Looking Up and Looking Forward

Brief Note from Richard leaving China

I’m on my way back from China reflecting on some of the best opportunities and heaviest responsibilities I’ve gotten myself into since starting ecocity work almost 50 years ago. I first gave a plenary talk at the Tenth International Green Building and Technology Conference and Expo in Beijing. Then I spoke to university audiences at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Tongji University, Shanghai; Tianjin University in Tianjin and Southeast University in Nanjing. How my hosts at C&P Architecture in Beijing, especially Mr. Bin Fan, President of C&P, and Ruby Yangxue, my translator, guide and general assistant, pulled it all together is quite amazing—and at very short notice too.

The story is long and my space here short, but two photos and two short observations, one something of a confession, are in order.

Confessions first, so, as usual with confessions, I can then move on more relaxed.

Tall buildings

In my slide presentations I frequently feature images of the two big towers in Shanghai. I took the picture six years. I make the comment that super tall buildings are linear development. They are not integrated into the community in the three-dimensional arrangement of complex living organisms obeying the rule of internal and external “access by proximity.” One has to be relatively close to things in the environment (external), both natural and built, to have easy, efficient, healthy access to the benefits of the environment. So too for the organism itself (internally). An organisms internal functions work best with organs close together in a 3-D, not flat (2-D) or linear (1-D), arrangement.

I point out that the super tall buildings require massive commitment to structural strength at the base, hence massive investment in material and energy for whatever service is rendered. Such buildings are also given over very disproportionally to interior transportation, that is elevator shafts and machinery. They make sense only as an extravagance, drawing attention and money, mainly because people are impressed.

Confession: I’m impressed.

During my last trip to Shanghai six years ago I took three elevators through two transfers up the Jin Mao Tower to the bar called Cloud Nine. From the bar I looked down at ant-sized cars a dizzying distance below. Small ant sized at that. Acrophobes: Cloud Nine is not for you, even though they mix a mean martini (invented in Martinez, California of all places – look it up! I have pictures of the monument at Alhambra and Masonic).

Sipping away on the 87th floor, (a martini of historical reference and memories) I was one floor and 130 feet higher than the 86th floor observation platform of the Empire State Building. I was looking at the dark ghostly form of the Shanghai World Finance Center looming into the inky night only about a half block away, the towers crane’s piercing the heavens with blinking red lights warning gnat-sized airplanes to stay away.

It was something of a shock this trip to see the Jin Mao building looking downright small next to the still under construction, upwardly spiraling Shanghai Tower. I confess I like skyscrapers for the usual immature reason (immature relative to a responsible take on city design). Some things are worth an extravagant investment, like the Hubble Space Telescope for increasing our understanding of this beautiful universe. But such towers? On the door of the Jin Mao Tower is a big bold seal: “World Green Building Council Platinum.” I don’t think so.

Next two books

But now for the challenge, opportunity and assignment.

One afternoon Ruby says, “Hey Richard, that’s Qiu Baoxing at the next table.” And so it was, right there in a public Beijing restaurant. Qiu Baoxing is Vice Minister for China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. His plenary talk at the green building conference was just before mine but, like so many busy, powerful people, he split early and didn’t see my talk. I walked over and asked, “Would you like to see my talk? I have it on my computer right here in my bag.” Of course, he insisted, and I sat down for the next 40 minutes while he had desert to take him through our ecocity thinking. After the presentation he said, “I’d like to help you get your next two books published in China in Chinese and English.”

So that’s the challenge and assignment: Tune up my next two books and send them off to China via Mr. Qiu Baoxing.

Some of you already purchased and read the electronic version of “World Rescue – an Economics Built on What We Build.” Each of you are among the proud owners of the very rare first edition of that book, if recorded in electrons in magnetic matrix instead of ink on paper. Some of you even donated money to help me to find the time to write one or both of the books, via a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign. This book that looks at the interplay of economics and ecocities, along with my “Ecocities Illustrated” book of my drawings, are in what I consider very good manuscript condition. Now I have the home stretch to run. Wish me luck.

Two Illustrations.

1. cluster tall bui#354B82B

The giant Shanghai tower, 82 stories taller than the Empire State Building rises into the night sky over the also taller than Empire State Buildings Jin Mao Tower and, in bright blue lights, the Shanghai World Finance Center. Cloud Nine is immediately below the brilliant white lights on the top of the Jin Mao Tower on the right.

Photo: Richard Register

2. Qiu Baoxing, RR

Richard showing Qiu Baoxing an ecocity slide show in a Beijing restaurant near the Green Building conference facilities.

Photo: Ruby Yangxue

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