘speed-sprawl’.

Struggling to counter the obviously rampant suburbanization, policies have been put into place to coax growth away from the expanding mega-cities. In themselves cluttered and sprawling, these policies surprisingly gravely augment the scatter expansion and rural urbanization of China’s scarce fertile lands they aim to protect. Speed-sprawl too, is a particularly Chinese phenomenon. While slowly evolving cities can grow to become both compact and efficient (think mid-sized European cities), it seems at a certain speed of development urban gravity is simply not strong enough to maintain a steep density curve. Patches of urbanization are hurled far beyond the urban core. Random projects land beyond the reach of downtown facilities, even beyond the reach of infrastructure. The city first flattens out like a pancake, is sliced up by inner-city highways, and then fragments around the edges. Compact cohesion becomes scattered chaos.

Yet, speed is also the main redeeming force of Dynamic Density. A force that only China can apply at any serious scale, at least if sets its mind to it before the window of opportunity has shut. Those slow European cities are urban patchworks. They are perpetually adjusting to the latest requirements and technical upgrades. This makes them cute and picturesque, but as patchwork of solutions they only manage to operate at a miniature scale - in a larger city like Paris the familiar blunt duality can be witnessed; beautiful museum-like core surrounded by a troublesome modern periphery.

Enjoying unrelenting speed as near certainty, is a benefit that allows designers (not to mention developers) to anticipate future development. We can bypass the patchwork, if only, through strategic design, we preempt its ongoing expansion. China’s instant cities need merely anticipate tomorrow’s success. In that case sprawl becomes ‘trans-sprawl’, the temporary condition of unbalanced or mono-functional suburbanization that with time is absorbed and integrated as a healthy part of the urban core. Trusting in the future, the economic downturn becomes an opportune breather to break free from the stronghold of pressured flash development. China’s long awaited moment to dream.

Currently urban policies are still mainly based on fear. Fear for crowding, fear for chaos, for slums, ultimately fear for the metropolis itself. Conversely, Western architects have a long-standing love for density. And particularly the Dutch benefit from a widespread illusion that claims Holland to be a very dense country. This might explain why we talk and write about density almost as if it’s synonymous to quality; why so many Dutch offices spent most of their time on urban research projects as opposed to commercial buildings. Density is granted a metropolitan aura, suggestive of diversity and pleasant complexity, even problem solving qualities. Yet, the residential consumer despises density. When people can afford it, they flock to the suburbs, be it in Holland, China or elsewhere. But metropolitan density is a condition that can no longer be avoided and instead should be embraced, not just by the designer, but by policy-makers. In a country where the residential sky-scraper is the norm, rather then the exception, designers have the task to make density synonymous with comfort.

Dense but comfortable mixed-residential clusters allow us to steer the city on a strategic level. We should understand and treat density as a physical substance. It has a precise location, a speed, a direction and a treat of dispersion. It’s affected by its surrounding mass and in turn affects its surroundings. This makes it the perfect tool within the context of flash urbanization. Haphazard areas (particularly in mid-sized cities) can grow to obtain new quality. While newly planned districts, anticipating ongoing development can expand the existing urban core with flexible frameworks to produce environments that are not just acceptable upon completion, but thrive as dynamic systems.

Money talks...
My experience in China is sufficient enough to hear the mumbling rhetoric of local critics in the back of my mind. If indeed time or even space are no longer the enemy, they would argue, then at least money still is. Admittedly the China price presents the staunchest form of pragmatism, but then again one can always find reasons not take responsibility. It seems to me increasingly evident that money is no longer the cap on healthy progress; conservatism is. Specifically in our urban planning projects we make great effort to prove sustainable solutions don’t necessarily amount to extra costs. Small concepts can have a big impact. For instance, the real obstacles of achieving a comfortable pedestrian friendly zero-emission masterplan are the official regulations and building codes - a case in point of everyday policy-sprawl. Careful analyses shows that within the current regulations real sustainable plans can’t be produced. In China breaking the rules to set a new standard is not just a creative exercise, it’s a crucially important responsibility. And money has little do with it.

I can’t help think of Rembrandt, maybe the only true Dutch master. His greatest work, in which he abandons all common rules to make way for a new, aggressively free expression, came only after financial disaster had knocked at his door. Instead of indulging in the successful formula with which he had made his fame and fortune, he painted on in serenity pushed by a visionary urgency to explore the new, over financial rewards. If there is a Dutch example for China this would be it.

Neville Mars


modern weekly

February 2009


I travelled extensively through the country in 1991 and fell in love with the sense of vast space that both the cities and countryside gave me - Very refreshing from my small tightly organized nation of Holland. So during my studies I kept a close eye on China as the emergency for good architecture and planning seemed to quickly grow stronger. In 2004 I returned to set up the DCF and investigate ways to design cities for China's unique context. My first feeling was I was too late. The remarkable spaciousness that had attracted me seemed already filled up and muddled. Since then we've been working to develop new solutions to respond to this situation.

Only after years of working on cities in China, I discovered it is not the space that has transformed most dramatically. Even today much faster than cities can be built society itself is evolving at breakneck pace. Working in China one may encounter many static structures and traditional attitudes that seem reluctant to change, but they haven't been able to obstruct a bid for real innovation. An new urban lifestyle has flourished, with progressive Chinese art, business and technology as a result. I hope urban design can catch up too, before it's too late.
一直到研究中国的城市好几年后,我才发现,空间的巨变并不是最戏剧化的。直到今天也是这样,比造城速度更快的是中国社会的飞速演进。在中国的工作过程中,我们常常看到无数停滞的结构, 以及拒绝改变的保守态度, 但是它们未能阻止真正创新的力量。新的都市生活方式已经流行,并产生了前卫的中国艺术,商业及科技。我希望城市设计也要跟上,唯恐警醒时才发现已经太迟。

China in a few words, that's like diner in a few bites; by no means as satisfying as trying all the amazing dishes you can find right before you.

Well, I think we should except a paradox. The hundreds of new cities and thousands of shiny glass towers seem to be the most obvious tokens of transformation. Nothing could be further removed from the hutongs and pitched-roofed ping fang that dominated only a generation ago. But the building industry is in fact very slow to innovate. Building a big boxes as opposed to a little box does not change the core of the decision making and financing structures, the building regulations and the professional culture. This surprising slowness prevents the increasing number of good Chinese architects and planners to do their job and help design a healthier urban environment.

We've done quite an extensive project on post-Olympic planning. With the general economic crisis we can only accept a broad urban slow down. However, with less pressure to build, there is an opportunity to accelerate our thinking on the cities of the future. In that sense the post-Olympic period presents an extraordinary turning-point, when we must evaluate the qualities of urbanization at hyper-speed and then start developing long-term solutions. For instance, though my name is hexincheng, I work hard to explain in contemporary China New Cities are sustainably undesired and in fact no longer possible. In a increasingly developed china, any new urban project big or small is immediately part of a complex existing urban network. We can only focus on urban expansion. This is what the dynamic post-Olympic city must aim to achieve; to be integrated.
我们在后奥运规划方面做过不少项目。在大范围经济危机的情形下,我们必须接受大范围城市开发的放缓。然而,当建设压力减少时,一个让我们能思考城市未来发展的契机正在突现。在此意义上来说,后奥运时期将成为一个很不寻常的转折点,人们会评估超速城市化的质量问题,然后提出长期的解决方式。尽管我的名字是何 '新城',我在工作时却不厌其烦地唠叨在中国建新城是有违可持续发展的。在一个日益发达的中国,任何新的城市项目,无论大小,都即刻成为已然存在的复杂城市网络的一部分。我们只能集中在城市扩张上。这是动态的后奥运城市必须清楚订立、并与其它一切和谐相容的目标。


Well, i'd say I've learned to accept unpredictability. Things change so fast my experiences are never the same. That makes doing urban research here is extremely exciting, everything is uncharted territory. I'm forced to look at the context with fresh eyes every day. For the same reason doing business here can be real struggle.


I have just finished guest-editing Urban China magazine. Hopefully that should really bring our urban theories of the book to larger audience in China. It breaks down step by step how we can move to a more healthy, holistic way of designing our cities over the next two decades. Many deep-rooted misconceptions are addressed about designing cities. That's maybe the most rewarding aspect for me of working in China. It evolves so fast even modern Western planning concepts have to be tossed in the bin. China proves we need to rethink urbanization from scratch, based on dynamic principles.


China is desperately looking for new identities. Very often unsuccessfully testing out existing identities from elsewhere. I think this is only temporary. After copying comes sampling, remixing and adapting. That's the bases of creation. The last thing we should fear are other cultures or ideas in order to protect our own. That stops all progress. The fact is culture is essentially about breaking boundaries. My small country has embraced many different cultures throughout the ages, instead of diluting its Dutchness, this has made it stronger, particularly now at a time of total global exchange. Personally I hope we will see the emergence of a Chinese ago of reason, when after blind pursuit of superficial identities, thought and innovation become the source of true beauty; Chinese beauty.

2、DCF目前的研究课题是什么?到达什么阶段?《The Chinese Dream》的后续是什么?

We are currently working to implement the ideas in real cities and working with new partners such as Crystal CG. We have done a number sustainable masterplans now, next I want to go back to my original profession designing buildings. I'm also still spreading the word about dynamic planning in many lectures. Real change obviously will come from good designs but also by talking to both policy makers and design students. Lastly I can give you a hint about an exiting new project. We are setting up platform for a comprehensive design of the city of the future to be shown at the Shanghai Expo. More about that later.

Urban youth culture is a great example of social transformation that occurs far more independently from the city's physical manifestation than most cultural trends. We can see how young urbanites are able to adapt to the new environment instantaneously. Rather than shaping urban space to fit their needs (such as the middle-class in the suburbs) we how youth cultures have appropriated urban spaces for new and unexpected purposes. More interestingly still, and this is a phenomenon we have seen in the unique context of Hong Kong - conversely the city seems to shape the minds of urban youth. They become extremely well equipped at achieving new social networks within the increasingly complex urban setting. This should give us hope for the metropolis.

Yuanmingyuan Book Launch


Wonderful deck-chair gathering in the shade of Onewaystreet Library in Yuanmingyuan Beijing.
Umbrella assisted outdoors projection of "MAD Dinner" and "The Chinese Dream" in a tandem book presentation
and discussion with Ma Yansong and Neville Mars.


Lecture Harvard School of Design Streamed

URBAN DYNAMICS IN CHINA. lecture Neville Mars at Harvard School of design, Boston
Movie Link: HARVARD-urban_dynamics.mov - ow resolution. 1hour

Neville Mars

March 2008

Gallery Work Peking Fine Arts


"Beautifully Leans the Century Most Cow Mansion For The Chinese Show Business Rising Star Which the Strength Makes"

Or a giant housing estate for the up and coming.


column for That's China November 2007
Neville Mars

One step away from monotony

There is a tendency to think about China as a vast uniform space. The sheer expanse makes it extremely tempting for writers to apply blunt generalizations. Slogans like ‘China the new powerhouse’, ‘China is booming’ are common, but ignore any nuance. Whenever I am traveling their inadequacy becomes particularly striking in relation to urban development.

Last week I visited Tianjin. As Beijing’s (slightly) smaller brother it proved a stark reminder of the differences in levels of advancement. With the exception of New Towns, progress seems to start in the most prominent economic centers and oozes out from there to the secondary cities, towns, villages and then over to the countryside. The distinct stages of development are unmistakable for anyone moving between them. Tianjin today looks very similar to Beijing only five years ago. It’s a booming metropolis and a dustbowl; a hybrid of big junctions and reform housing, soot covered cars and the first tall towers and large malls. Coming from Olympic Beijing, where the roads are wrapped in sculptural shrubbery and lush pink flowerbeds, the transition is harsh, but surely not unique.

After the economic centers, the largest cities across the country are on the move. Their energy and drive to keep up is astounding. An equally distinct stage in development can be observed in the third level cities, fourth level and so on. Though on a smaller scale, their thinking is often just as ambitious, the architecture just as crude. Comparing the different stages of development it becomes apparent in general terms, indeed all the cities and towns are aiming for the same. The all-to-the-top model is The Chinese Dream. It’s a captivating concept that many people adhere to and most cities seem to aspire to. Encouraged by this belief even an insignificant town far removed from any serious arteries presents itself as a mini Shanghai or a budding Shenzhen.

