Designing Sustainably in China

5+design in Los Angeles is working with Chinese planners to create sustainable cities to house a population of over 350 billion—roughly a thousand times larger than the US.

Managing Principal at 5+design, Michael Ellis, has been working in China, as well as other Mideast and Asian countries, for over 10 years. During that time he has seen the quality of the work in China increase exponentially. He added, “There is so much development in China that there is a competition to create something interesting.” 

As China faces pollution and other environmental issues, the country is seeking sustainable solutions to growth. Mr. Ellis said a great deal of money is going into transportation, creating hubs for commerce, business and residential buildings. Since Chinese cities tend to be relatively dense, the emphasis is on integrated communities with mixed use so that people can easily get to work, shopping, entertainment, schools and so forth. Mr. Ellis finds that money is being invested in siting projects so that they are energy efficient. Two of 5+design’s projects are good examples of how cities are evolving.

Diamond Hill in Shenyang

Shenyang is the capital and largest city of Liaoning Province, as well as the largest city in Northeast China. Its cold northern location has created both the challenge and the opportunity. Inspired by the mountains of traditional Chinese landscape paintings, Diamond Hill’s sophisticated design evolved from mapping sunlight onto the site, creating a layered design that met strict local residential code for a minimum of 2 hours of sunlight on the shortest day of the year. Diamond Hill’s mountainous profile was created by trimming away areas that blocked sun access to residences, giving the project a radically different look and feel from all sides. 

A four-story mall is topped by a roof garden and large skylights to protect against severe winters. The mall is circled by offices and the residential buildings. 5+design’s palette of materials will further enhance the landscape metaphor, with exteriors featuring alternating panels of glass and porcelain to evoke textured layers of sedimentary rock. In the middle of the project, an atrium symbolizes a pristine lake, with skylights of translucent glass—like a series of mountain lakes—allow light to filter down through all floors.

“Due to the severity of the climate where the project is located, Diamond Hill has required a great deal of pre-design analysis which has affected the final form,” said Mr. Ellis.

Park Place in Wuhan

​Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province, and is the most populous city in Central China. 5+design’s project, Park Place, mixes nature and urban life together, creating a central theme that runs throughout the project’s retail, residential and office use. The project will create walkable districts and neighborhoods that center around transit stations, creating a pedestrianfriendly environment. By mixing nature and urban living together, the project will provide access to goods, services, social and cultural amenities that will make the project self-sufficient while remaining open and connected to the city. The project’s large residential and office towers are angled and interspersed with finger parks that stretch from the project’s green space to the riverfront. A sky bridge allows natural light into a corporate plaza located in the project’s office towers.  An urban farm will don the rooftop of the retail podium, providing education on sustainability and organic gardening opportunities for the surrounding community. “This project is expected to bring a new element to the mix of how a community interacts with the built environment,” said Mr. Ellis, “And hopefully will showcase a new method to bring often polarized design uses together.” Spanning just over 20 acres, the project will become Wuhan’s first lifestyle center whose design intent aims to maximize community use of its facilities.