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Architects Design “Green” Satellite City

From a distant, aerial rendering of The Chengdu Tianfu District Great City
While The Chengdu Tianfu District Great City will cover 320 acres, designers left 480 acres surrounding the urban area as a buffer with valleys, waterways, and hiking trails to help preserve the region’s agricultural character and improve quality of life. © Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

A prototype for a sustainable satellite city meant to accommodate those who desire the big-city life without the big-city price tag has been designed for a location near Chengdu, China.

November 13, 2012—While many cities around the world are experiencing rapid growth, urbanization presents challenges for residents and cities alike—infrastructure can be overburdened and home prices can skyrocket, forcing many middle- and low-income residents out even as attractive amenities are added.

To address those problems, the Chicago-based architecture firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture has developed a concept known as a satellite city, a smaller but robust minicity that would be located very close to the main city, but designed specifically to be both more affordable and more sustainable than the larger metropolis. Each satellite city could be custom designed to fit the location, and the principles that guide the developments would include offering a convenient and affordable lifestyle that melds with local culture. 

 Perimeter view rendering of The Chengdu Tianfu District Great City

The Great City is designed to make cars unnecessary with only
half of roads allowing motorized vehicles, and all residences within
a two minute walk of a public park. It will take 10 minutes to walk
from the perimeter to the city center. © Adrian Smith + Gordon
Gill Architecture

The firm has designed a prototype for this concept, a 1.3 sq km development called the Chengdu Tianfu District Great City, that will serve some 80,000 residents near the larger city of Chengdu, China. The Chinese construction firm Beijing Vantone Real Estate Company, Ltd., is scheduled to begin construction on the project soon. It will be divided into four quadrants, each with a school, and will also include a hospital. Sixty percent of the space will be available for construction, 25 percent for such infrastructure as roads and pedestrian-only streets, and 15 percent for parks. The ground floor of most buildings will house retail while upper floors will hold offices, hotels, and residences.

“This project will provide all basic services to its residents through a sustainable infrastructure that supports education, commerce, culture, and an improved quality of life,” said Adrian Smith, FAIA, a cofounder of the architecture firm, in a written response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “The design is attempting to address some of the most pressing urban issues of our time, including the need for sustainable, dense urban living at a cost people can afford,” he explained.

While the architects catered to the specific cultural and economic characteristics of Chengdu to create the Great City, the designers contend that the principles applied in the design could be used to create satellite cities in other parts of China and throughout the world. The broader principles could also work near large cities in Latin America, India, Africa, or anywhere else that is experiencing rapid urbanization. Smith envisions a possible future in which a dozen such satellites surround such major cities as Beijing, serving a combined one million lower- to middle-income residents. Adrian Gill, AIA, also a cofounder of the firm, said the architects have already been asked to consider a second satellite city outside a different Chinese metropolis, and another region of the country has also expressed interest in a similar idea.

 Cross section rendering of building structure displaying the various floor levels

Transportation will focus on walking and mass transit; most of the
first-floor spaces in buildings will be devoted to retail. Upper levels
will hold hotels, offices, and restaurants. The design emphasizes
vertical construction and includes 78 million sq ft of development
with only half of that being residential. © Adrian Smith + Gordon
Gill Architecture

The concept is not unlike the development in the 1960s and 1970s of such “planned” communities as Reston, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., based on an idea that urban planners had hoped would limit suburban sprawl by providing all the necessary functions for a thriving community in one place. One major difference in this case is that the residents of the Chengdu satellite won’t need cars. The city is designed to be the size of the Loop in downtown Chicago, allowing residents to walk between any two points in 15 minutes or less. Only half of the roads will even allow motorized vehicles, and every apartment will be within a two minute walk of a park.

Smith said he hopes the Great City will be the first successful satellite in which every aspect—from walking trails to rapid transport, from housing and power plants—is designed in advance and in accordance with preselected principles. For this prototype, the architects strived to preserve the area’s agricultural heritage by using only a small portion of the total land available for the city. Much of the surrounding area is reserved for farming so residents who choose not to work in the city can continue their occupations and won’t be displaced by urban development. The design also leaves open space with valleys and waterbodies to serve as a buffer to regions outside the city.

Setting aside so much open land also fit with the goal of ensuring that densely populated doesn’t mean highly polluted. The Great City will use 48 percent less energy and 58 percent less water than a conventional urban development with a similar population, the designers said, while producing 89 percent less landfill waste and generating 60 percent less carbon dioxide. Seasonal energy storage will essentially stockpile extra summer heat for use in the winter.

 Another aerial view rendering of The Chengdu Tianfu District Great City

Constructing satellite cities may require a public-private
partnership to ensure rapid transit systems and other infrastructure
tie in to the master plan of the larger city nearby, bringing residents
closer to city life while still providing an affordable and less polluted
alternative. © Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

To meet these goals, the designers are following standards established by the U.S Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) program as well as the United Kingdom’s BREEAM “green” buildings program. The architects have already established benchmarks to measure whether all aspects of the development meet the standards advertised.

“We’ve designed this project as a dense vertical city that acknowledges and in fact embraces the surrounding landscape,” Gill said in a press statement. “Great City will demonstrate that high-density living doesn’t have to be polluted and alienated from nature.”  


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    This appears to be a step toward a proto-arcology. It would be interesting to see if the principles developed decades ago for those theoretical structures are being mirrored in the ideas for these new planned communities.

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