Foreigners like myself are even more susceptible to this idea. ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’ was my attitude during the first years in China. If people from abroad would complain about the smog, dust and sticky fumes, I would argue this is just a temporary condition; an inevitable phase that comes with high-speed modernization.

My self-censorship about the pollution had a foundation. I witnessed how in a few years Beijing had entirely rebuilt itself - a metamorphosis so profound and so fast it is hard to imagine how it was only a year ago. But in recent years I found myself less and less persuaded by China’s dream of renewal and reconstruction. With the Olympics in sight Beijing has pulled in all resources imaginable, financial and other, to achieve its transformation. It’s questionable if China’s second and third-tier cities are able to ever achieve such a radical and complete overhaul without such means. Is China on the road to producing hundreds of smaller powerhouses, innovative cultural hubs and garden cities in a matter of decades – we need only to hold our breath for the moment? Or will the bulk of cities remain low-grade imitations of the big tigers?

A fine gradient of larger to smaller cities dotted in a neat grid over the map of North America is often cited as one of the pillars of its wealthy economy. But prosperity isn’t everything when evaluating the success of a city. The International Herald Tribune (June 19) published a list of most livable cities in the world. Their criteria were based on a smart mix of hard data and more subjective observations and social indicators such as neighborhood design, Wi-Fi coverage and cultural attitudes. The factors of crime and safety eliminated all US cities from the list. The result: seven out of the top ten were European cities, most of them small by Chinese standards.

In an attempt to keep pace, China’s smaller cities reproduce the plans, philosophy and iconography of the giant frontrunners. Opportunities to create the qualities found in Europe’s most livable cities are steadily lost. Opposed to the all-to-the-top model, a more realistic one-step-up model may prove more fruitful for China’s urban landscape and it’s (future) residents. The leapfrog mentality would be replaced by a long-term strategy based on promoting local conditions, including the advantages of being small.

High-speed development is a contagious practice. This makes it hard to curb or control. If a more local attitude isn’t adopted soon, the mini megacities will become a reality, monotony will prevail, and the blunt generalizations of foreign correspondents will start to look like accurate descriptions.


Hou de adem in, daar komt China.

De ramen in mijn nieuwe kantoor kunnen niet open. Misschien is dat maar beter ook, de lucht is niet vriendelijk vandaag. Een dikke goudbruine deken hangt over de gebouwen in mijn uitzicht. Het maakt de skyline niet minder indrukwekkend. Vanuit deze toren presenteert Beijing zich als meer dan alleen een zeer vervuilde stad, of een explosief groeiende metropool met een afbrokkelend historisch centrum. Het panorama is gelaagd. Een rivier en een rangeerterrein houden de bouwmassa van het gloednieuwe Central Business District op gepaste afstand. Het verschaft een visuele lagune in de stad die haar zinderende raderwerk bloot legt. Alle complexiteit die we de afgelopen drie jaar hebben proberen vast te leggen, grijpt in de stedelijke doorsnede moeiteloos in elkaar. De oude treinen uit het communistisch tijdperk beladen met kolen uit Shanxi en de wit gestroomlijnde hogesnelheidstreinen vol zakenlui op weg naar Tianjin wisselen elkaar af -twee van de vele tegenstrijdige werelden die Beijing de komende jaren zal moeten zien te verenigen. De treinen en de kleine autootjes op opgetilde wegen en daarachter een strakke wand van woonblokken; afgezien van enkele lichtreclames is dit het beeld van een vroeg-Modernistische rationele stad. Alleen dit landschap is niet het resultaat van sociaal geëngageerde stedebouw, de architectuur niet het product van minutieus ergonomisch maatwerk. Bijna een eeuw na dato is het een ongekend agressief marktmechanisme dat dit scenario heeft gerealiseerd. De drijvende kracht: een combinatie van Chinees staatskapitalisme en een ongekende individuele ondernemingsdrift. De gelijktijdige impuls van hogerhand en op straatniveau verklaard ook de immense snelheid van de stedelijke groei. Overal worden worden bouwprojecten geïnitieerd, van de CBD tot in het dorp. Een ontwikkelingsoffensief dat de economie moet voeden en gelijktijdig de gemoederen moet kalmeren. Van boer tot zaken man, in theorie kan de hele bevolking een trede hoger op de sociaal-economische ladder, dus iedereen probeert zijn slag te slaan. Na de eerste dertig jaar van economische hervorming is voldoende zelfvertrouwen opgebouwd om de behaalde (en de geplande) successen te presenteren op het wereldtoneel. De leus van de Olympische Spelen 2008 is letterlijk vertaald “Een en dezelfde wereld, een en dezelfde droom”. De Chinese interpretatie ligt voor de hand. China kan weer wedijveren met het Westen. De Olympiade is de kroning van een schijnbare succesformule voor de bouw van een welvarende en moderne samenleving. De nieuwe steden zijn de dragers van de ontwikkeling en het bewijs van stabiele consumptie-geörienteerde vooruitgang. Alhoewel nooit doelbewust uitgestippeld, wordt deze aanpak nu gekopieerd in talloze landen die versnelde ontwikkeling doormaken. De unieke historische en politieke condities die de Chinese groei hebben mogelijk gemaakt worden daarmee onbelangrijker, echter de laboratorium functie die China (bewust of niet) nu speelt op het gebied van architectuur en verstedelijking wordt cruciaal. China’s marktgedreven krachtenspel illustreert een verstedelijkingsproces dat in toenemende mate de ontwikkeling van opkomende gebieden over de hele wereld beschrijft. De bruine deken die over de toekomst ligt staat in die gebieden nog niet hoog op de agenda.

AA School - Cities From Zero November 2007
Neville Mars


Shock and Awe

In 2001 China’s State minister of Civil Affairs, Doje Cering, formulated the ambition to build 400 new cities by the year 2020. A grandiose scheme that should accommodate the flood of rural mi-grants and elevate China to the level of a model industrialized nation. From the first moment I read this statement in a small article on the internet, the image of a continent built from scratch took hold of me. The obscene ambition to attempt the design an area the scale European Union in less than two decades simultaneously shocked and mesmerized me. Three years into the project—and offi-cially near completion—our research has only strengthened these two incompatible sensations of admiration and concern. Progress is made at a tantalizing speed but it’s mostly two steps forward, one step back. Often the solutions equal the problems. At the heart of this schizophrenic assess-ment: the new city.

The 400 Fetish

This project started with a simple fetish, at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003. My fetish was for newness. Obviously this is not an unusual fetish; I assume this book is a product of the same fetish. For better or for worse the world is shaped by people with this affliction, and architects seem to be hit particularly hard. A sinister urge to design everything in sight (to create newness) drives the pro-fession. Urban design may be dead; the dream to shape man’s greatest invention from scratch lingers on. The idea to design a complete urban system is highly seductive. If you could conceive a city from zero, its design would be free from all the accumulated problems, clutter and outdated in-frastructure and outsmart the predicaments aging cities have been struggling with. This is powerful idea, especially when multiplied 400 times. It’s an idea that has become one of the driving forces behind China’s rapid renovation, engaging the entire nation from the policy makers to the migrant sand diggers in a frenzied rush for progress.

MUD (Market-driven Unintentional Development)

In reality, for all but a few of China’s cities, renovation means innovation. However, this is not nec-essarily a problem. New cities built on inspiration and idealism—like Brasilia, Chandigarh, etc.—have a bad track record. They are surviving today against the odds; their populations are re-claiming such precisely defined architectural spaces on their own, adopted terms. Contemporary ‘cities from zero’ are the result of much more lucid forces and are loosely assembled, more than designed. This could explain why many of them are much more successful. They adhere, at least for the time being, to the desires of a specific niche in the market. Manicured residential containers and meticulously themed retail cluster themselves around the highways. The aggregate cityscape ex-pands producing unintentional forms. The city, like light, is ambivalent; neither planned nor organic.

The 400 Chinese cities, to be built by 2020, will be the result of such an ambivalent process. This makes the birth of a city mostly a matter of politics. Depending on how you define a city, by means of its population size, or maybe its footprint, the official time of birth will differ. This is particularly true for Chinese cities. Detailed criteria are formulated that prescribe the ratio of urban to rural inhabitants in an area, and its ratio of rural to urban economic output. This may sound clear-cut, it results in cities at odds with our general understanding of a city. Finely dispersed semi-urbanized regions will obtain city status, while dense cores in the suburbs will be overlooked.

Steady Progress

The current political climate in China is geared towards the creation of new cities but they cannot feature in the official statistics. Developers and migrants alike will need to be served, but not at the price of paying out more city related benefits. This puts China’s radical objective to build 400 new cities in perspective. During the period of 1978 to 1998 an unprecedented 23 new cities were real-ized on average each year; more than 400 in total. Today, by adapting regulations, barely one new city can officially be added per year. However the urbanization process has never been faster and continues to accelerate. In built volume China is projected to expand the equivalent of a 25 country-large European Union within two decades.

At a time when in the West urban planning has become a painstaking and slow process, the Chinese boom seems to offer fresh opportunities to rethink the city. However, the absurdity to build four hundred new cities in twenty years is not quite as stark as the aspiration to attempt their design. Any traditional notion of design will be inadequate when urbanization occurs mainly at the two ends of the spectrum: bottom-up as doorstep urbanization and top-down as an assembly of mega-projects.

The most distinct cities from zero are of the second category—built from scratch and at once. Al-though they do not comply with the official formulas, around one hundred new towns of substantial size have mushroomed across China the last two decades in the form of mining-towns, tourist towns, suburban enclaves, factory villages, themed and concept towns, military settlements. They emerge in different forms, sometimes as an independent entity, sometimes part of a larger urban structure, but always clearly delineated from the pre-existing. Medium sized towns tend to favour the Split City model. Across the river or train-track on an empty plot of land the town is duplicated from scratch. Ignoring the old core, facilities and living quarters, a package design is implemented with minimum connections to the original infrastructure. The town reinvents itself and leaves its old form behind like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Other models of rebirth include the Vertical City (new looks down over old), the Ring City (old is encircled by new), Sprawl City (new scatters and flees from old) and the Satellite City.

The Brand New City

The most recent wave of new towns are residential satellites. Built in an instant they are actively marketed and branded as new cities. All reference to the context or any previous condition is erased. Instead historic features, be it Western ornaments or Chinese roofs, are often incorporated to promote the new style living environment. They proclaim: We are not just new cities but ‘Brand New Cities.’

All Cities Are New

This is an important distinction when in effect every town, city and metropolis in China is new. Even existing cities are regarded as tabula rasa waiting to be cleared. From the villages exploded to expand into a metropolis, to the historic centres such as Xian, Chongqing and Beijing, which since the birth of the Republic in 1949 have seen a structural overhaul every single generation. The eco-nomic reform era introducing the final grand gesture has reshaped the capital beyond recognition. The fine texture of the hutongs (the rigid grid of the communist work units that are the predominant spatial form in Beijing) have made way for an urban landscape defined by mega-icons and orbital arteries.

But this unilateral destruction of old built forms should be regarded within the context of a society which is in the process of inventing itself from scratch. The tradition of thinking of a city as a physical form is a limited measure for newness. The truly new city is inhabited by citizens who themselves thirst for newness. New buildings, as much as new products and fashions, are demanded by a generation of new consumers. The shifts in what is on offer can barely keep pace with the changing appetites of what will shortly become the world’s largest and newest middle class. The mass migration of 450 million Chinese farmers is creating entire populations of first-time urbanites.

The Megalopolis from Zero

Though not as conspicuous as the Brand New Cities, the first category of bottom-up development has a much greater impact on China’s new urban landscape. Although the new urbanites are flooding into existing cities, much of this migration is temporary. Policies installed to cool the hyper-expansion of existing urban centres create sprawling fringe developments with rolling populations. Counter-intuitively, the true impact of these migrants’ urbanizing potential is actually felt at village-level. Remittances of urban capital facilitate the brickification of the rural environment, as does the return of workers with improved skills and knowledge. The combination of pooled home-grown investments and extensive rebuilding steadily encroaches upon once rural land to form a loose-knit network of urban activities and forms. The pre-existing distribution of villages across China’s east-ern bulk was already at levels of density comparable with American suburbia. As each village starts to expand outwards, an almost contiguous tissue of development forms: an extensive splatter pat-tern of semi-urbanized inhabitations. The combined forces of expansion of the built environment, natural population growth, and an inter-provincial population influx will by 2020 coalesce to create a single enormous megalopolis stretching from Beijing to Shanghai. 485,000km2 of China will in effect become a continuous ridge city, with a population of 475 million distributed at a density of 978 people per km2.

