URBAN SELF-SUFFICIENCY in SHANGHAI: Fourth Year Studio at XJTLU
Since 1990, China urban population has increased 26%, reaching nowadays a level where almost two-thirds of all Chinese people are living in an urban context (Sun, 2017). This dramatically change is deeply connected to a shift in the kind of population under conditions of poverty. Before the massive move to the urban, social poverty in China was mostly identified with rural context, but rural poverty has decreased and urban one has been raising since the 1990s, reaching nowadays alarming levels (Riskin and Gao, 2009).
This fact is not only due to a change in the cost of living between urban and rural context but to a drastic change in the kind of economy: meanwhile the rural society is used to live in an economy of subsistence, the urban one is trapped in an economy of abundance. Differently from the rural, the urban way of living is devoted to an economy of services where self-sufficiency result difficult if not impossible. Social and economic segregation make difficult community support and the built environment contributes to make difficult any kind of infrastructures for self-sufficiency, and architecture is not neutral in this situation.
The city has been lately planned for segregating people from different economic levels, and this fact make difficult the informal exchange of goods and services that could help lower urban classes to survive. In some European cities we can find urban planning proposals (as the Cerda’s plan for the Ensanche in Barcelona at the end of the 19th Century) where housing typologies were designed for hosting people from all the economic ranges, creating with this a vivid social mixture with mutual benefits. Some traditional rural typologies in China are also based on the importance of this social ecology, with multi-family house where surveillance and survival are assured through communal cohabitation (as the Tulou houses in the Fujian province in China or the Tower houses in Kaiping at Guangdong province).
On the other hand, modern cities traditionally deny people the possibility to work in their own energy and food sufficiency. Energy must be bought through regulated markets, domestic wood and coal combustion are usually forbidden for ecological reasons (when is openly allowed for industrial uses), and urban farming and livestock is usually difficult or directly banned.
By the last, cities are also planned to delegate the waste problem to a higher scale, and so doing encouraging irresponsibility in the waste generation creating an urban culture of obsolescence and waste that is key in the economic engine of the city and, at same time, provokes one of the most challenging problems of the urban context.
Social, food, energy and waste self-sufficiency are ideas deeply embedded in the rural way of living and we argue is part of the shock that rural population suffer for adapting into urban environment being responsible for the increase in the urban poorness and unhappiness.
The self-sufficient buildings and blocks are the new paradigm for the cities construction. In Europe they will be mandatory from 2020. But for constructing buildings and blocks that are self-sufficient we have to create new methods of architectural thinking in which the (metabolism) of the buildings (production and management of matter and energy cycles, water and waste, information, etc) is designed in a form that is integrated with the natural structure and their function (IAAC, 2011).
In this brief we are challenging you to design a self-sufficient housing building for the urban poor, based in the idea of food, energy, waste and social self-sufficiency.
The food self-sufficiency will be encouraged through an architecture able to host urban farming and livestock in the city, guaranteeing food supply and promoting exchange in between the member of the community. Green facades and roofs, domestic farms and markets and different ways of long-term food storage could be some of the facilities to include in our designs.
The energy self-sufficiency will be promoted by an architecture designed in a rational way using passive systems for minimizing the necessity of energy supply. We will also think about the possibilities for producing energy in a sustainable way using for this all renewable sources able in the city. Solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energies should be explored as sources and new ways for storing researched.
The waste self-sufficiency will be stimulated through a way of living based on the three “Rs”: reducing the production of waste, reusing as much as possible into the community, and recycling locally most of the waste before being released into the city collectors. Organic composting, local exchanges of goods, critical revision of obsolescence, and creative reuses, could be part of our explorations in this field.
By the last, social self-sufficiency will be invigorated through an architecture able to promote a resilient community, based on diversity to encourage social interactions and exchanges. The block could be the place where people from different economic and cultural levels meet establishing synergetic relationships. A place designed for people from all economic conditions, cultural backgrounds, ages, and races, is the perfect environment for create a vivid community.
With all these strategies we intend to create a built environment for guaranteeing people basic survival and emotional stability, and so doing help them to be freer and happier.
-Sun, Wenyu. July 13, 2017. "China's permanent urbanization rate hits 57.4 per cent". People's Daily. -Riskin, Carl and Qin Gao. May, 2009. “The Changing Nature of Urban Poverty in China”, Initiative for Policy Dialogue Working Paper Series. -IAAC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) Self-Sufficient Buildings, course 2011-2012.