In common with many modern western houses, dwellings at Huafa Ecological Manor must make a big ecological footprint

Part 3 of a snapshot view of China’s sustainability challenge by Australian landscape designer, Chris Miller.

In my last piece I talked about the extensive landscaping of the tower block development, Huafa New Town, located in the city of Zhuhai in Guandong province. While being visually rich, Huafa New Town is something that is not so unexpected, knowing the heady state of China’s economy. Huafa Ecological Manor is another thing altogether.

Designed by US architects Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) and Fiji architects, AP, with landscape design by Belt Collins International (Singapore) the name makes some big claims.

Situated in countryside near the city of Zhongshan, an hour’s drive from Zhuhai and equidistant from the much larger city of Guangzhou, the feeling on approach is one of dislocation. This is a gated community for rich people.

The dwellings are large with familiar architectural features, yet with a Chinese cast; the houses sit well in the landscape. Inside, a typical dwelling looks pretty much the same as everywhere else though there are rooms that are particularly Chinese: rooms devoted to massage, for example, but overwhelmingly one has the feeling that one has been parachuted into Bella Vista in Sydney’s west or any other homogenous middle class community in the western world.

These dwellings, in common with many modern western houses, must make a big ecological footprint: the rooms are large with high ceilings, sometimes with the appearance of having doubtful utility, and the rooms have lots of glazing. In this sub-tropical environment there will be a lot of energy consumption to keep them cool in summer and heat them in winter.

Stormwater at Huafa Ecological Manor is collected and feeds the extensive series of lakes that surround the development.

As with Huafa New Town, stormwater is collected and feeds the extensive series of lakes that surround the development. This water is used in the maintenance of the gardens.

The original landform hasn’t been altered so that there is a pleasing variety in the undulating streetscape and all the existing site trees have been maintained.

The overwhelming feeling is that these developments are emblematic of where China is heading: the architecture and landscape design have much more of a western than eastern flavour; which I guess is the point. Though this is itself ironic because much of contemporary western landscape design is a pastiche of appropriated themes from eastern design.

Zhuhai government has recently made many important steps in protecting the urban environment with the recent policies of water conservation and flood mitigation, conservation construction and upgrading domestic sewerage and drainage as well refuse burning and land use controls.

There’s a fine example of renewable energy generation in the wind farm to the south of the city. The interest will lie in watching how modern China can balance increased energy consumption associated with wealth creation.

With the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) there has been a big downturn in the rate of development in China. The housing market is overstocked and prices have fallen.

This has tempered the rate of enviornmental stress but in China it is the power of the various levels of government that has the most potential to force dramatic change for the good of the environment.

Chris Miller at the Huafa Tower, China

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).

impactplanners@fastmail.fm.