Zero New Cities

Growth, even in China is not infinite. Many cities in the west are stationary, and several are shrinking. Looking at the numbers in China it becomes clear that to accommodate the projected 450 million rural to urban migrants by the year 2020, in theory no new cities are needed. Growth can be restricted to the most efficient urban template: a well-defined network of urban cores of 2 to 6 mil-lion inhabitants. Suburbanization, so often frowned upon, is transformed to efficient urban expan-sion with influx of almost half a billion citizens.

Restricting expansion to the urban cores of the most efficient existing cities (those with populations of between 1 and 3 million), and doubling their populations would accommodate the migratory pressure. Rather than creating new cities, policies and clever planning can redirect the urban devel-opmental thrust and contain it within current structures.

Super Satellites

While idealized projections can claim to solve the urban problem, the reality on the ground necessitates an integrated approach. It is crucial to unite China’s two main forces of urbanization if any planning measure is to claim relevance. Satellites become unavoidable simply because they respond to the local need to develop. We have no choice but to try to conceive sustainable urban models applicable within China’s market-driven high-speed context.

While we seek to discourage the creation of stark new cities, the development of satellites reintroduces the potential for large scale design. Freshly legitimized, the designer is called back to the disintegrating developmental patterns and presented with a formidable task: to fashion a prototype that will produce healthy, attractive, and spatially efficient new tissue around the existing mega-cities. Satellites though, even in China, have a notoriously poor track record. In the early ‘50s the Beijing government planned 40 satellites to be distributed throughout the municipality. As the plan progressively failed to take shape, the number was reduced to 29, then 24, then 14. Today only 3 are deemed investment worthy.

Satellites want to grow, compete and overtake, offering cheap space, land, facilities and labour. But they remain entirely dependent. The local metropolis is their raison-d’être. They need to avoid the twin traps of being overly-dependent on the mother city, thus dropping themselves to the level of a sleeping towns, and too independent, risking on the one hand simple failure, and on the other be-coming subsidiary nodes from which sprawl spreads. Too close a positioning of under-designed satellites can lead to one expanding into the next, like cookies in an oven. Equally satellites too far from the core offer diminished possibilities for public transport.

The failure of the designed satellite lies in its rigidity. Overly meticulous in its preconceptions, it is incapable of incorporating the flux of different users at one point in time, and different uses over a period of time. Static, sterile environments result which are doomed to economic decline. To avoid the reverse scenario presented by MUD - that of an almost blanket-cover of dispersed developments - the satellite needs to be planned, but also to acknowledge the legitimacy of market-forces as a morphological tool. The environment will need to be flexible to its users and capable of responding to their urges.

One key imperative for the successful satellite is critical mass. On this front China offers hope in that it has proved itself to be a context in which new development occurs on an enormous scale: neighborhoods of 500,000, and satellites of over 1 million people. At this level, the satellite in fact becomes the new town, the city from zero.

Can satellites be designed to provide an efficient framework for market-driven development - in effect, to become super-satellites? We have to try!

World Architecture July 2007
Neville Mars with Wenjing Huang

Interview with Neville Mars, by HUANG Wenjing

1. Can you tell us what motivated you coming to China and set up the Dynamic City Foundation inside Factory 798? What is the mission of DCF?

This project started in an instant. Four years ago I came across an article on the Internet describing China’s ambition to built 20 new cities annually until the year 2020. The idea of 400 new cities in less then two decades struck me as so astonishing, I decided to set up a project to investigate. To do justice to this impressive statement we formulated a comprehensive research framework. Central questions: what circumstances have produced such an extreme goal and how would its realization be possible? With the Dynamic City Foundation, we’ve assembled a team made up of researchers and designers from Europe and China, applied for funding with the Dutch government and moved our studio to Beijing.

The reasons why I responded so quickly, dropped my architectural practice in Holland to do this project, are probably more profound. I have always felt the urge to rethink from scratch the way we design cities. In the West urban operations are generally marginal and follow fixed patterns; the sheer volume of build space China will need to produce the coming decades not only validates a fundamentally new approach, it demands it. Many foreign companies simply jump in to grab the opportunities China has to offer. With the DCF we wanted to understand the context from within and imagine what ultimately might be possibly before starting our commercial design work. Our mission in China is to explore ways to design urban environments that respond to the needs and challenges of our age.

2. What has DCF been focusing on during the past couple of years? I understand that you have been working on a book about 20 new Chinese cities in year 2020. Can you tell us the current status of the book, and again, what is the motivation behind the book? What are some of the major issues covered in this book?

From the start the DCF has explored a range of different topics simultaneously with the objective to relate them to each other. The project connects the different scales on which urbanism operates (from the scale of the region to the individual) and relates our designs to urban research in other fields. I feel the lack of an integrated design process is one of the mayor challenges China faces. It seems urbanism, increasingly dominated by the market, has lost touch with the society it should serve. A simple example is the rise of the fenced-off megacompound. As they grow bigger enclosing more public space, they are simply negating the role of urban planning. Connecting the bubble environments with large highways is all that is left to do for the Chinese planner. Unfortunately this doesn’t result in real cities.

Our book “the Chinese Dream – a society under construction” looks at the year 2020 and maps how the urbanization could take shape. The title hints at the American Dream; a period of similarly fast economic and urban expansion mid twentieth century. A dream that today has revealed its flaws and amidst a context of global environmental degradation and shortage of resources is no longer viable. The Chinese Dream is following many similar trends, but there is an important distinction: For China there is still a window of opportunity to dream up alternative paths for its urban environments before they are completed. The book will be published this summer and will introduce alternatives on various fronts such as for transportation, concepts for public space, progressive green design, high-rise living and smart retail solutions but also aims for new ways of thinking about regional networks, migration, the role of creative districts in China, and of course entirely new cities.

3. I am quite interested in some of the research - or should we say utopian projects, you and your team have been developing. Living in a fast developing country where most architectural professionals barely have time to take a deep breath in the frenzy of making buildings, let alone reflecting on some deeper issues, you seem to be doing just the contrary – day dreaming about utopian cities! What do you see as the connection between your work and the reality of Chinese urban development? Are you and your team aiming at finding some ways out for Chinese cities? Or are these open ended projects that are only meant to provoke different perspectives on the current state of development?

Yes, an important objective is to evoke a debate about architecture and urban planning. The projects you refer to and some presented in this article are commissioned as museum pieces; their first goal it to trigger a discussion. They look real and are perfectly buildable but actually serve as a beautiful warning. Art installations are one of the tools we use, but we try to apply all the means at our disposal to reach our audience, from practical designs for buildings and neighborhoods, to public forums, movies, websites and publications. Our target audience consists of two groups: progressive developers and China’s upcoming generation of architects and planners. They are the people who will design and build the future of China. For us reaching them is the way to affect change on a nation-wide scale.

This is a role that really belongs to the educational system and progressive designers. Yet so far the building frenzy seems to prohibit design innovation. It seems there is no time to do research or to consider any long-term solutions. The work we do responds to this fast reality with a slow dream. The book juxtaposes a business as usual (or doom) scenario with a dream scenario. The dream is our vision of what is ultimately possible to achieve with China’s urban landscape.

4. “Dynamic” seems to be a key word in you and DCF’s glossary. Dynamic cities, dynamic density, dynamic reality, just a few that I gathered from conversation and your website. Can you tell us a little more about the notion of “dynamics” in the context of your researches? Why is it very relevant to current Chinese urban conditions?

The name Dynamic City Foundation originates from our ambition to make cities as responsive systems and to make cities that offer a dynamic environment to their inhabitants. This objective is still at the heart of our work. The city as a responsive system is based on two key ideas. First, the notion that cities are continuously changing entities. This is a simple but crucial understanding. They are dynamic systems and should be treated as such. It means cities can and should respond to the ever changing needs of society. This in turn means urban plans need to anticipate change. Cities and districts are never finished; their design should acknowledge this fact with long-term strategies and flexibility built in. This is hardly the case with the monotonous neighborhoods we still see reproduced across the country. The same logic applies to architecture. People’s needs evolve constantly and fast. For instance the floor plans of the L-building presented here, are extremely adaptable in order to serve the increasingly diverse group of residents we see emerging. Our latest project is dynamic in a very literal sense. It’s a mobile building that drives around to specific events where it can enfold to become an auditorium or change shape into a cinema or outdoor performance stage.

Secondly, if we want the concept of a responsive city to take root in society, it needs to adhere to market forces. To be successful sustainable architecture or any innovative design will need to prove not only that they are smarter but also more cost effective. Here in China where conditions are changing so fast and under such commercial pressure these two aspects are essential to our work. A good example where these two notions come into play is our case study for Beijing. The current masterplan for Beijing 2020 aims to decongest the gridlocked center by moving people out to satellites towns. Our research shows this has a reverse effect. It will actually accelerate the outward expansion and the amount of traffic in the city will increase. We have developed a proposal that can house an anticipated 20 million people in 2020 comfortably without expanding the city beyond its current limits. By mapping how the city is likely to develop we can actually make use of Beijing’s dynamic qualities to shift and concentrate densities into manageable patterns. The sprawl and congestion we all complain about in this city can be curbed only if infrastructural measures are implemented together with a stringent urban planning approach in one comprehensive scheme.

5. Explain to us the intention and capacity of DCF’s website https://burb.tv . In an article on the website by Quinn Comendant, it talked about the necessity for dynamism in research and publishing, since information is generated at blinding speed. “This book became outdated upon publication and quickly became a historical snapshot more than a current analysis.” Can you tell us how the website is going to capture the dynamic reality of information? Am I correct in understanding that your website is meant to be a tool that everyone can use as well as an open platform that everyone can contribute to?

Yes, a city like Beijing changes faster than its maps can be made. We are aware of this fact particularly in relation to the book. In this race against time we’ve adopted a number of serious and some more light-hearted tactics. Focusing on the year 2020 is a first step, adding last minute handwritten scribbles in the sideline of the book is another. The real instrument however for us is the link to our online platform. We use the platform to work with our teams online. The book follows the format of the platform, and the platform works as in open-source e-book (the word BURB simply means neighborhood, but the official acronym stands for Beijing Urban Research Book). BURB 1 contains all the content of the Chinese Dream project and is now available online for anyone to read and contribute to.

For the next stage we have just launched BURB 2; Super Satellites. The objective China stated to build 400 new cities per year until 2020 is unfolding. New Towns and suburbs with populations of European capitols are under construction as we speak. Yet the use of the satellite city model is not undisputed. The quintessence of the city – a place of intensified human interaction – is hard to simulate. Satellites often remain desolate places, sleeping or working towns at best. Their relationship to the core, the metropolis, is ambivalent. They want to grow, compete and overtake; offering cheap space, land, facilities and labor, but they lack autonomy. Planning and designing a satellite becomes the ultimate balancing act. Positioned too far no mutual benefit is achieved with the main body; daily commutes are no longer feasible. The metropolis remains a mirage on the horizon. Positioned to close the satellite loses its attraction as a green retreat and safe-haven for families. There is no promise of a new city, but rather the extension of suburbia. Struggling to achieve more long term solutions China is moving away from simple copy paste solutions but there is a long road ahead. BURB 2 offers a space for experimentation and creative solutions for the future cities of China. This new website is a completely open-source urban platform where the entire design community can start their personal blog page or BURB. Here you can upload sketches, detailed drawings, theoretical or practical concepts for your “super satellite”, even upload Google Earth Sketchup files for people to the view your 3D proposals on the actual site in China. This makes the Super Satellites platform the logical next step in our response to the 400 new cities objective; we like to invite you to contribute.

