Beijing’s Anti-Pollution Face-Lift In 6 Photos

Originally posted here on 11/10/2014

Beijing before and after pollution


BEIJING — World leaders have descended on the Chinese capital for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and the city has been scrambling to put on its best face for the titans of Pacific Rim politics. That means doing anything and everything to avoid another Airpocalypse — the dreaded extreme pollution episodes that periodically smother the city in cancerous particulates.

Factories in the surrounding regions have halted operations, construction projects have ground to a standstill, outdoor barbecue restaurants have been shuttered, Beijing workers have been given a six-day holiday, and half of all private cars are banned from the roads each day, among other restrictions.

Massive in scope and scale, the experiment in environmental engineering brought several days of blue skies last week and briefly gave the world a glimpse of what Beijing can be: a gorgeous world-class city steeped in tradition and stunning architecture. But as the global elite prepared for closing ceremonies on Tuesday, a putrid haze once again rolled over the city and brought levels of PM2.5, tiny particles that can embed in the lungs, to 239 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO declares 25 micrograms per cubic meter to be a safe daily level.

Even that paled in comparison with the pollution levels that came in October. The city saw multiple extreme pollution episodes in the run-up to APEC, and many residents speculated that looming restrictions were merely pushing factories in the region to run overtime while preparing for APEC stoppages.

Dramatic as the air quality improvements were at times, they also hammered home Beijing’s own inconvenient truth: If shutting down a regional economy can barely conjure a few days of blue skies, what hope is there for a lasting solution to the city’s air pollution crisis?

Check out the comparison of clear skies vs. polluted skies and decide for yourself.

  • The National Stadium, aka The Bird’s Nest
    Jeffrey Kesler
  • Workers Stadium
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • The Forbidden City
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • Olympic Park
    Jeffrey Kesler
  • Sanlitun SOHO
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • Olympic Park

Can China’s 13th Five-Year Plan deliver more sustainable cities?

Article by He Quandong

China’s next five-year plan must turn the country’s urbanization ambitions into concrete, implementable measures, says the Energy Foundation’s He Dongquan

article image

Better public transport is likely to be a priority in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (Image by Yuxuan Wang shows Beijing’s central business district)

As China’s policymakers mull the contents of the country’s next Five-Year Plan, chinadialogue asks a range of contributors what they would like to see in the development blueprint.

In March China published a new urbanisation plan for 2014 to 2020. How this vision is implemented through the 13th Five-Year Plan will determine what China’s cities look like in the years ahead.

There are a number of points in the plan worth noting.

The overall approach to sustainable cities is excellent. It calls for urban space to be optimised through public transport, high-capacity infrastructure and mixed-use development. These ideas are closely linked to China’s energy-saving and emissions-reduction needs.

New concepts include: transport-oriented development, mixed communities,urban growth boundaries and intensive urban development. These point towards fresh approaches to city building as planners seek to waste less on unnecessary infrastructure, shift patterns of behaviour, introduce systems to support public transport and change the emissions status-quo.

As well as greater use of low-carbon technology, new energy systems, smart cities and energy and emissions saving, the new plan calls for industrial land to be reallocated to encourage the circular economy. This recognises that, as China has urbanised, the efficiency of land-use has been low.

Also download our special journal: Reimagining China’s cities

Next we need to wait and see how the 13th Five-Year Plan turns these ambitions into concrete policies and implementable measures, and how it coordinates action across different government departments.

Another change is a new emphasis on the role of small cities. In the past, Chinese urbanisation policy looked to major hubs, but now the government recognises that a spread of smaller cities is needed to resolve economic and social issues. This will require changes in land ownership, government finance and taxation and the hukou system, in order to allow for a new phase of urbanisation, distinct from a past model dependent on GDP growth and government land sales.

The document also stresses that China’s urbanisation plans must be both feasible and properly enforced. Planning laws introduced in the past decade have supported the idea of “three plans in one”. This is the idea that content common to economic and social planning, urban planning and land-use planning should be carried out via a single process. The hope is that this will produce more scientific and feasible proposals which, crucially, are more likely to get implemented. In line with this approach, the regional plans proposed in this new document will include the housing authorities, the development and reform authorities and land authorities – going much further than the existing system run by the housing ministry.

I expect at the overall level the 13th Five-Year Plan will focus on solving issues faced by migrant workers, the hukou system, and coordination across different planning systems. Urban low-carbon development is likely to be covered at the level of specific plans, with the focus being coordination across different sectors.

The combined planning mentioned above is mainly happening at the local level: coordination mechanisms between the Ministry of Land, Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing are not yet in place. If we want better quality planning then the 13th Five-Year Plan needs to resolve this issue.

