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High on future highrises
12/12/2005 8:36

Qiao Zhengyue/Shanghai Daily news

Imagine living in an apartment with no windows but being able to enjoy adjustable artificial "daylight" coming from several large LED screens.
This design may have to come true one day in our densely populated city, but for now it is being quietly showcased along with 20 other architectural designs.
The exhibits have been selected from the 50 projects which took part in the FAR 8 International Design Competition Exhibition founded by five European architects working in Shanghai who, in their own words, "share strong ties to our home country's architecture and the vision of creating a new cultural institution for Shanghai."
"FAR 8" means creating extraordinarily high density in architecture. Participants were asked to provide ideas of an architectural project of extremely high density and the site was to be chosen freely around the world.
The competition attracted around 50 projects from 14 countries. Now the organizers have selected the smartest designs to display.
"The chance to have their projects exhibited in the boom town of Shanghai is a big attraction," says German architect Viktor Oldiges, one of the founders.
Oldiges and his architect friends plan to hold the competition and exhibition regularly in different venues around Shanghai, open to both architects and ordinary people, namely "FAR Gallery for European Architecture." They will focus on other themes like "environmental sustainability" and "ways to reuse rather than destroy the existing city structure."
"Four projects treated real-life problems, such as a project by a student group in Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province who wondered about the fate of the 'White Elephants' - unfinished high-rise buildings left over from the 1997 crash of Asian financial markets," says Oldiges. "They came up with a simple idea: standard shipping containers would be fitted out as ready-to-use apartments and simply moved into the empty concrete structures. By doing so, more living space would be created without any more building."
He adds that this might be a very good low-rent apartment building for students, migrant workers and low-income workers.
James Brearley, one of the five jury members for the competition, thinks a Swiss entry was one of the few designs to tackle this urban design challenge.
"They developed a fascinating model of satellite cities based on the efficiencies of natural, cellular organizations," says Brearley, who is principal of BAU (Brearley architects + Urbanists) and associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
A Dutch entry which finally won the competition includes an outer ring of very small apartments for young professionals who prefer to amuse themselves outside their home. Inside, a sequence of restaurants, cinemas, gardens leads the visitor higher and higher into the building, into a new, vertical city. Buildings like this are the future of the metropolis.
"In Shanghai, so far only a handful of buildings make use of their verticality in such an advanced way," says Oldiges. "The Jin Mao Tower maybe, with the hotel lobby reaching from the 52nd floor up to the 86th. Or, maybe the most mixed among all, the Portman Center on Nanjing Road. It includes offices, apartments, a theater, shops and restaurants, tennis courts and a roof garden - a true building of the future. Ironically, it was already there long before Shanghai became the boom town of high-rise buildings and a paradise for architects."
Brearley says architects in China are unwilling to do research or criticize what is going on around them.
"FAR creates a forum that has been missing to focus criticism of Chinese architectural development," Brearley says. "FAR could highlight the problems of city design which is being applied to every city in China. This model is essentially one of the large-scale zoning and leads to cities which are unsustainable in terms of environment, community and economics. Perhaps also FAR could bring attention to the greatest enemy of the Chinese city - speed."
But since FAR is a concept competition, most designs will appear only on paper.
"I like the general topic for this first competition but I think next time there might be a slightly more realistic basis," says Kees van Schoten, an interior design architect from Amsterdam who is a teacher of the second-place team from Guangzhou which had the innovative idea of how to use unfinished high-rise buildings. "I know of a competition for unusual housing in the 1980s in the Netherlands where the prize winners actually got the chance to build their designs on a specially dedicated piece of land. The residential area that resulted from that competition is now a major architectural tourist attraction."
But Brearley thinks the plans on paper will have a lasting effect.
"If the competition entries are published, either in print or on the Net, an entire global generation will become acquainted with the 'unbuilt works' of contemporary architects," he says. "The built works are usually compromised by the real world and very few people ever visit them. The life of buildings is becoming shorter while the reproduction of images is becoming more widespread."
All the plans have been on exhibit in renowned Taiwanese architect Tung Kun-yen's warehouse along Huangpu River, attracting a large number of interested desingers. Since last week the exhibition has moved to BAU, an architecture office run by Brearley.
Well, hope that this gallery of smart, dazzling designs will fire more inspirations to help make our ever-growing city more comfortable.

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