We Thought We Had Seen It All: China’s Latest Pop-Up City Has Sustainable Surprises Up Its Sleeve

Pop-up stunt architecture has become the norm in China; this year alone saw the rise of the 15-day skyscraper and clandestine recreation of an entire Austrian village.

All those lab-quality architectural experiments aside, China, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse emissions, had yet to make a name for itself in real innovation in sustainable living (with a few eccentric exceptions, like billionaire builder Zhang Yue‘s policy of publicly shaming employees who waste food). But, reminding us it’s still got plenty of tricks up its sleeve, the nation has begun construction on yet another pop-up: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates‘ master plans for Meixi Lake, a 20-million-square-foot city in Changsha, to be built, ostensibly, from scratch — with a green twist.

The advantage of building a city from scratch is the freedom to experiment with in novel water usage and management systems. In collaboration with Arup and Gale International, KPF seeks to “establish a paradigm of man living in balance with nature” for 180,000 future residents, intermingling necessary urban amenities like high-rise business districts and tramways with eco-friendly infrastructure and greenery not found in other Chinese urban centers. A network of canals would radiate from the central lake to serve both as a mode of transportation and venue for recreational fishing, an activity we do not recommend in any of the nation’s other urban bodies of water. “Water recycling in the city is centralized, waste is minimized through efficient building systems, urban agriculture and lake fishing provide a portion of the food, and methane is captured in the wastewater,” said managing principal Richard Nemeth in a statement. It’s going to be the Portland of the far east.

— Janelle Zara