Essay: Is the Formation of Newly Constructed Eco-Cities the Sustainable Future?

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  • Is the Formation of Newly Constructed Eco-Cities the Sustainable Future?
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Throughout the dissertation it is going to discuss the effects of new “eco-cities” and how they will change the world into a more sustainable place. The definition of an eco-city is;

“An Eco-city is a human settlement modelled on the self-sustaining resilient structure and function of natural ecosystems. An eco-city seeks to provide healthy abundance to its inhabitants without consuming more renewable resources than it replaces.”


The study will research several different newly constructed eco-cities and see how the design aspect implements how the city is constructed and the masterplan of the city. I want to look at eco-cities and how the architect has a direct impact on how they are constructed. As well as looking at case studies of different eco-cities I will also look at many projects by Arup as they are a business that are investing a lot into sustainable buildings as well has having a direct link to works within eco-cities. I am hoping that it will create the discussion of the broader eco-city but also focussing on the infrastructure and on the buildings that will make up the city.

Is the world going to be able to survive without oil and fossil fuels to power it? It is estimated that oil resources will run out in 2050, but what will happen after this? Sustainability is used every day in architecture and on a wider basis, people are aware of it but do they know what it actually means and what is needed to make the world sustainable? Renewable energy is vastly used around the world, in some countries more than others. Norway is a prime example of how to optimise the use of renewable energy and it has set the benchmark for other countries to follow. Norway’s generating capacity of energy is 98% renewable energy, coming from hydroelectric, geothermal and wind, it only uses about 24% of that as it provides for surrounding countries as well. This huge percentage is massively different to most other countries around the world. If Norway can survive and prosper as a country depending on solely renewable energy what is saying that it is not possible for the entirely planet to use renewable energy and be 100% zero carbon?

Eco-cities are being tried and tested, I believe this is how a zero carbon world is going to be achieved and the world can re-establish its life support systems and stop depleting its natural resources. Eco-cities are the way forward and the key focus is on renewable energy. It is said that the population is going to rise to 9 billion by 2050 and now most of that are living in urban developed areas, “The year 2008 marked the first time in history that half of the population lived in urban areas. The world urban population is expected to double by 2050, increasing from 3.3 billion in 2007 to 6.4 billion in 2050” (United Nations 2008). Due to this fact I feel it is vital that these urban areas develop themselves into eco/green cities. If the renewable sources are incorporated into the expansion it will be a much cheaper way of making cities green and it would also decrease the amount of new eco-city settlements having to be formed in an ever decreasing land mass.

It is important that there is a strict plan of action for how countries all over the world are going to deal with the issue of the depletion of fossil fuels and the ways in which they are going to find new ways to power their cities and towns. It is important to test these cities around the world as different climates have different strengths, “According to the 2006 United Nations Environmental Report, an area of 640,000km squared could provide the world with all of its electricity needs (United Nations Environmental Report, 2006) and the Sahara is 9 million km squared. It would not be possible for the world to survive if fossil fuels ran out tomorrow and we need to use technology as well as the use of architects and engineers to find a way to make renewable energy the only energy. Much of the world’s population do not realise how vital the switch to renewable energy is and it needs to be made evident to everyone, architects and landscape architects can have a massive input into the continuation of techniques and methods that are already in place.

Countries all around the world are taking an interest in eco-cities as they realise the urgency in the matter but China more than anywhere are really putting a lot of investment into sustainable schemes. Realising each countries strengths is what first needs to be established so that can be their primary renewable energy supply. Although the subject of sustainable living and zero carbon living is a very broad term, by looking at the different proposals being built and planned around the world and how they are designed, I can then compare how countries tackle the task and by the end of my research I will be able to form a theory of how the world will start to create cities in the future. I will also research methods of zero carbon buildings which can make up the cities; it is possibly how a large amount of the eco cities will begin their phase plans/proposals by creating buildings with zero carbon footprint.

Literature Review

One piece of literature that I have studied is “Eco-City Planning, Policies, Practise and Design – Tai-Chee Wong”. There are a few chapters in the book that speak specifically about Eco-cites and how they will be developed and what is needed for them to be successful. There are two authors’ points on what they think makes an Eco-city. As well as giving valid explanation into why they think these are the main points about achieving an eco-city they make their arguments relevant.

