Analysis: China
JRM1 03 - 02 - 2010

In our duration in China we have been able to see built works ranging from thousands of years old to less than one year old. Analyzing the sustainable strategies employed by both ancient and contemporary Chinese built works has exposed a shift in which strategies are feasible and relevant. Extreme population growth has created changing needs and challenges that must therefore be met with adjusted sustainable strategies. The "Hanging Temple" (top right) is a Buddhist temple outside of Datong, China. It is sited on the side of a mountain so that the mountain behind blocks the snow during the winter and the mountain across the small valley blocks the sun during the hottest days of the summer. It uses the mountain for structural support (cantilevering) and for insulation on its backside. The Grottoes (bottom right) are cave dwellings for monks and are also located outside of Datong. The building method was subtractive rather than additive, and therefore all materials used were found on-site. The spaces are enveloped by the rock which provides year-round insulation. The apertures above the thresholds utilize daylighting, and the curved ceiling on the interior allows the daylight to illuminate the Buddha and the space below. While some of the strategies used in the two ancient built works directly apply to modern construction in China, many of them must be adjusted to what is now feasible. Siting options are more limited when building within the city, and population density requires building vertically (a greater surface area makes the building more susceptible to insulation issues). Building materials for high-rises and sky scrapers cannot be excavated on site. The most relevant alternative is to use materials that are as local as possible. Due to density, daylighting strategies must now take into account adjacent skyscrapers and future developments. A growing population introduces governmental organization, bureaucracy, and building codes. Building codes are possibly the greatest catalyst for shifting sustainable strategies as they introduce qualitative requirements. They restrict construction methods (the mono-materiality found in the grottoes is not possible in a modern city) and dictate severer safety regulations. The concepts of responsible siting, daylighting, and using local materials are all possible in modern China, but the current conditions require a newfound creativity to practice responsible design.

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