Project Descriptions


In China’s bulging mega-cities finding remedies for the ailments of modernity is hard. Without resorting to mass-demolition improving the cityscape will need to occur within the confinements of the few downtown spaces still available. The Beijing Boom Tower operates within such a pocket testing their potential for improvements on the city as a whole. As a module for densification of the downtown area the BBT diminishes the need for urban expansions and reduces commutes. The architecture of the BBT proves you can offer high-end living quality at hyper-density. If people are willing to endure a neighborhood that feels like a forest of chimneys, technical and design solutions will be able to provide them with all the space and luxuries they want; not unlike living in a mansion in the center.

The D-rail: a big attempt to dramatically shrink the urban network

The D-rail is a massive infrastructural design that started as a small research project. In the discussion about Beijing’s traffic a common argument suggests the city doesn’t yet have enough roads to serve all the new cars. A simple analysis of the surface of Beijing’s ring roads has revealed a very different picture. Their total surface is more than the size of the entire downtown area. The correlation between the amount of roads and the amount of actual city it serves is lost; with every urban expansion progressively more roads are added. Unfortunately, more roads will not solve congestion. Even the ambitious public infrastructure planned for 2020 and beyond won’t really suffice. The overall urban layout and its texture-fragmented up by all the highways- directly impact the city’s efficiency. To curb congestion car-owners will need to be persuaded out of their vehicles. The city and its transportation will need to become pedestrian orientated.

We have proposed a new city center positioned between Beijing’s Third and Fourth Ring Roads, and an innovative form of mass-transportation to support its development. The D-rail is a design for a hybrid mass-transit system that combines the speed of the maglev train with the efficiency of a travelator (flat escalator). The 64 kilometer long continuous speed belt stretches all around Beijing Fourth Ring Road, hovering above the highway. People accelerate to get on and off without the train ever stopping. This technology brings the commuter around the city in minutes and offers shopping and a continuous park all along the way. In effect, the D-rail reuses the road surface to stitch the city back together; a giant gesture to connect, diversify and dramatically shrink the urban network.

Freeze - H20 (Humans to Oceans) / __…Ω

There is an aspiration at the heart of the architecture profession; an urge that can explain why all buildings aren’t simply square boxes. In its purest form this aspiration persuades us to make architecture that seem to deny gravity or structures as big as entire cities. FREEZE is such a structure. Without compromise we have taken the liberty to design a building as big as a city to float across the oceans of the world, as its global capital. Civilization up to now was focused on localities, the here and there, the center and the periphery, but the world’s cities no longer adhere to territorial powers. Our connected age demands us to focus instead on the in between where things cross, change and grow. As the connections spread, countries unify and capitols explode. This raises the question what the global capital might be and where and what it would look like. The fleet of FREEZE vessels is freed from traditional territorial concerns. They don’t belong to anyone but offering room to any one of the evolved global community. This is highly utopian yet painfully necessary at a time of rising global tension and rising sea levels.

The L-Building – high density, not high-rise!

Introducing diversity in mega-projects is part of the solution. Actually scaling projects down in size, particularly residential blocks is equally necessary. Modern low-rise apartment buildings however are hard to find outside suburbia. The alternative to moving there, is transporting its green and communal qualities back to the city. The L-buildings is a housing typology that combines the qualities of the Chinese village and the skyscraper by stacking up courtyards. Its architecture contains all of today’s technology progressive green buildings can be expected to have. This is where sustainable architecture starts, but not where it should stop. Increasing the lifespan of buildings often seems forgotten in the quest for sustainability. Yet the ultimate form of sustainability is a structure that can adapt to the changes of time; conform itself as the use and user evolve. The L-building is a living machine that anticipates such an evolution. It allows people to change their homes to their personal needs and the massive private roof gardens stimulate the inhabitants to create their personal green environments. The building begins to operate as a green community. that inspires its residents to be green consumers; the foundations of a green society.

Shanghai Talk November 2007
Neville Mars

1. How would you characterize the urban planning and development
disciplines in China?

Speed defines China’s urbanization on many levels. It gives shape to the emerging urban landscape and the planning structures and policies aimed to streamline the process. From a foreign perspective Chinese planning is characterized by an awkward stratification of responsibilities. A clear over-arching government strategy is absent, instead planning institutes and universities take responsibility for the production of countless instant proposals, for nearly instant cities or conversely reduce planning to parceling off of plots for competing developers. The planning culture has adapted to accommodate the speed, but with a loss of quality and a lack of innovation as a result. An oversized body of institutions control planning efforts; not so much by defining strategies, setting standards and safeguarding output (or doing research and training designers when it comes to universities) but by participating as pragmatic market actors. Cities across the world adopt an increasingly more commercial approach to planning. This has real advantages, but only if the gains are long-term and aimed at the collective city.

2. What would you say a designer's gut reaction is to China's 400
cities by 2020 ambition? Is their initial instinct different to how they
have been responding?

Chinese designers are pragmatic and don’t seem to be too surprised. They understand the political nature of such statements in China. Most Western designers however respond either with disbelief and distress over the scale of this objective or with a marked interest to design at such a mesmerizing scale. When we first read about the goal to build 400 new cities, we set out to investigate why this statement was made, what the underlying issues were and what strategy could be formulated in relation to such a grand objective.

Quickly it became clear that within the context of China’s recent history 20 new cities per year wasn’t much, indeed the last decades of the twentieth century on average 23 new cities were added per year. However, today’s urbanization process serves a much larger population while it unfolds much less coordinated. Understandably Chinese designers have not attempted to tackle the larger planning challenge of so many new cities at once. They produce plans for (very large) new neighborhoods and satellite cities. Ironically, we have found that although this statement seems absurdly ambitious, to give coherence to the urbanization process and achieve a sustainable urban landscape the integrated design of a network of 400 new cities by 200 should indeed be a real and pragmatic goal.

3. Excuse my naivety, but I've been doing a bit of digging around and
the only reference I can seem to find on this goal is on the DCF sites. Is
this an initiative that is actually underway? If so, do you have more
information about it?

The goal to build 400 new cities of roughly a million inhabitants each by the 2020 was formulated by the former Minister of Civil Affairs Doje Cering in 2001. The argument was to accommodate the anticipated 400 million rural migrants with a home in a new city. This should safeguard the big cities from further expansion, more importantly it should serve as a social stabilizer, addressing an increasing wealth gap between citizens and migrants. Currently no scheme of this scale is underway, but in reality migrant investments are rapidly urbanizing villages and small towns at an even bigger scale.

4. And (part B to the question above): If this is indeed the goal, do
you think it will be achieved? Can you paint a picture of what these rushed
cities may be like?

As mentioned the quest for speed is a defining factor in how the urban landscape in China is forming. This speed is the result of combined top-down and bottom-up forces. While an organic village level urbanization is converting the countryside at a daunting scale, in an attempt to keep pace with progress top-down government incentives (such as development zones) and stepping-stone projects have mushroomed across the nation. On the middle ground an aggressive developers market is rushing to seize the opportunities that have come with the growing prosperity. The private sector is particularly pushing the residential envelope, expanding the cities in all directions at once. These compounds have grown in size to become mega-architectural ventures effectively deny city planning. The New Towns are dominated by the largely fenced-off compounds that incorporate public space and road systems, only to be loosely connected by highways. Each enclosed neighborhood caters to a niche market of either high-rise apartment blocks for the middle-class or villas for the upper-middle-class. This is a tremendously efficient formula to urbanize, but one that doesn’t result in real cities.

So it is important to address the flight to the suburbs and the ‘instant cities’ we see emerging. They suffer from segregation, homogeneity and poor employment opportunities. Still, more important for us is to raise awareness about the increasingly rurban (or rural-urban) condition; the outcome of blatant market-driven development occurring at every level of society, from top to bottom. This rurban hybrid landscape is pervasive but does not generate any rural or urban qualities.

Our book “the Chinese Dream – a society under construction” looks at the year 2020 and maps how the process of suburbanization is taken place. The title hints at the American Dream; a period of similarly fast economic and urban expansion mid twentieth century. A dream that today has revealed its flaws and amidst a context of global environmental degradation and shortage of resources is no longer viable. The Chinese Dream is following many similar trends.

5. How do you think the contributions of various actors – government
agencies, corporations, citizens, architects and planners, etc – in the
urban development process differs here vis-à-vis in other lands?

China is unique in that it will have to provide for a massive new urban environment in a very short time. When the West experienced its building boom the population size was incomparably small. Even a comparison with other countries that are currently experiencing rapid urbanization is hard to make. The total population and the density in China demand a very different approach. Developing countries in this situation almost always struggle with vast ghetto formations around the cities. Until now China’s household registration system has prevented such a scenario, but this policy has turned against itself. The floating population finds its way to the urban periphery crammed together in villages just outside the city borders. Villagers discouraged to work in the city set up polluting ramshackle workshops in their hometowns. On the other hand, these remarkable conditions, unique to China, present an important opportunity. If channeled effectively the projected migration is a powerful force that can be harnessed to give quality and substance to China’s hundreds of medium-sized cities (1 to 2.5 million inhabitants).

6. Can you comment on the distribution of concern over the cultural,
economic and environmental factors in China's urban development? Have
any key stakeholders been underrepresented or overlooked?

This is an important issue. It’s an understatement to suggest the success of China’s urban realm will define both the cultural, economic and environmental future of China. They are irrefutably inter-dependent to each other and to the formation of big cities - and not only because economically big cities tend to be the most successful on the global market. An integrated approach to achieve truly compact big cities is an obvious pillar of environmental sustainability, reducing resources and saving land for agricultural and green space. But it is equally important to facilitate China’s transformation to a service economy. As the world’s production powerhouse inches closer towards a well-off society China will loose its competitive advantage of cheap labor. An advancement necessary for social stability, that will see no long term prospects if this service economy is not supported by cities, large and diverse enough to be creative cultural centers. These cities take on the role of centers that nurture technical and creative innovation, centers where Chinese brands are imagined, designed and engineered, not just produced.

7. What do you think is the most significant urban planning issue in
China at present? Can you attempt a stab at what the solution may be?

The China predicament is urbanizing at lighting speed to maintain economic momentum while taking time to develop and implement a healthy overarching strategy for its cities. This is a daunting task and one that requires an all round revision of the current process; but it is essential. After a period of economic growth and dynamic urban development cities slow down and become more inert. Once the urban patterns are in place the performance of the urban landscape is defined. The outlook of a steadily more advanced society will prevent the idea of another overhaul of the urban environment. This is good news, but it means the window of opportunity is narrowing. The coming two decades attempts to achieve efficiency on a large scale will prove less and less effective.

Some simple steps can be taken immediately. The policies to promote the growth of the smallest (i.e. the least efficient) towns and settlements should be abandoned in favor of compact development of medium and larger cities. The fetish for New Towns or satellites should be abandoned (as they are not self-sufficient), in favor of a green compact expansion of these cities supported by high-end mass transit. Equally needed but more difficult is a drastic shift in planning culture. Government efforts should move away from building of actual projects to develop research based long-term planning strategies that aim for an integrated urban network. Urban planning should reclaim its role as a discipline that defines how to let good urban living environments evolve and mature, not just draw up road systems for closed-off communities. To achieve this a clear distinction must be drawn between the fields of architecture and planning and between the public and the private sector. Only then can they begin to truly collaborate.

8. What's the biggest hurdle to what DCF is trying to accomplish in
China? Both from an ideological and from an execution standpoint?

We are working hard to introduce the notion of integrated and flexible planning. We do this by developing long-term strategies and then designing urban and architectural proposals that illustrate how it can work. These proposals render a picture of an alternative path for China’s cities. The designs are often too progressive or experimental to be simply copied across the land. Instead they highlight the problems at hand, trigger debate and introduce new ways of thinking about the city. Their concepts (the typologies) should be incorporated in site specific designs made by thousands of different planners and architects. This is our biggest challenge and also the biggest hurdle. The forms of our designs have been copied, but not the concepts. I feel China is often seen as an empty slate on which any addition is an instant improvement. But even a collection of modern good buildings if not planned properly will form a bad unsustainable city. Our quest is to introduce the larger perspective, a slow dream if you will, in response to the fast reality.

