Don't You Wonder What Happened to Huangbaiyu?


The eco-village that never was. Photo via Shannon May.

There was a time when I scoured the Internet for info about the Chinese villages of Huangbaiyu. That's because I was writing articles about eco-cities of the future, and amazingly enough, Huangbaiyu, design child of William McDonough, and its housing project was an eco-city contender. I wrote my stories, aided immeasurably by a (then) graduate student named Shannon May. Other stories critical of the project surfaced. The hype was over and the Huangbaiyu houses ended up as empty uninhabited shells. What exactly happened? A partial picture emerges from May's new web site story about the village.Master Plan crumbles
As May explains, McDonough's Master Plan for the Huangbaiyu village was ambitious, and the housing was supposed to be a model of "Cradle-to-Cradle" innovations. Two model homes would show off systems that handled "biological nutrients" and "technical nutrients" 40 further homes would showcase integrated potable and grey water community systems, and a biomass gasification facility for homes' heating and cooking. And that was just Phase 1! But as May says:

"Conflicts of interest, desire for rapid scale, personal aggrandizement, a persistently global perspective, technical inexperience, faulty materials, lack of oversight, and poor communication, amongst other things, ensured that the promise of a model ecological development in Huangbaiyu never came to pass."

Now the shells of the Huangbaiyu houses sit empty, and McDonough has moved on. But discovering all the reasons the project failed has become the subject for May's doctoral dissertation and forthcoming book, Green Dreams and Schemes: Knowledge, the Market, and Development in, of, and for a Chinese Village. May has also, partially through her experiences in Huangbaiyu, committed to supporting five students financially in their quest to get high school diplomas, and has embarked on a project to bring educations to children throughout some of the poorest regions of the world.

She and her colleagues opened their first school in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year.

Read more about Huangbaiyu and eco-cities at TreeHugger
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Tags: Architecture | China | Cities | Green Building | William McDonough

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