It is essential for the world to live off of renewable energy and developing existing/creating new eco-cities is essential to do this, “Eco-City Planning, Policies, Practise and Design” is aware of this and gives a general overview of how the world’s population is ever growing along with this and more people moving to urban areas it requires much more fossil fuel consumption. The book points out the threats and gives good facts on the subject showing just how real and important it is that action is taken, it states that the three main problems are; “the continued growth in population, the rapid growth of resource consumption with urbanisation and climate change” (Peter Head and Debra Lam, 2011). Unfortunately we cannot really stop the growth of population of where people want to live but the factor that we can alter and try to stop is climate change and this is by producing less greenhouse gases and we can do so by switching to using renewable resources.

Throughout it raises a few main components that are believed to be what are vital for a successful eco-city and what needs to be considered; climate change, energy efficiency and water treatment. These three things are just a small number of factors that need to be resolved to a very high standard and running almost perfectly.

Two authors who have been quoted in the book made ten points which they thought made up a functional eco-city. Kentworthy believes a sustainable city is characterised by;

1. A compact, mixed urban form that protects the natural environment, biodiversity and food producing areas.
2. The natural environment permeates the city’s spaces and embraces the city, while the city and its hinterland provide a major proportion of its food needs.
3. Freeway and road infrastructure is de-emphasised in favour of transit, walking and cycling infrastructure, with a special emphasis on rail. Car and motorcycle use is minimised.
4. There is extensive use of environmental technologies for water, energy and waste management – the city’s life support systems become closed loop systems.
5. The central city and sub-centres within the city are human centres that emphasise access and circulation by modes of transport other than automobile, and absorb a high proportion of employment and residential growth.
6. The city has a high quality public culture, community, equity and good governance. The public realm includes the entire transit system and all the environments associated.
7. The physical structure and urban design of the city, especially its public environments are highly legible, permeable, robust, varied, rich, visually appropriate and personalised for human needs.
8. The economic performance of the city and employment creation is maximised through innovation, creativity and uniqueness of the local environment, culture and history, as well as the high environmental and social quality of the city’s public environments
9. Planning for the future of the city is a visionary debate and decision process, not a predict and provide computer-driven process.
10. All decision making is sustainability-based, integrating social, economic, environmental and cultural considerations as well as compact, transit-oriented urban form principles. Such decision making processes are democratic, inclusive, empowered and engendering of hope. (Kentworthy, 2006)

M.P. van Dijk also believed he had created 10 points that made up an eco-city;

1. Integrated water resource management: closing the water cycle.
2. Energy management, reducing greenhouse gases.
3. Waste minimisation and integrated solid waste management.
4. Also a different approach to sanitation.
5. Integrated transport policies.
6. A policy dealing with pollution issues.
7. Anticipation of climate change.
8. A different housing policy.
9. Objectives concerning justice, for example promoting an equal distribution of the benefits.
10. Integration in the framework of sustainable urban management, while also managing urban risks.

van Dijk says “Kentworthys principles are quite broad and come from someone with a transport background” (M.P. van Dijk 2006) but can Dijk believes an approach with more of an ecological background would be more suitable for an eco-city. By applying the points that van Dijk proposes can be used to judge the case studies in the literature review and also my further research for the dissertation and it can be distinguished if eco-cities are going to be successful or not.


Currently throughout the globe there are several attempts of eco-cities taking place. One key example is that of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, it was the first city that was going to be run on completely renewable energy sources and construction was started in 2006. It was proposed that there would be a fully functional city that would inspire and teach the world more on green energy and technology and hopefully encourage greater investment. People often pondered why the UAE had approached Norman Foster Architects to design a completely green city, when they were “the world’s eighth biggest oil producer” (Wired, Patrick Kingsley 2013). In terms of the UAE being known for their oil and producing such a large carbon footprint it made Masdar abnormal as well as making such an impression on the world.