We don’t encounter any ideologically hurdles, individuals and institutes acknowledge the necessity to plan more strategically. But there is a lack of tools and a pragmatic unrest, even impatience prevents any real revision. Our hope to affect change at a large scale is vested in the new generation of designers that will increasingly compete on conceptual quality not merely their drafting speed.

9. bURB 1 was about the Chinese Dream, a society under construction. I
understand that it is a work in progress, but what do you think has been the
major accomplishment of this project to date? Is there anything in
particular you wish to realize with bURB 2?

We were bold to take on this project which demanded a new comprehensive vision. BURB 1 - The Chinese Dream is a collection of research and design projects that illustrate this vision on every level of scale – from the individual to the nation. The major achievement is that with a large multi-disciplinary team, we have been able to take the time to develop this vision and test it with tangible proposals. It shows how concepts such as integrated planning need to be adapted to work for China and how this urban world could look.

BURB 1 presents the groundwork for the 400 new cities project. It forms the theoretical foundations of the DCF and offers insight for designers active in China. BURB 2 – Super Satellites, which we have just launched, pushes the 400 cities project to a more concrete level by offering all professionals related to the urban field space to design and describe their ideal city; 400 in total. The beauty of open-source systems is that it offers room for a diversity of ideas. Aiming for specific and unique cities we need the contributions for a maximum number of designers. On BUBR 2 people can start their personal blog page describing their solutions for successful satellites, new towns and other forms of urbanization. They can even upload their designs as a three-dimensional model to the Google Earth map.

10. How specifically do you think the bURB platform will best benefit
the public?

Cities are by nature public. They should serve the needs of society at large. So all proposals we make are accessible to the public and people are able to respond, add and critique them. With public contributions through the internet, the design concepts should evolve just as the real cities should. We hope open-source tools, particularly suitable for a large society as China, are adopted by the different urban institutes and education. If through public participation cities are better designed to meet the needs of the user (the citizens) their life-span will increase and they immediately become more sustainable.

11. The Urban China 2020 project was started in 2003. How has the
research progressed over the last four years, and have there been any
significant findings/insights you can share with us today? I will pose your
question back at you now: how can China benefit from the dynamic
forces at hand?

The project has resulted in a number of surprising findings. Probably the most striking is the metropolitan field we see emerging between Shanghai, Beijing and Xian. In our search for a possible location for 400 new cities for 400 million migrants we have discovered the density of this region is already of an urbanized level. In fact, we have found that by the year 2020, this megalopolis (which we have called Jing Hu) will house over 450 million citizens. This is the world largest urban network and an urban phenomenon that undermines traditional planning ideas such as sprawl, center and suburb.

12. Dynamic Density is advancing the idea that compactness is both the
basis for sustainability and the quintessential quality of a successful
urban society. But what are the trade-offs of compactness when it comes to
quality of life?

In a perfect world there wouldn’t be any trade-offs to hyper-density. Dynamic Density suggest cities can achieve an optimal density that fits it stage of development from village to metropolis. Projects like the Beijing Boom Tower (a residential block of ten times Manhattan density designed along the north Third Ring of Beijing) offer the appropriate building typology to create such density as cities get bigger. The BBT suggest you can have your cake and eat it. If architects were only faced with environmental challenges we could create big tower blocks that offer its residents villa size apartment within the city, on top of a vast array of services, shops and public transportation. The technology exists and buildings in Beijing are already very tall, but the market and the policy makers are not quite ready. The BBT raises the question if living in a meticulously dense forest of towers is indeed a trade-off or if this dream in Beijing has already been surpassed by reality.

Special Report

Ready for the future of a fashionable Beijing

Interview with Architect: Neville Mars

1. Can you tell us about yourself

I’m a Dutch architect who made his way to China because architecture in my small country, may be great, but not very relevant. Often stylish, sometimes beautiful but never at a scale and speed that rocks you of your socks, affecting the lives of millions. This is the impact urban questions and architecture have in China. In Beijing I set up the Dynamic City Foundation to produce architectural utopias in sculptures, movies and essays. We use these proposals to make statements about the future of urbanization in China.

2. What do you think of the general situation in architecture filed in Beijing?

It’s an interesting contrast. The world’s most exciting and technically advanced building will be finished soon; Beijing has chosen for architecture of a truly international level. On the other hand many people are fighting for the preservation of simple single story homes in the center. Both are important. I am concerned about the bulk in the middle, the wave of mediocre building structures that dominates the capital. Beijing is practically completed but we see a similar trend of indistinct unrelated designs across the nation. The way they are planned and designed, produces car-dependent islands. The architecture is part of a trend that is making Beijing pretty from the highway, but inhospitable for the pedestrian.

3. What is the direction for the architectural development in Beijing?

I am optimistic about many of the trends in architecture. Remarkably enough the learning curve of developers and designers is as fast as Beijing’s raging pace of construction. In a few years the design quality of apartments and offices alike has skyrocketed. This phase of progress is however mainly skin-deep. Not unlike most of the architecture in the West design is understood as the mere look and feel of a building. The design process is limited to copying the stylistic features, the exterior and interior skin. Conceptual design, of how the building works, how it relates to its environment, what should be the actual topic at the heart of good architecture, is generally lost.

4. Comparing to other international cites, what is the advantage about Beijing? And what is the unique character of this city?

Beijing is a typical Asian city of dense typologies. Even towards the suburbs many buildings and neighborhoods are tall and compact. This is a prerequisite to sustainability and efficiency. The tall structures even outside the center offer hope for the Chinese city, to achieve public infrastructure and a quality living environment. Beijing, dominated by market-driven development is built for a large part as such mega-compounds. Small-scale informal neighborhood continue to make way for the new city, pushed to far outskirts. If these smaller settlements would be neatly incorporated in the immense residential compounds a truly unique, diverse and vital city could emerge.

5. Do you think the Olympic game in 2006 been making difference to the city? What are the influences?

Not only have the Olympic Games brought international attention to the city, it has freed up amazing resources that has helped to rebuild the capital practically from scratch. Money for new buildings, roads, parks and waterways has completely transformed the city. The new Beijing will surely serve as a role model for many smaller cities to try to copy. However, if they will have similar means at their disposal is unlike. Beijing may will remain an isolated virtual city, the mirage of northern China.


West meets East

Interview with Architect: Neville Mars

The project that you launched your foundation with, Urban China 2020, examines China’s goals and desire for urban growth between 2001 and 2020. You’ve mentioned several times in the past that you were motivated to examine this period by a statement made by the Chinese minister of Civil Affair, Doje Cering, that China aims to build 400 new cities for 400 million people in this time. What was your position on such an ambitious, if not, outrageous comment, and what is it now?

This statement has been the perfect trigger to delve into the topic of urbanization in China. It’s very specific and dauntingly broad. However outrages this objective may be, the fact it was made at a top level made it interesting to investigate. The statement illustrates both the scale of the problems China faces, and China’s confidence to achieve anything now a days. When we started the project we actually considered if the design of 400 new cities of one million people each would be possible - for architects such a scenario, however frightening is also extremely alluring. We soon found out, in reality the equivalent of 400 new cities is simply emerging; not as neatly designed centers, but in a nearly continuous urbanized patchwork. A hybrid of villages, factories, small towns and larger cities cemented together to form one massive megalopolis with the average density of a American town. From that point on, we feel this initial goal should be put back on the agenda, as a real objective that can streamline the urbanization process.

It's as if what seems totally ridiculous in the West is simply business as usual in China. How does this effect your work? I would image that the intense rate of change and development would leave very little room for any critical inquiry or resistance - especially for someone trained in the West.

True, we've been able to do research based design only within the framework of a foundation. The commercial projects pay for our own initiatives. But society itself is changing equally fast. Chinese take-up of the green ideals over recent years has happened at trademark super-speed. Hot topics in the west such as integrated planning, urban agriculture, etc. are shifting the debate; admittedly often copied without much appreciation for the deeper meaning. Clients often don't understand the efforts we make in the first stages of a project, mapping the context, analyzing the problems. As we work longer with the same people we notice this becomes a little bit easier.

In the past, you have collaborated with both Rem Koolhaas and William McDonough. Like yourself, both are currently operating intensely in China, but with very different ambitions and relationships with this developing country. Koolhaas is busy making expensive showpieces whole McDonough is developing green sustainable towns. How has your experiences with these diverging practices shaped your own work?

They are both working at the forefront in China. Interestingly enough they practice and attitudes could not be further removed from each other. Koolhaas is the magician of the metropolis, while McDonough is trying to integrate China rural existence in a sustainable urban format. Both are very important in China. Today however, I feel these objectives can no longer be seen as opposites. Today, high-end architecture, such as produced by OMA, must be invariably green. At the same time green city planning must invariably be dense. The eco-village is a chimera. Though vast, China has no space to squander. In hindsight, the thought model of the Green Metropolis we like to use, may have found its origins with these two people.

Many of the projects you profile on the DCF website, like Beijing Boom Tower and FREEze, are ideas that were never intended to be built. They remind me of Constant’s New Babylon in the way that they suggest a possibility for future urban solutions that in effect create an awareness of the present conditions. For this reason, some have billed Constant’s visions as Utopian. Your work combines this reflexivity with a strong grasp of the reality of the situation. The Boom Towers suggests an alternative to China’s copy/paste and sprawl style urban development while FREEze proposes a free floating city that responds to a need for a non-political urban condition.

Constant’s work, I feel, is the result of this tension between hope and hazard. His visions persistently needed to be improved. With ever ideal solution found, many new problems needed to be addressed. The one thing that always remained was the esthetic beauty. Maybe it’s the rational Dutch culture, the idea design can offer solutions. The BBT also tests this notion. We wanted to examine if you can have your urban cake and eat too; live in a large villa with a garden in the city center with all the amenities literally at your feet. In numbers: the surface you would have living in LA, at ten times the density of Manhattan. The design shows architecturally this is possible, and might even have very exciting spatial qualities. But it also reveals this comes at a price. You’ll be living high in sky (if you can afford it), or in a dense completely artificial environment. Looking in detail at the scope of apartments and conditions we can offer China’s new middle class, the project becomes a critique of the increasingly stratified society. The BBT as a section of contemporary Chinese city.

...and FREEze? How do you understand the historical references a floating self-sufficient city inevitably brings up? I'm reminded of Jonathan Swift's 'Laputa', the castle in the sky, and Archigram's great, post-apocalyptic visions of walking cities from the 1960s.

FREEze started with a simple idea. In 2020 China and the US are the world's two dominant super powers; countries that both suffer from poor and eroding civil liberties. If you want to escape from the influence of their corporatism and crude patriotism where could you go? The sea. The project FREEze - H20, or Humans to Oceans illustrates how, and it's happening even today, people can create the ultimate deterritorialized environment on the sea. This may sound highly utopian yet I feel it may become a reality when you consider the increased global tension, diminished democracy and intensified censorship. Just as we have done with the other projects, conceptually we tried to make it work in every detail for the year 2020. This is a technique most other utopias like Archigram's cities also apply. At the level of the details he distinction between utopia and dystopia is played out. The vision for the future, becomes a warning for today.

What is your idea of Utopia? What kind of place would you like to live in in the future? Is it urban?

Though often ask where our projects are built, these projects are aimed just to investigate the context and to stir the debate. As such, utopian projects are crucial in a country developing so fast there is no time to consider any long-term strategy. After decades of hyper-utopian thinking that was implemented ruthlessly, China has become hyper-pragmatic, riding the wave of economic progress. This might prove equally undesirable. Our proposals suggest alternative paths and suggest it is essential that China considers what it wants it living environment to be.

What are you currently working on?

We have just finished our book “The Chinese Dream – a society under construction” which will come out January 2008. It presents a weird mix of serious research and futuristic proposals. At the moment we are making an installation for the Shenzhen Biennial that will showcase this book in the form of giant neon wall. After that we will need to limit ourselves to commercial design work. So far our projects in China are a villa, a boutique hotel and office block….. hopefully soon something a little bit more utopian.