This article was originally published in China Dialogue

Building the World’s First Carbon-Neutral City

Masdar City, near Abu Dhabi, boasts green buildings, a fleet of electric cars and massive solar arrays. But will the experiment work?

The oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi is well aware that someday the crude will stop flowing. What then? In a rather epic attempt to get ahead of their own future, the powers that be are hard at work building and promoting Masdar City, an ambitious self-contained renewable-energy experimental city designed by Foster and Partners and rising in the desert 11 miles from downtown. Now in its sixth year of development, the city, which is being managed by local conglomerate Masdar (with significant backing from the government), is well underway. As an experiment, it’s fascinating. As a viable hunk of commercial real estate, however, the jury is still out.

With one million square meters (247 acres) developed so far—about 15 percent of the master plan—and 4,000 residents in place, Masdar City is no small undertaking. Its “greenprint” is meant to demonstrate how a city can rapidly urbanize while simultaneously managing energy, water and waste, never forgetting that while “sustainable” is nice, it has to be commercially viable to remain sustainable for the long term.

The glass at the Masdar Institute Campus is shielded by terracotta grills. (Masdar City)Nearly all of the electricity in the current phase comes from a massive 87,777-panel, 10-megawatt solar plant along with building-mounted solar panels, and demand is kept in check by an impressive array of design features that minimize the need for air conditioning despite the desert locale. The site is higher than the surrounding land to catch breezes off the Persian Gulf; the short streets are narrow and laid out to maximize shade all day long; building glass is shielded by decorative terracotta grills; and a 45-meter wind tower pulls breezes from above and pushes them through the streets to create a cooling effect. The result: temperatures that the developers claim are generally 15 degrees cooler than the desert.

Nearly all of the electricity comes from a massive 87,777-panel, 10-megawatt solar plant along with building-mounted solar panels. (Masdar City)As for water, the goal is to recycle 80 percent of the wastewater generated by sinks, baths, showers and even dishwashers and washing machines as “greywater”meant for multiple re-use. All buildings must meet the equivalent of LEED Gold certification—a rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council—and use sustainable palmwood whenever possible. Interestingly, there are neither faucet handles nor light switches in the city. Everything is motion-activated.

One casualty of design revisions forced by the 2008 financial crisis were the Logan’s Run-style driverless travel pods that would have buzzed around the city. Instead, a fleet of electric vehicles has been deployed for now, but the main goal is to make the compact city as walkable and bikeable as possible, completely eliminating the need for fossil fuel-powered transportation.

As the city slowly rises around Masdar’s Institute of Science and Technology, which specializes in energy and sustainability, other tenants include the International Renewable Energy Agency, Siemens, General Electric and Mitsubishi. Together, they employ a few thousand residents, but the ultimate $20 billion plan, which may not be achieved until 2025 (if at all), is to accommodate 40,000 residents and 50,000 daily mass-transit commuters.

The big question: will Masdar City ever stand on its own financially, making it replicable in places where billions of government dollars aren’t readily available? It looks like we won’t know for at least another ten years, but in the meantime, architects and urban planners can certainly borrow the best ideas from this pricey sustainable playground and leverage them for worldwide benefit. Just be sure to bring along some extra water for the bike tour in case the breezes aren’t blowing.

This article was originally published by the editorial team at XPRIZE, which designs and operates incentivized competitions to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.

The newest Passive House building

Courtesy of 

Setting new standards of sustainability through the design of the Passive House “Bruck”,Peter Ruge Architekten’s project is a model apartment complex, consisting of 36 one room staff flats, 6 two room executive suites and 4 three-bedroom model apartments currently being built in southern China. With a 95% energy savings over that of a conventional Chinese residential building, the project is the first housing of its kind to be realized in the countries damp, warm, southern climate. Construction just began last month and is expected to be completed within the upcoming months. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Courtesy of Peter Ruge Architekten

This design approach plays a central role in the future strategy of recognized Chinese real estate development group Landsea.  The company’s plans to establish a research and development center in  acts to test, improve and implement innovative, energy saving and sustainable building practices in China.

Courtesy of Peter Ruge Architekten

Peter Ruge Architekten planned model apartments so that Chinese families, interested in the benefits of sustainable housing, could be provided with an opportunity to temporarily reside in the building. Through this direct experience, prospective clients are able to gain their own understanding of passive house living has to offer, as the building demonstrates maximum comfort and quality of residence. This aims to reduce any prior reservations had towards the success of passive house design in extreme weather conditions.

Courtesy of Peter Ruge Architekten

The local climate has shaped the impression of the facade: triple glazed window units have been specifically used in all private rooms and common areas, whilst fixed sun shading elements protect the glass facade in the warmer half of the year. The closed areas of the highly insulated facade act to protect the building shell from intense sunlight through a screen of colored terracotta rods.