Fred Moavenzadeh, the president of Masdar Institute for Science stated “Masdar is being developed to show Abu Dhabi’s commitment to clean air and technology” the city was also proposed so that it is possible to have a sustainable and energy efficient city with nearly car free access in such a harsh climate. The harsh climate is also what makes the energy efficiency possible as it is powered by a 22 hectare field which contains 87,777 solar panels as well as more on roofs of buildings of the city. One technique that the city uses which saves an outstanding amount of energy is having all the taps and lights on movement sensors which allows for no wastage, it says it saves 51% of electricity consumption and 55% of water wastage. It can be argued that having a nearly car free accessible city is insignificant when all the working population have to drive to the settlement to then park outside. With this though there is a positive objective being proposed and used, and that is of electric driverless vehicles that taxi the residents of Masdar around via a underground level of roads.

In 2006 when Masdar was being presented and plans were set in motion it was looked at as being the world’s largest zero carbon settlement. Construction was planned to take place in phases and by 2025 there would have been £12 billion spent on creating the start of what might change the world. It was predicted that by 2015 there would be 50,000 residents and 40,000 commuters, windmills for electricity 1500 new green businesses and 10,000 new jobs, unfortunately this prediction was nowhere near met and it was down to the global financial crisis. In 2010 the completion date was pushed back to 2025 but because of the unforeseen circumstances there is currently no end date. Despite not having a proposed finish date it can be said that it was not a waste of time, money or resources to create what there is of Masdar, it is changing attitudes in surrounding countries, the government have seen everything that has been achieved and the opportunities and are doing the same, “the mere fact that a public agency is actually putting its money where its mouth is, and investing in an environmentally sustainable city, is something that must be a good thing. There’s so much talk about these things, but Masdar has, with all its strengths and weaknesses, created one” (Richard Burdett, Wired 2013), people are positive over Masdar despite the shortfalls; they can see that it is possible to go green.


Arup is a primarily Structural Engineer based business that first became well known for working on the Sydney Opera House and Pompidou Centre in Paris. Arup have worked on landmark projects all over the world and are one of the largest Structural Engineers around. On their website they state that their projects are known “for delivering innovative and sustainable designs that reinvent the built environment” (Arup), such a statement is what makes Arup very relevant to this study. Having worked on several high profile projects it is important that Arup make clear that they are proposing a sustainable option for the projects that will be able to be constructed with minimal carbon footprint. In my proposal it will discuss their works in Tianjin but in the dissertation it will go deeper into Arup’s works and how great an impact they have on sustainable architecture in eco-cities.

Tianjin (also known as Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city) a city which is a collaboration between Chinese and Singapore to create a balance society, green environment and energy resource conserving city in China south west of Beijing. Tianjin as the third largest urban area in China behind Beijing and Shanghai, with Tianjin though most of the area is farmland so has a lot of opportune areas. It was proposed that business, leisure and residential areas would all be in walking distance to restrict the need for motor vehicles and decrease carbon emissions. Tianjin would have a 350,000 population and there would be green space throughout as well as having social and economic harmony.

Arup have quite the influence on Tianjin as they are dealing with several projects around the city most prolifically is Goldin Finance 117. Golding Finance 117 is going to be a mixed use high rise multi-use building and when finished will be the tallest building in Tianjin, standing at 600m tall. Arup are in charge of the structural, geotechnical, wind and façade engineering on the Goldin Building which are all very important to the integrity of the project. Although Arup are already a business that has sustainability as one of their objectives with every project it is more important now than ever on this project as it is in a proposed eco-city and the client has stated that it is the main focus for the high rise building. Being such an iconic building for Tianjin it could be debated that Goldin Finance is Arup’s most important project as it will pave the way for future projects if they manage to find suitable ways to achieve a sustainable resolution to the construction. Other projects that Arup are working on in Tianjin are; The Aquatic Centre, Tianjin Kerry Centre (a mixed use commercial development and Hang Lung Plaza, a 153km2 shopping mall. So despite the Goldin Finance 117 being the most important project in Tianjin there are also several other projects that Arup must produce construction techniques that produce zero or as close to zero as possible carbon footprint.