Timezone 8 Publishers - Edited by Huang Rui November 2004
Neville Mars

Beijing and beyond

Authors’ note

At the heart of every inspired architect lies the dream to create entire cities of seemingly floating buildings. As impossible as this may seem, this is being realized in China today. This is most likely the reason why scores of international designers and planners have entered China to participate in the building boom. China, in particular its major cities, is undergoing a transformation of unseen magnitude. Fundamental changes of the urban and ultimately of the social environment are manifest virtually on a daily basis. Admittedly, this is why the authors of this article, respectively an architect and a writer from the Netherlands, are – albeit at the fringe –involved in this project. Even though from a Dutch perspective of regulation and consensus-building this landscape seems alien and its ingredients precarious, we , like so many, are drawn by the new, the uncertain the dynamic conditions China offers and are eager to understand the forces that will give shape to the Chinese landscape for generations to come.

The focus of this book is the 798th Factory site in Beijing. This article will aim to illustrate history from a reversed perspective and zoom in on the one square kilometer of this site, starting at the scale of China as a nation, it will introduce its staggering urbanization and modernization process. The Factory 798 will represent a significant illustration of these development and their effects on the cityscape. Finally different scenarios for the future of the Factory will describe both what is likely to occur and what the authors will argue for as desirable.

These scenarios will give an account of the hazards and opportunities China faces at this crossroads in time, when the economic surge that has lifted the country out of isolation is starting to reveal its limits and inadequacies, and only the market forces are defining the urban realm and society as a whole. In two parallel stories the direct correlation between the process of urbanization and the process of modernization in China is brought forth; The scale of nation-wide planning and the human perspective.

China forever forward

Two decades of open door policy has triggered economic progress and consequent urban development of unprecedented speed and proportion. China’s rapid economic growth over the past twenty years has lifted millions out of indigence, and introduced many to wealth – not relative wealth, but wealth in the western sense of pure purchasing power. Emerged from near isolation, it is today the seventh largest trading nation and the sixth largest economy in the world. News of 10, 11, 12% annual economic growth has penetrated every corner of the world and has contributed to an image of an advanced economy. In addition the growing awareness of the emergence of a large and strong middle-class desirous of belongings that expose their newly-earned social status, draws ever more international entrepreneurs to the new consumer market of China. Indeed, if the country’s major cities are able to maintain their projected 9-11% annual growth and per capita income, by 2010 there could be a population earning at least US $ 6000 per year exceeding that of the United States.

These figures, however, certainly don’t tell the whole story of China’s economic condition. The idea that lives in the west that all it takes is a clever entrepreneur, and a market of 1.3 billion consumers is for the taking is unfortunately misplaced. In actual fact, the division between the development of the coastal cities and the hinterland, between the registered citizens and the rural population, is severe and still widening. This split between the advanced, globalized part of the Chinese economy and the vast labour force of self-employed farmers is very difficult to reconcile in a modern society. It amounts to only half a modern country, half an economy; mass-migration and the enormous movement of human resources is inevitable.

The direct relationship between economic forces and urbanization is best illustrated by the most densely populated areas of the lower Yangzi River delta, the Pearl River delta, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Bohai region. As the three great "urban spheres" they comprise 5 percent of China's total land area, 20 percent of the total national population and will account for 65 to 70 percent of China's total GDP in twenty years.1

But the push and pull factors that exist between the growing affluence in the metropolises and the underdevelopment in the countryside constitutes a strong pillar of the current economic development in that it is the basis of China’s productive vigor. The shift to high gear, as it were, has been possible partly due to China's near bottomless supply of very industrious manpower. In this cross-fire of underdevelopment and accelerated progress, of communist command and dispersed market development, town planning seems to have evolved to become city building. China, its environment, its economy and its people will all be directly confronted with and effected by the results of this new form of urbanization.

The years to come will reveal where the new cities are burgeoning, what kind of urban tissue they will be composed of and to what extent China has been able to guide the development process. For the coming decade it is projected that nearly 600 million farmers2 will enter China’s cities to engage in (informal) economic activities. This migration will help push China forward towards a fully developed economy and a modernized society; at the same time, however, this will put an unforeseeable strain on the urban fabric. The so-called "well-off society" [as recognised in the recent 16th Party Congress] involves a civilization that has fundamentally urbanized. The challenge will be to provide work and adequate homes without sprawling the existing metropolises and to build hundreds of new cities as compact and vibrant centres for the future.

This makes for a very fragile equilibrium of hope and hazard that the policymakers and planners of China will have to operate on. At the projected population growth and urbanization rates the world simply has no choice but to believe in China’s success.

Ceaseless building ventures have taken hold of China. Shanghai reveals a new metropolitan core, Beijing is wrapped in scaffolding to present a new capital at the 2008 Olympic Games, and China’s main river deltas are zealously exerting a mixture of suburban high-rise and factories. Starting at the coastal regions, urbanity is sweeping across the country beyond the boomtowns and heading for the countryside. In its wake a new urban reality unfolds. We are presented with a landscape of contrasting densities, of architectural hybrids revealing the power of this transformation: The fascinating fused cityscape that it results in claims all our attention. This might explain why only recently the limits and drawbacks of insistent urbanization coming to the fore. Indeed, it is only recently that these issues have become part of the agenda of Chinese (and foreign) planners.

In the second half of the 20th century, China witnessed the steady growth of its population, from an estimated 350 million in 1940 to about 1.3 billion in the year 2000. At a minimal average annual growth rate of 1 %, China‘s population will grow to 1.7 billion. With average rate of only 1.5 %, a more realistic figure, the population will reach 2 billion.
In 1997 only 350 million people (or 30 %) were registered as urban population, while about 70 % were registered as rural. By the year 2030 when China‘s population is expected to be between 1.7 and 2.0 billion, China will have reached the urbanization rates of semi-industrialized countries (approximately 30 % rural and 70 % urban), no less than 1 to 1.3 billion rural people will have reorganized their lives in an urban way.3

An appropriate strategy of urbanization that is able to accommodate the large numbers of migrants is presently not in place. In fact, age-old regulations blocking migration from the countryside still has significant effect. Incentives and opportunities were created to encourage people to stay within the rural areas and generate revenues with small, local (so-called) “township and village enterprises”. But this approach has not reduced the uncoordinated growth of the larger city regions; and today these ‘solutions’ threaten to displace the problems of a scattered low-density urbanization deep into the countryside.
Ultimately a policy that is based on blocking movement towards the cities will widen the gap between the developed regions and the rest of China. It counteracts the implementation of an integrated urban network China should strive for. To plan and construct the number of new cities necessary to serve 1.3 billion new urbanites will require nothing less then a visionary strategy on the scale of China as a nation.

Who will build China?

Internationally planners, architects and social scientists have stressed the need for such a comprehensive and integrated strategy. And in China as well a statement of this magnitude has been put forward by the former minister of Civil Affairs Doje Cering. His objective, as formulated in the April issue of Outlook Weekly in 2001, is to build 20 new cities annually in 20 years, with an emphasis on large and medium-sized cities. The article states the plan will help improve the urbanization of China's rural areas and points out that more cities should be set up in the country's central and western areas.

The question remains which kind of cities this masterplan could entail and how this plan could be implemented. The power of numbers is in the case of China and its urbanization simply overwhelming. The sheer magnitude of the planning, design and construction tasks require an entirely different set of tools. The rushed and unrestrained building strategy (if it may be called so) currently prevailing in China won’t provide a sustainable approach for this vast undertaking, nor are any of the traditional Western planning methodologies adapted to accommodate the requisite scale and speed. In other words, only an entirely new urbanization strategy can rise to this challenge.

This challenge is multifaceted. From a purely technical perspective, China has the manpower to design and construct the vast architectural volume required. At 500 times as efficient as his American counterpart4, Chinese architects are surely able to design the stated 400 new cities before the year 2020; this is not in question. Construction parties pushing ahead day and night in consecutive eight hour shifts can erect the simple block structures with fast and cost-effective building techniques.

The obvious organizational challenge of such a mega-project can also – if by any country – be successfully managed by China. With the administrative structures still firmly in place, the necessary manpower and resources can be allocated with extraordinary response and precision, thus building what would in effect be a second Chinese nation.

It is unlikely however this approach would amount to cities that fit the upcoming class of modern Chinese urbanites. The last fifty years China has, like many European countries, unrolled countless numbers of concrete residential blocks. Today these neighborhoods no longer reflect the diversity of their residents. So the scenario of a new episode of government controlled urban development would raise concerns that more of the same, homogeneous urban settlements would be created.

More likely, however it is market-driven development that will give shape to the future of China’s urban realm. The sea of shiny glass office buildings, malls, hotels and modern apartment towers has had a tremendous impact on the larger cities. The centres of Shanghai and Shenzhen dazzle in the gleam of Western – and to certain extent modern – architecture. At present the harsh and disorganized arrangement of large new blocks erected amidst traditional Chinese neighborhoods suspends even the most conservative preservationists in silent amazement. Lively markets and modern department stores, parks and parking towers, small neighbourhood contentment and big city amenities are adequately crammed together. The juxtaposition of the commercial on top of residential, of small and intricate alleyways wrapped around bulky anonymous boxes seem, if only for the here and now, to present that magic mixture urban planners have all been looking for.

It is this kind of developer’s dominance that has towns and villages, malls and mega-stores mushrooming throughout the nation. Four hundred new cities are no match for the armada of local contractors, planners and policy-makers to plot by plot patch together. Even if the blueprints for a well-structured urban proposal would be produced within the coming years market-driven urbanization will most likely outrun its implementation. An obvious advantage is that regardless whether or not the 400 cities’ objective will be met, the population of one billion migrants can be provided with new homes independent of any planning objective.

But the drawbacks of this almost inevitable scenario are also manifest in China’s metropolises. Whole areas of old-centers are either slowly deconstructed or effectively demolished overnight. The onslaught of modernization steadily washes away the juxtapositions so powerful in the present Chinese city. The diversity in the down-town districts decreases, and the centers are surrounded by endless suburban expansions. The image looms of generic satellite cities covering the country, with not much more to offer than the average midsized American town. Then even the numerous international design competitions that China currently writes out won’t be able to secure a rich mixture of buildings and urban environments that today the Chinese metropolis still contains.

Planning the spontaneous

The image of China with modern cities and their modern problems might not seem to put forth any real dilemma. China is in dire need of a staggering number of new homes, built in new towns and cities, and both the government and the local entrepreneurs are eager and able to oblige. Possibly – from a European perspective, most likely – the fruit of their labor might prove too monotonous or not modern enough. At this moment in China’s development, however, I feel it is not for the West to advocate any issues of style or even sustainability. The centres might turn into common – somewhat anonymous – business districts and the residential areas might be segregated low-density suburbs, but every industrialized country in the world today is facing these problems.

The difference is that China can beat the projected demographics. Simply providing the quantity of city space is, as argued, not the real concern. Modern China is experiencing a shift in the desires and requirements of its citizens (notably in cities such as Beijing). Today China can anticipate this urban mind-set to evolve and spill over to the new cities. Without glorifying the Chinese condition, I believe China is able to reproduce the unique and dynamic qualities of its currently modernizing metropolises. One thing it can certainly do is accommodate the one billion new urbanites with housing and modern amenities. This belief is rooted in the knowledge that China has a fervent market and a solid political backbone. The unwavering enthusiasm with which developers and local politicians are constructing China’s countryside provides the solid stamina needed and the potential for architectural renewal. From a European point of view, the design sketches suspended on the walls of newly erected town halls and the translucent models of suburban extensions – soon to be build – lack however the appeal they seem to have on most of the Chinese audience. The new plans lack density, lack diversity and lack the testimony of time – although, it must be said, Holland too has its share of desolate office districts and nondescript residential neighborhoods that seem to edge closer without anyone consciously aware of it. My feeling is the future Chinese citizen will neither be content with prevailing monotony nor with a form of mitigated modernity.

So what can the government (with solid backbone) do? The objective of four hundred new cities as formulated by the former minister of Civil Affairs won’t be built on a clean slate. Any urban intervention will take place within the chaotic grid of 40 existing metropolises, 700 existing cities and over 12000 Chinese towns and villages. Recreating the density and matured quality of long-standing urban environments can be achieved only within these existing cities. The predominantly communist constructions that make up their body of architecture can provide the essential layer of history - as we see in The Factory 798. So the objective for the government is to collage and merge the designs for pristine suburban extensions with the present day towns and cites, building right amidst their structures. This increases density and reduces the consumption of scares arable land. The challenge on the national scale is to relocate the developers away from their natural environment of vacant suburban plots back into the existing centers.