1st floor plan

Peter Ruge Architekten, together with their client Landsea, and in cooperation with engineers from the German Passivhausinstitut Dr. Feist, have achieved an important architectural milestone through the design of Passive House “Bruck”, and the successful introduction of sustainable and future-oriented passive house standards to the Chinese residential housing market.

Architects: Peter Ruge Architekten
Location: Changxing, Zheijang Province, China
Team: Peter Ruge, Kayoko Uchiyama, Matthias Matschewski, Jan Müllender, Alejandra Pérez Siller, Duan Fu
Structural Engineering: Shanghai Landsea Building Technology Co. Ltd
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: Shanghai Landsea Architecture Technology Co. Ltd
Thermal Structural Physics: Passivhaus Institut Dr. Feist
GFA Building: 2,200 sqm
Duration: 2011-2013
Completion: 2013

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Achieving the Unachievable: the Bullitt Center

Article published on September 5 2014 by the Seeder team.

Over the past few years, Net-Zero Buildings have started sprouting up around the world, showing skeptics that, we can indeed create buildings that have zero impact (and sometimes even a positive impact) on the environment.

Just to remind you, buildings consume more than 40% of the energy produced around the world, making them the single biggest contributor to air pollution and the biggest threat to human health.


The Bullitt Center located in Seattle, Washington in the US is currently regarded as one of the most sustainable commercial buildings in the world. This six story building is the proud owner of a “Living Building” certification, one of the most difficult sustainable construction certifications to obtain because its 20 strict criteria.

The Bullitt Foundation pulled together a team of expert engineers, designers, architects, contractors and professionals to go beyond traditional building design and think through an integrative approach that would create a beautiful but energy efficient space.

And that challenge has met with success. In 2013, the building consumed an average of 8.4 EUI (Energy Use Intensity), whereas most buildings in Seattle had a consumption in the low 90s! And while the construction costs were about 25% higher than an average building, the estimated return on investment is well under 25 years. Not bad for a building designed to last 250 years!

The Bullitt Center has also benefited from incredible exposure in the media.  It is a building admired worldwide for its amazing sustainable features and has been featured in countless publications. It has set the bar high and become a symbol of the potential for improving the built environment.

Site selection

The construction site was carefully selected so it was easily accessible via public transport, bicycle or on foot. The building has a walk score of 100/100. The aim was to encourage people to commute in a responsible and sustainable way. The building does not have a car parking lot but a bicycle parking exists and showers are available inside the buildings for those warm summer days.



Emissions of CO2 was the biggest concern for the design team. The building is supported by a timber frame built on a foundation of concrete. Since concrete is one of the construction materials that emits the most CO2, its use was limited to the bottom of the building. The timber used in the construction comes from responsible managed forests within 1000km (620 miles) of Seattle.

Intelligent Management

While BMS (Building Management System) are not new, the Bullitt Center is equipped with an impressive intelligent management system that allows the building to interact with and respond to with its environment. The internal and external sensors allow the system to open the windows automatically if the temperature increases, to lower the shades when direct sunlight is too strong and to automatically regulate the heating when the temperatures drop in winter. Everything is automated for maximum energy efficiency and comfort.

Solar Energy 

With Seattle’s reputation as the rainiest city in the US, it wouldn’t seem to be exactly the right place for solar panels. But in reality, solar panels don’t need sun to produce energy, they only need daylight. The panels therefore produce less energy during the short winter days than the long summer days.

Yet, the Bullitt Center’s 575 rooftop solar panels manage to produce as much electricity as the building consumes. The extra energy produced in summer is stored to balance the smaller production of winter.


Water management

The Bullitt Center possesses its own underground 56,000 gallon water cistern for collecting rainwater. A filtering system exists to purify rainwater and an extra filter has been installed to produce potable water, which is stored into an additional cistern.

Wastewater is recycled on site, in the 3rd floor constructed wetland. The wetland is actually a green roof where plants absorb the nutrients. The remaining water is filtered and restored to the ecosystem.

Waste management

You might be surprised to see waterless toilets in the Bullitt Center. As the Living Building Certification requires, waste is transported to basement composters through vertical pipes and recycled right on the site. This will later be used as fertilizer that is both eco-friendly and odorless.

The Occupants

Finally, a building can only do so much. The occupants of the Bullitt Center are active participants in making it zero-net energy. Tenants have energy budgets they’re expected to respect or they have to pay a fee, computers must be 80% laptops and only 20% desktops and the “irresistible staircase” at the entrance of the building encourages the limited use of elevators. A large dashboard helps tenants track the use of energy and water, thus helping them better manage their office space.

All images come from the official Bullitt Center website