TreeHugger has been following the development of Sky City One from Broad Sustainable Construction very closely. Paula Alvarado caught up with Architect Xian Min Zhang of Broad in Rio, where he was representing Broad in a number of green initiatives, including " UN Global Compact, with Global Environment Facility (GEF) and with UNIDO, which in Rio launched a green industry platform."
What do you do for the company?
I’m the person who helps the company explain what BSC’s core values are and communicate them efficiently across the international public. Because what the Chinese are facing with urbanization and what the western are facing with urbanization are different games: in the past 15 years, maybe in the past 10, the equivalent to all the population in America, 300 million people, have moved to cities. We are at maybe 53% ratio of agrarian population converting to urban population, and the government has set a target stating that in 2020-2025 China will be 75% urbanized. You’re looking at huge numbers of people moving to cities and our chairman has been personally motivated for years and felt obligated to do something right for the environment.
"China cannot pursue the American or European lifestyle, it cannot afford it: work somewhere and live somewhere else, using cars and roads to connect."
He believes what Broad can offer at this point is a different type of urbanization, that’s why we came up with Sky City, which is a compact way of building cities. China cannot pursue the American or European lifestyle, it cannot afford it: work somewhere and live somewhere else, using cars and roads to connect. There’s a statistic that says if China reaches the level of car ownership of Europe or America, with existing roads or even with future planned roads, cars would just sit still. And that’s pretty much what’s happening in Beijing right now. Everyday, the Beijing average commute time is four hours, Shanghai is two and a half to three. So the quality of life in cities is getting overly dense, overly populated. The Shanghai 2010 World Expo’s theme was Better City, Better Life, and we believe that.
With the Sky City, we’re anticipating that, in the first phase, 30,000 people could, in a period of one or two years, move in slowly, creating a cohesive social structure. These are things we can’t predict, we can only experiment with. This project is for a city that is much more balanced in terms of mixture of people of different ages, professions and income levels.
"We need to create an infrastructure change."
How are you going to make people feel connected and part of something, apart from the architecture?
Of course common spaces can be one technique to create social cohesion. But after having all these international negotiations and demonstrating our technologies to the public and getting generally very good response from government, civil society and the public who visits the pavilions (we had one at COP16 in Cancun which was unveiled by the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon), after so much discussion, we need to create an infrastructure change, really put our ideas to test. And we believe this is not a choice: if you see how cities are urbanized now and look into the future, you’re going to have an explosion of sprawling, air, soil and water pollution. If you look at Sky City, the agriculture, the air quality and water filtration are some of the top features of the building.