More modern than most

Through the ages megalomaniac concepts such as the four hundred city plan, have resulted in the most enticing collages and detailed descriptions of the utopian. Today however, reality has relentlessly surpassed the imaginary worlds of the architects and planners. The truly modern metropolis is dynamic disorganized and dense. It has stacked burrowed and cross-connected its many layers beyond comprehension and imagination. With every designed solution its landscape appears to be less fabricated and more evolved. Coming to terms with this reality of the metropolis disillusionment gives way to admiration. Undetected splendours reveal themselves and the lucid market forces that shape the built environment can be observed objectively. As such the ideal urban context seems to deny the architect the conditions to respond with any new utopian vision. What remains is the search for pockets of possible transformation within the existing urban tissue. This implies current pressure on the Factory 798 site.

Then what might the future hold in store for this site? A few scenarios are possible. The only scenario that is excluded is that site will remain forever unchanged: In the first scenario, the site will fall victim to the current relentless urge of Beijing’s redevelopment. The idea of a modern capital with lucrative skyscrapers and shopping malls is tempting and realistic. Just as happened with the site near the Imperial Summer Palace, the artist community will be destroyed, its artists dispersed.
A second scenario presents exactly the opposite. The local government will become aware of the historical importance of the architecture. Factory 798 will become a monument, a museum, a tribute to the past of communist workers and their ideals. This is the other extreme (not to be ruled out in the country of extremes). The buildings, the machinery and the red painted slogans on the ceilings remain. Accordingly, the art and the coffee bars and the nightclubs will move out.
In a third scenario, the site will be turned into a green space. As host of the 2008 summer Olympics, Beijing assured the International Olympic Committee to significantly invest in Beijing's environmental quality. One of the measures announced was to relocate about 200 industrial enterprises currently within Beijing proper to the suburbs. - Beijing is striving to
become a garden city with increased green land coverage of 45 percent by 2010 and an average green space of 15 square meters per resident. A fourth possible scenario is a development with historic characteristics. The few workers that are still there would ousted. Their factories will turned into modern lofts for expatriate members of the creative class. The Chinese themselves, just as in Xintiandi, will come to think of the old rusty factory site as a modern place, with shops for Georgio Armani-suits and Rolex-Haagendasz. The nightclubs and the restaurants will stay, boutique shops will be added. But the artists will have a hard time. As the area slowly gentrifies, rents will go up, and as anywhere else in the world, the artist that made this place lively, exiting and modern, will not be able to afford to live there (a form of San Francisco syndrome). A fifth option would have learned its lessons from Shanghai. Just to turn an old site into a shopping arcade isn't enough to make it attractive. It needs an underground current, a certain sense of urgency, a place for reflection and critique as well. It needs both artists and commercial spaces.

The Factory is however not in our hands; it is not even our prerogative to promote any specific scenario. And if it would be up to me, I would advocate all of the above. We are pro demolition and subsequent market-driven redevelopment; because nothing should impede the momentum China has accumulated to better its economy, its cities and society. We are pro refurbishment; because a class of new bourgeois-bohemians, in need of large loft space, is elevating China towards a creative society producing innovative ideas and creating added value for its products. We are pro intervention; because art becomes better when under pressure. We are pro hands-off and; because art needs a ruff un-altered industrialized environment to sell, and it's selling! We are pro laissez-faire; because at the speed China is urbanizing urban buffer-zones are essential to absorb unforeseen future requirements.´´

All these scenarios would equally fit my propagated vision of a rich, diverse and dense urbanity. As the outcome of a new experimental form of urban planning, it brings together the power of a communist nation and the entrepreneurial thrust of countless individual planners and developers. Superimposed on the existing urban tissue a healthy and dynamic cityscape can emerge. To conclude, the Factory 798 and all it stands for, is the result of this urban experiment and does already contribute to the vibrant capital of a nation in flux.


1 Feiner, Mi, Schmid; IRL-institut Switzerland 
2 Source: Unated Nations Development Program
3 Feiner, Mi, Schmid
4 Harvard Project on the city; Harvard Design School / R. Koolhaas

China Real-estate business - Feb 2008

本报记者 刘辰 北京报道

荷兰人Neville Mars(中文名何新城)正试图将一本名为“你——最高指示”的白皮小册子传到中国各个建筑师的手中。这本小册子是他所在的非盈利组织动态城市基金会(DCF)询问了若干20~35岁的“买房生力军”后,整理出的关于城市梦想的语录集。
小册子的封面“你——最高指示” 有点儿打趣儿地提醒大家城市理应为居住者服务,“你”的需要才是缔造城市形态的 “最高指示”。这可是个认真的玩笑,它花了DCF两年半的时间从搜集到整理每个被访者的“中国梦”。这本中英文小册子的印刷不过是第一步,接下来它将努力传递到建筑师、开发商甚至政府的手中,让此三方都更关注城市生力军关于未来居住的“最高梦想”。

本报记者 刘辰 北京报道







Expansion and exclusion

By Neville Mars

Beijing as an art piece.

This is a story about Beijing, not about the myth of Beijing. This is about the real city, a city that grows along predictable patterns, illustrating typical Chinese development. . The myth of the modern Beijing is fed by projects such as the Olympic Village, the CBD and 798. The mere fact of their existence hopes to elevate the city to the global economy and cultural forum, their accomplishments spilling over to the rest of the city, improving the urban reality as time goes by. But 798 for one, as an incubator for art, critical culture and grass-roots innovations is no more. 798 is dead. The cause, one can argue, is authorities taking charge of its once self-organizing community. Perhaps it is just generic gentrification. DIAF, 798’s art festival has spread across the city and so it should be. If the myth of Beijing is to be realized, it’s time to look beyond the dozen dream projects at the city as a whole.

Slow progress
The city is man’s greatest invention. At ten thousand years old, the city is the framework of human civilization, the breeding ground of our trade and culture. Throughout history emerging cities have been planned, structured and designed, only to be restructured and redesigned as they developed. Ancient cities adapted to new technologies (sometimes with ease, often with force) to incorporate train tracks, air and seaports, logistic centers, tunnels, bridges, CBDs, entire transportation hubs, brain-parks and eco-belts. Our homes have been stacked into skyscrapers, our roads wound into clever knots of perfect curvature. Buildings have become flexible, facades inter-active, factories converted into museums, shopping internalized and historic centers preserved. As cities grow bigger and wealthier they continue to grow smarter, with more advanced technologies orchestrating their complex traffic flow, safeguarding against calamities, streamlining operations and managing over-all social and environmental well being.

Today the city has drawn 3 billion people within its urban realm. This is the ultimate proof of its intelligent planning and continued success. Or is it? If we were to design the perfect city, would it look anything like New York, Tokyo, Paris, Cairo, Sao Paolo or indeed modern Beijing? Would it suffer from severe congestion and pollution? Could it be made to serve the needs of all its citizens, instead of just a happy few? Would it big or small? Would it grow along with the economy, or would it be fixed, forever frozen in its perfect shape and size?

If only we could dream up what the perfect city should be, if only it was the actual product of our imagination: the designed city. Instead, we are caught in an eternal struggle to keep pace with the city’s self-creating urge to upgrade, expand, enlarge and encroach. Cities around the world suffer from shrinkage, but not (yet) in China. Here, we continue to escape the city only to be swallowed up again. Decades behind, China is catching up fast; unfolding in a fashion not too different from the American Dream that once was. The centers slowly grow more sophisticated and smart; the new-fangled peripheries stretch out in a mix of mind-numbing suburban typologies.

The Dynamic City
Urban design is only about keeping pace with reality. Indeed, at the Chinese speed of development, the practice of planning often equates to post-planning – retroactively justifying the emerged conditions, of which Beijing is a case in point. In 1958, after Beijing’s first decade of explosive growth under the Communist regime, extensive plans were drawn up to curb the city’s expansion and decentralize its growth. No less than forty new satellite cities were planned and population targets set. It wasn’t successful: the number of citizens kept swelling; the satellites never came to be. Steadily the proposed number of satellites dropped to 23, then 14, and then 11. Today three, those based upon pre-existing neighboring towns, remain investment-worthy. Over the same time period the population of Beijing more than quadrupled. This legacy, the production of proposals overridden by reality the very day they are presented, lives on. Beijing illustrates that in a market-driven context it is difficult to steer urban development in any planned direction. The sum of all the meticulously designed blocks and neighborhoods, roads and parks amount to just another big flaccid creature.

To design cities from scratch is even harder. Throughout the ages nations on the boom have attempted to define a formula for the perfect city; first in static plans, then with growth models along axis and vistas or fingers and strips. In contemporary China the favorite formulas include sub-centers, satellites and split cities. But the new city, from Brasilia to Marne La Valleé, has had a surprisingly bad track record. In reality, the success of the city, of the urban condition, comes with its ability to evolve; this is what makes the Metropolis intelligent. For better or for worse the modern city is a self-regulating, responsive system of supply and demand, all of its parts integrated in its equation. Take one block out, a bigger one will grow. Cut a road, diversions will occur. Invest in an area and rents will increase. But this wholeness doesn’t make the city designed – even if it were, this design wouldn’t be intelligent. Admittedly this is a bitter pill to take for a city and a nation bent on redesigning in entirety its cityscapes in a matter of two decades.


We observe the metropolis closer than ever. We probe her, monitor, chart and measure her progress. Slowly but surely we can define the city’s unique genetic constitution. Researchers – mainly outside the architectural field – are becoming better at predicting how the city will grow. This research provides designers with the tools to plan work within the anticipated urban form, rather than in opposition to it. But this in truth still doesn’t take into account the city as a whole organism. We analyze its anatomy, and then design alterations street-by-street, block-by-block, unable to imagine every detail, unable to control the outcome and effect upon the larger entity. Yet, undoubtedly, tackling problems such as congestion must encompass the complete system, all operations. Different elements of the city are interdependent: the size of the urban grid determines building typologies, which in turn effect urban density, further undermining public transportation accessibility, dispersion of work and living spaces, and so on. Furthermore, the chain is not definitely a linear one – any change will effect the development of the whole system. Change all the conditions or maybe just a few and the city is reengineered a new creature, a new Beijing. So, one must ask, at what point are alterations so profound that the city’s fundamental core is altered, its genetic chain recoded?

Modifying the metropolis
The buzz and debate of the 90s has settled. We have come to terms with the untamable city. Yet the question remains: how do we structurally improve the morphing urban landscape? To deal either with existing urban tissue or to expand the city’s footprint each requires different tools. If the metropolis has a mind of its own, one needs precise tools that can gradually redirect development and create insertions the city won’t reject. Equally, new cities and satellites are not static entities. Their ongoing growth should be anticipated, orchestrated by a framework from the start. (The Manhattan grid springs to mind. Projected on an agricultural island with blatant hubris, it has experienced a structured evolution from farmland to a dense cosmopolitan center.) However, this logic doesn’t seem to apply to Chinese cities. Their transformation is achieved either by superimposing big plans right on top of the existing city, or by the split city model: attaching an entirely new district to the side, leaving the old part to fend for itself. This is in contrast to the West, where dense regulations and a heavy consensus have minimized the impact of planning. In Beijing both of these planning models occur simultaneously at a large scale. With brute force Beijing’s anatomy is fundamentally transformed. Streets are widened; apartment blocks and office towers of entirely new proportions inserted. An immensely coarse fabric replaces the once incredibly fine fabric. All the urban elements are bigger, but are also spread farther apart. This has structurally transformed Beijing and as a result it operates differently. The coarseness makes the city hostile to the pedestrian. This is amplified by inner-city highways that cut downtown areas into isolated neighborhoods surrounded by giant walls of infrastructure.