Having such an impact on the development of Tianjin Arup are also producing a strategy for Wanzhuang, an eco-city located halfway between Beijing and Tianjin. A settlement that will be 80km2 and by 2025 will have a population of 400,000. One of the main agendas is conserving the productive land and agricultural heritage. Wanzhuang has the opportunity to create a different form of eco-city to what people tend to imagine, due to agricultural land depleting rapidly due to urbanisation there is the opportunity for the eco-city to focus on agriculture. Arup got a design team together to prepare the sustainable masterplan which would focus and integrate “urban design, landscape, agricultural, economic development, cultural, sustainable resettlement, transport, logistics, energy, water, waste and resources, environmental, and commercial framework strategies.” (Arup). The mixed use settlement would branch off of the already existing village and use the urban fabric and the landscape to incorporate itself into the “Beijing-Tianjin corridor”.

Data Collecting

My main source of gathering data will be from case studies on various eco-cities around the world. I will study what initially created the city or the change to the existing, why the government decided to step up and produce an eco-city, as well as what the cities are primarily going to use as their energy source and what techniques they are undertaking to make it a sustainable and growing city which is a pleasurable location to live. Not only will I look at the case studies but I will also look at Arup, a Structural Engineer who has a big impact in the sustainable future currently and has its hands on a lot of projects which are involves with eco-cities and also creating a proposal for an eco-city currently.

As well as stating all facts and stats about what cities and countries plan on doing with new developments or what they have already achieved I believe it will be useful to discuss data that governments have predicted for the future. For example; how many years it will take for them to become zero carbon. By doing this it will help to make the subject matter more real and less theory based. Stat predictions could potentially see a change in the way that countries deal with eco-cities and persuade them to make moves sooner. By showing more tables and data it will also lead to further discussion as there might be trends that are formed as well as different theories.

Research Schedule

Start Date End Date
Dissertation 10/1/16 28/4/16
Research 10/1/16 25/1/16
Literature Review 25/1/16 14/2/16
Case Study Analysis 15/2/16 10/3/16
Data Analysis 10/3/16 20/3/16
Construction of Theory 22/3/16 9/4/16
Conclude Findings 10/4/16 15/4/16
Final Check/Corrections 15/4/16 28/4/16



The argument being had is whether we should be using energy and money to make brand new sustainable cities or working on how to make the existing more sustainable, “How do we make ancient, densely packed cities such as London, Mumbai and Cairo more sustainable?”. It might be worth stating that maybe we don’t make them more sustainable and just concentrate on new build cities which will be completely green and leave the existing cities to carry on as they are.

It can be seen that I researched two different eco-cities in two very different countries with different histories. Masdar is a completely new infrastructure that is located in the middle of the desert that stopped its phase construction due to the global financial crisis which left the city being underwhelming to what was envisaged. Despite the stop in construction it still made very large statements to the world and opens the eyes of the population.

Discussing the work of Arup is also what will be a large part of the study and their effect on how the design aspect is effecting how eco-cities are formed and laid out. They are trying to find sustainable methods in construction and this comes with restraints


Nowadays with any new architectural intervention or building it is always crucial that we try to figure out a way to be sympathetic towards the environment and there needs to be significant research into what factors/methods you might use to do so. With the proposed settlement that we are designing it states in the brief that it needs to have suitable sources of renewable energy and ways to decrease the carbon footprint in production. Norway is one of few countries that already uses renewable energy as its main energy output so it is vital that we continue with this country wide method and if not build on what has already been established and make the settlement as close as possible to net zero carbon. By research and writing about this topic it will allow me to implement the techniques and findings of the dissertation and see if they can be used for the studio project.

A sustainable future is essential to any architects role in the profession today and will be for many years to come until a solution is found. All the way through university it is always a factor in ever design project that you are asked to do, we are aware of the problem and universities are trying to be proactive and teach students as soon as possible in the hope that they can take it forward and help to find the solution for our future. We are taught all the ins and outs of how to make buildings sustainable and decrease the carbon footprint but also how eco-cities can be formed and what is necessary, by being shown examples it makes the future eco-city a lot more real and opens our eyes to the possibilities and what some of us may well be designing in the future.

No matter how many years we still have of oil being our number one energy resource it is still necessary for architects to try and find ways in which eco-cities are more possible and techniques to make the switch from oil to renewable energy as easy as possible. Taking time to go further into the subject and writing about it allows me to expand my knowledge greater on something that is necessary to me being an architect. I feel it is a good decision to write about sustainable living and eco-cities as it will benefit me for years to come and might shape how I design in the future.

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