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[Beijing Forum 2016] Ecological Security and Ecological Urbanism

NOV . 08 2016

Peking University, Nov. 6, 2015: In the afternoon of November 5, the third session of the “Ecological Security and Ecological Urbanism” panel discussion of Beijing Forum 2016 was held at Peking University. Revolving around the theme of “Eco-urbanism in Practice”, five experts and scholars from different universities and institutes gave their respective academic report, offering us insights into how we can achieve ecological urbanism in urban architecture. The panel discussion was hosted by Li Dihua, associate dean of Landscape Architecture Research Institute, Peking University.

Accompanied by very ambient music, the first speaker, Alvaro Rojas, architect from the tropical country of Costa Rica was welcomed to the podium, and gave his speech on the topic of “Necessary Architecture”. Given the current paradigm of planetary interconnectedness between all aspects of human endeavor and nature, Mr. Rojas believed that architecture is inevitably intertwined with and should adapt to the understanding and interpretation of the context, from the specificity of locations to local realities and global influences. He talked about how important the context is in the process of the development of architectural urbanism and provided vivid examples from his own projects in Costa Rica to prove that architecture must be consistent with local conditions in every aspect, including natural, economic, political and social environment. As he said, “Architecture in Costa Rica must be tropical because it is in the tropics, and architecture in the third world must be third world because it is in the third world.”

Architect Philippe Rahm, the second speaker from France, gave a report on “Climatic Constructions: Architecture in the Age of Sustainable Development”. He spoke of how the fundamental causes of the urban design including climate, comfort, health issues were ignored during the 20th century thanks to the enormous use of fossil energy and proposed that,since climatic issues are becoming the main concern for contemporary architecture, energy consumption should be reduced and green energy should be used instead of fossil energy. In detail, by showing us the three projects he had done in Copenhagen, Samara and Taichung, he told us how climate could become the main language of contemporary architecture from the perspectives of air flow, heat and pollution and climatic constructions would do great good to the alleviation of status quo in global warming.

The third speaker, Stephen Cairns, anarchitect from Singapore, came along withhis topic “Urban-rural Ecologies in Future Asian Cities” . He put forward a crucial concept that urbanization is not a city-centered question, but that rural areasare also included. He thinks that by combining the characteristics of urban and rural constructions, we can create a more sustainable and environment-compatible architectural model that will decrease the negative impacts stemming from urban industrialization. From the perspectives of street widths, public open space and productive landscapes in urban city design, he gave us a concrete picture of how we can fuse the rural features into urban city planning. Considering the high density of population in Asia, he specifically attached importance to the infrastructure design, including water cycling, energy and resourcesupply and waste disposing system.

"Every generation must build its own city” was the open remark of the fourth speaker, Tom Verebes from the University of Hong Kong, which tightly resonates with his topic “The Adaptive City”. Mechanicalness is the flamboyant feature of modern architecture, of which steel reinforced concrete is the main material and modern technology is all about the displacement of the organic and the living with the artificial and the mechanical. However, ecological urbanism brings back the concept of vitalism and organism in architecture. For Mr. Verebes, modern construction must be functional and dynamic and have the potential to face the challenges of constant changes from the outside and the inside. The stadium built for the 2028 Tokyo Olympics is a good example showing how he adopted the concept of adaptiveness to give us a lucid explanation of what ecological urbanism is.

"Whether a city is a tree” is the question throughout the whole speech of our last speaker, Stephen Ervin, from Harvard University. Contradicting the famous argument from the architect, Christopher Alexander, who holds that a city is not a tree, Mr. Ervin proposed that though a city is not a tree, urban designers may have something to learn from trees. Trees and cities share many important similarities. For instance, they both depend on water and sunlight, both are climate-responsive and heliomorphic, both are energy transformers and storage systems, both are multi-scalar environments, etc. By vivid comparisons of the dendritic (Tree-like) structures between human brains and nature in which the tree-like structures provide an efficient and sustainable way to keep both the brains and nature operating, Mr. Ervin further emphasized that ecological urban architecture cannot sing without learning from trees.
 
Supported by the Beijing Municipal Government and co-sponsored by Peking University, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education and Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, the Beijing Forum has been held annually since 2004. It aims to promote global humanities and social science research and boost the world's academic development and social progress.

Reported by: Liang Youle
Edited by: Xu Liangdi