The modern image of Beijing hinges on these mega-avenues aligned by mega-buildings and stepping stone projects. From the air Beijing reads like a belt of modernity that encircles a historic center (still being eroded), all embedded in a broad zone of dormitory blocks. (These living quarters define the majority of the cityscape and as such are arguably the essence of the ‘real’ Beijing. Yet this expanse of the capital seems to fall between the cracks of the planning debate.) Beyond the Fifth Ring Beijing extends in thick fingers of suburban high-rise and a puzzling amalgamation of villa-parks and village factories looming in clouds around them. Yet none of these realities seem to tarnish the myth of Beijing. Even though the target audience is very diverse, the city’s official image is projected with astonishing effectiveness, attracting foreigners as potential tourists/corporate investors, turning the Chinese middle-class into first time home-owners, and pacifying the migrant labor force with the persistent dream of progress and urban contentment in the horizon.

Stepping-stone planning, the insertion of mass-scale cornerstone projects, plays a central role in this strategy. In a context so pressured for fast development, it’s an obvious tool enabling government to take total control. But these big leaps pose a double threat. Architectural projects have swollen to the point they have taken over the scale of urban planning, its role all but negated. Residential compounds have privatized their public space and internalized their road systems – their walled-in streets converge to release cars through a single gate onto the highway. Moreover these star projects draw attention and planning in, away from any efforts to look at the city as a continuous spatial network. Increasingly the schism between icons and generic Beijing widens. The myth moves further away from reality.

The manifestation of Exploding Beijing.
Remarkably both the surge of infrastructure and the progressive fragmentation of the urban fabric are augmented by the same over-arching campaign to curb Beijing’s congestion. Since the 1980s, the expansion of the footprint of Beijing (and flattening of its density curve) from a once compact capital to what is commonly known as the Beijing pancake, has dramatically accelerated. The urban mass has effectively been redistributed over a vast plane and dispersed into small insular patches. In conjunction with the explosion of Beijing’s urban mass, its inhabitants are relocating to the periphery. They consist partly of middle- and upper class citizens following the exodus to the suburbs and partly of the floating migrant population. Without urban citizenship rights, this population is relocated by force from the crammed hutongs of “Lao Beijing” to cheap, inaccessible suburban compounds. Unlike the American suburb this delivers a diverse periphery of high contrast, not in an endless carpet of single homes, but rather clear blotches of walled settlements, be it rich or poor. They orbit around the core in a near perfect gradient of increasingly small patches. Trace these and the footprint of the city no longer resembles any of its maps. Shaped like a star stretching 80 kilometers in either direction, its circumference – the curving edges bordering the countryside – extends over 6000 kilometers.

The manifestation of Commuting Beijing
By 2020, a staggering extension of the infrastructural network should be in place. The transition to an open market has mobilized China’s work force. Beijing leapfrogs from one urban structure to a vastly different other: from the cellular urban structure, the “danwei,” or single-unit structure, characterized by impeccable spatial alignment between work and living quarters leaping to the suburban enclave, a cellular structure based upon complete separation and isolation. As a result, the numbers of daily commutes follow suit with the congestion of all transport systems. Any attempt to curb the city’s growth or to achieve a new alignment (aiming for some form of dispersion or independent settlements such as urban villages) is at odds with the intrinsic nature of the city: to facilitate connections! The city is the spatial network that accelerates people’s chances to interact, trade and collaborate.

To keep pace with the number of commutes in private cars, road surface is continually expanded. To simply maintain car density at current levels would require the daily construction of a three-lane, 10-kilometer stretch of road to serve the 1,500 new cars. Simultaneously a track-based mass-transit system will be established, larger than any subway light-rail network currently existing in the world. This will make Beijing a unique infrastructural hybrid of a vast network of broad roads and long tracks.

These two ambitious transformations, one centrally planned and one more accidental, are radically altering the constitution of Beijing. An infrastructural hybrid sounds good enough, but how can it answer to the increasingly coarse and fragmented urban texture of Exploding Beijing? How can we scrutinize its myth? How can one assess Beijing’s expanding periphery, when maps can’t be made fast enough? Or simply put: How should the modern metropolis be evaluated?

In the daily realities of Beijing life one acknowledges that most of the city is out of reach. From any position the city casts a pattern of blind spots – places too inaccessible to treat as regular destinations. Maybe you have a nice apartment on the east Fourth Ring; this makes it impossible to visit your friends in Fengtai district other than on the weekends. It is simply too far, too cumbersome. If you can afford a cab, you’ll have to be prepared to spend the morning in traffic. Public transportation is inexpensive but even slower and very uncomfortable. For all its complexity the efficiency of the metropolis can be reduced to its accessibility – the effectiveness of the connections it produces. In other words, the means, travel time and distance define urban accessibility for commuters and consumers.

Beijing’s congestion, though still in its infancy, is generally regarded as the city’s biggest problem, followed directly by air pollution. But if we consider the recent overhaul – the rigorous redesigning of Beijing – congestion can only be regarded as a symptom of the problem. We need to consider the root cause of congestion: the increasing inaccessibility of the city.

Beijing’s famous ring roads, numbered 2 to 6, already have a combined surface-area substantially larger than the entire historic heart of the city. To simply add more road surface will not reduce congestion, nor increase accessibility. Beijing’s road coverage does not equal the average of the West, neither does its car-ownership. The coarse inhospitable texture of Beijing means that for many citizens, the stations of the planned network will remain too inaccessible to be a comfortable alternative to the car. Yet, in fact, Beijing traffic researchers estimate the bus will still remain the principal mode of transport. For decades to come, as much as 80% of public transportation journeys will be made by bus. This statistic is likely to be accurate, as more and more residential compounds are built far beyond the light rail network’s reach and as large numbers of unofficial citizens increase in the periphery’s temporary settlements.

Insertion and contraction

The title of this article, “Expansion and Exclusion” suggests a direct link between the spreading of Beijing’s footprint and social segregation. Opportunities are not equally distributed and are often out of reach. Spatial disconnections and gaps are contributing to the disparity of wealth. Car communities are fenced off, neighborhoods monotonous, and street life disappearing. Beijing’s arteries are designed solely for technocratic and political objectives – to streamline the throbbing traffic and for prestige and war. This is not public space. Official public space is formalized, equally fenced off and controlled, in mega-parks. Opportunities for chance encounters, the type of social interaction at the core of urban existence, need a certain trait of friction, a certain smallness, and thus are steadily lost. The vast amount of residual space, the nooks and crannies of mega-infrastructure is what remains for Beijing’s bottom strata to wander and sift through.

Can we put Beijing back together again? With the inner-city highways in place, a solution for the rebirth of a pedestrian-friendly city– to patch the city back together – is almost unthinkable, an impossibility. However observant of future growth patterns designs might be, a split city approach of new developments in the suburbs will openly aggravate the commuting times of the entire city. And so, infrastructure is the remaining tool to reengineer the metropolis. I propose a precise insertion, using only the surface above Beijing’s ring roads. But yes, it needs to be BIG. If this comes as a surprise, some nuance is in order. However unreliable, Big thinking surely is not lacking in China, nor is long-term planning. But for the most part China’s fondness for bigness amounts to crude architecture and brutal infrastructure. Our plea is for smaller building projects that give detail, diversity, and definition to the urban space and interact with the public domain.

We have developed a hybrid transit system that accelerates pedestrians to the speed of a train. The D-rail combines travelators (flat escalators) with Maglev (magnetic levitation train) technology. The D-rail runs as a single continuous carriage around the city, its head connecting to its tail. There are no stations, it never stops, and you never have to wait. Commuters can get on board at any point on the loop. This pedestrian fast-lane hovers in a glass tube over Beijing’s Ring Roads; a small one on the Third Ring and a larger stacked D-rail on top of the Fourth Ring Road, comprising retail, a rooftop park and arms stretching out to surrounding cityscape. The D-rail makes the highway space the pedestrian zone, re-linking neighborhoods, utilizing the urban no-man’s land. It is a big attempt to bridge Beijing’s gaps, a giant gesture to connect, diversify and dramatically shrink the urban network.

The role of the D-rail is to absorb the millions of citizens living outside of the Fourth Ring commuting to and through the center every day. Public buses, the real mass-movers of today and tomorrow are already congesting the streets of downtown Beijing as they amass from the larger region within the center. The D-rail halts regional buses on the Fourth Ring to offer immediate transportation to any point along the ring and further with dedicated transportation to the city center. Every three minutes the D-rail decelerates, the doors open all along its 64 kilometers-long magnetic track. People transfer to local travel belts moving at the same speed, choosing escalators up to the rooftop park or down into the retail decks. Beijing’s massive Fourth Ring Road becomes a prime destination.

The hub is the heart
Infrastructure is the way to modify the modern metropolis, but how can one accommodate the 5 to 10 million additional residents expected in the capital over the next two decades? If any urban extension further aggravates transport, can we contain Beijing, and curb its brutal urge to grow?

In absolute terms there is no need for Beijing to expand more then 30 meters outwards for its 2020 population to live comfortably. This minor expansion along its 6000-kilometer perimeter of bits and pieces would provide sufficient new living space. However we can assume a city has its own tendencies, and in Beijing these are exacerbated by policies and bogus, speculative investments. The total surface of development zones expected by 2030 will fill the entire rural plane between Beijing and Tianjin.

The only natural way to curb Beijing’s expansion is by stimulating its growth according to its anticipated round footprint – not outwards, but by coaxing growth inwards along the backbone of mass transportation, along the D-rail. Within the Third, Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads densities should not decrease but increase. People should not be moved out of the historic center, but rather the commuter-dependent office buildings relocated, beginning with Beijing’s four hundred car-swamped government buildings and institutes. Moving urban function out of the center is the most effective way to curb peak congestion. Their new location: the Fourth Ring Road. Their new mode of transport: the D-rail.

Planning the relocation of the administrative center is not new. In fact, it has a history not unlike Beijing’s satellites. Only, when Liang Sicheng presented his plans for a new city center, in an attempt to create modern space without disrupting the fine hutong fabric, he was blacklisted.

The time may finally be ripe. The Fourth Ring is already a booming belt of modern apartment compounds, Zhoungguancun and the CBD. The D-rail would be the catalyst to connect all of these scattered points, a transport hub and retail loop supported by millions of daily commuters. With a linear park on its roof decks it’s positioned right where Beijing’s first green belt was once intended. The relocated government offices, museums, schools and institutes complete the network of connection, the critical mass needed to make a truly diverse new center of the capital.

Imagine walking through the Circle Center with the option to travel anywhere else in the city almost instantly. Unrestricted, uninhibited, you wander from shops to bars, through the lobby of a hotel, past the offices of a bank or business, always comfortably inside and always free. This is the experience of a public pedestrian network connecting the buildings to an efficient pedestrian realm. Yet, this is nothing new for China; Hong Kong has a beautiful pedestrian passage in place. But the Circle Center with the D-rail at its core could be something of a different order and appropriate to Beijing’s impressive reality. It will revive Beijing with a double by-pass and a new lung in order to grow a vibrant new heart!




城市是人类文明最伟大的创举。经过一万年,历经兴衰的城市俨然成为人类文明的框架,是文化与商业的温床。历史上的城市被规划、改造、再规划、再改造…… 城市总有它存在与发展的理由。今天,新技术的应用、新概念的引入让承载着不同历史的城市千姿百态。轨道交通、空港河港、后勤中心、隧道、高架桥、中心商务区、交通节点、科技园以及生态保护带等等带来了传统城市的新生(有时轻而易举、有时武力相加)。我们的家叠加而成了摩天大楼,道路扭结成完美的螺旋,工厂变成博物馆,建筑富于弹性,立面变得互动,购物活动室内化,历史街区被保护……随着城市空间的拓展和财富的增长,它们也越来越聪明,高科技被应用于复杂的交通指挥与灾害预防,关照社会与环境的福祉。





















北京著名的环路,从二环到六环的总占地面积比紫禁城还大。简单地增加道路面积并不能缓解交通拥堵或增加可达性。北京的道路覆盖率并不及西方的平均水平,私家车的人均拥有量也不及。然而北京粗放式的城市结构意味着交通网络的节点极不可达,相对于舒适的私人汽车来说全无可比性。然而学者预测,公共汽车仍将是未来的主要交通方式。在数十年内, 80%的出行仍将依赖公共汽车。这一预测相当可信,因为越来越多的居住区在轨道交通还未到达的地方拔地而起,而大量的流动人口也将聚集在城市的边缘地带。

Owned by neville mars / Added by Jeffrey Ludlow / 16.4 years ago / 94078 hits / 5 hours view time


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