by Chris Miller
Part 2 of a snapshot view of China’s sustainability challenge …
The urban fabric of modern Chinese cities changes at an amazing rate. The same strictures and checks on the development process that we’re used to do not apply to many of the jurisdictions in China.
When a development is approved nothing will stand in its way, whether that is the physical or cultural environment, or people.
In Zhuhai, hills and historic housing precincts are razed to make way for more apartment towers.
In Hong Kong there may be public expressions of disquiet over environmental issues but on the mainland public dissent to the dislocation caused by major civil projects is often dealt with harshly and summarily.
Outside the city many new apartment developments spring up in fields where formerly there were a small cluster of houses. Often these scenes are bleak and barren.
In the prosperous city developments landscaping is more evident.
Long history of landscape design
China, of course has the longest continuous history of landscape design and when one looks at some of the many historic, often world heritage, gardens one realizes that most of the principles of landscape design were fully comprehended and executed thousands of years ago.
I had a look at two large contemporary residential landscape developments in Guangdong Province. Both landscape projects are part of large residential developments constructed by the Huafa Industrial Share Co. Ltd, one of China’s largest development companies.
The first is a tower block development in Zhuhai: Huafa New Town designed by RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (PTE) Ltd., Singapore; landscape design by Belt Collins International (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.
The Ultimate International Club (a fitness centre), which is a large component of the development, was designed by the Australian branch of Hirsch Bedner Associates.
The most striking thing about this development isn’t the quality or design of the buildings or even its size, though it is large – more than 100 apartment blocks – but the quality of the landscaping.
One is used to seeing multi-unit developments in Australia where the curtilage (the enclosed area of land around a dwelling) is treated with the derisory acronym SLOAP: space left over after planning.
In these developments the landscape is very much a considered and integral part of the whole site and there is the constant feeling of expectation as to what will be around the corner.
The landscape is more to be viewed than to be engaged with, excepting the large pools and associated recreation areas. Generally there is an emphasis on the visually spectacular with little of the discrete private spaces that encourage outdoor relaxation.
Resort-style landscape trends unsustainable
The current trend for an international resort-style landscape is unsympathetic to the use of many endemic species and demand hard-edged and hard-surfaced platforms that have high-energy maintenance requirements.
Landscape construction in any country is an extractive industry and this is especially evident in China particularly in the use of granite and other stone. Massive quantities of stone are extracted in China and from Australia, across the Archipelago and India.
There are significant environmental and social impacts incurred by these mining processes. Transportation costs of internationally-sourced materials contribute to the production of greenhouse gases through those agents of transportation.
On the plus side, site water is managed very well with stormwater flow being directed to watercourses discharging to a large lake. It is here that the landscape does offer its most direct reflection of Chinese landscape design.
Grand scale granite quarrying supplies the world
Much of the quarrying for landscaping comes from the area around Xiamen, a modern and attractive city in Fujian Province on China’s coast, opposite Taiwan. In the hinterland between Xiamen and Quanzhou, 80 per cent of the granite carving that comes out of China is produced.
Massive quantities of granite are mined in China and imported from around the world, including Australia. This granite is carved by some two thousand factories into a range of familiar images for internal consumption and export.
Driving along the roads of these industrial areas one is amazed – as is often the case in China – not by the size of something but by its extent – 10 of kilometres of road where side-by-side factories of all sizes produce very similar products.
Old army flat bed trucks lumber along with massive blocks of granite; teams of road sweepers picking up the larger rocks and sweeping the dust that spills from these vehicles constantly patrol the roads.
Inside the factories, workers carve the products in what seems an occupational health and safety officer’s nightmare.
Chris Miller, principal of Impact Planners, is a Sydney-based landscape designer with an interest in environmental planning. In China he has delivered lectures at Zhongshan and Jilin Universities on environmental issues, written articles for Chinese magazines and carried out landscape design work. Chris is the immediate past president of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers (AILDM).