Over the next 12 years, the Chinese government plans to move 250 million people from farms and villages to newly built cities. At the same time, some city dwellers are starting to escape back to the countryside, fed up with certain aspects of city life, like air pollution in Beijing that some scientists are now comparing to nuclear winter. A new development in Kunming hopes to offer a little of both urban and rural life: Sustainable buildings are built in the middle of a functioning farm.
The “Flavours Orchard” project, designed by French architect Vincent Callebaut near the city of Kunming in southwest China, will be built on 22 acres of former industrial wasteland. It’s a way for China to “slow down the massive rural exodus it suffers by the creation of new urban prototypes mixing all the advantages of the city and the countryside,” Callebaut writes on his website.
Each of the huge, light-filled houses in the design is energy-efficient, and intended to produce more power than it consumes, thanks to renewable sources like solar panels and geothermal heat exchangers. The houses will be hooked into an on-site smart grid, so extra power can be stored in fuel cells. Electric cars and bikes in underground garages can also store electricity.
Outside, the homes will be surrounded by a huge orchard and vegetable garden. “The objective is to repatriate the production of the organic agriculture in the heart of the city, center of its consumption,” Callebaut writes. The garden is also intended to help neighbors meet each other as they grow food. "It’s an urban landscape open to everybody without fences between the villas, in favor of the neighborhood relationships and the intercultural and intergenerational social links," he writes.
The neighborhood will have three different types of homes, each with state-of-the-art sustainable features. The "Mobius Villa," designed in a loop, combines a vegetable garden on the roof with photovoltaic glass. Shutters in glass walls automatically pivot throughout the day to regulate heat and light. The "Mountain Villa" uses panels filled with algae to produce bio-hydrogen. The "Shell Villa" is built around a wind turbine.
We couldn't reach Callebaut to find out when, or even if, this development will break ground. But if it does get built, it could serve as a model for China's other new cities.