[China, USA] As the United States engages in a trade war with China, French-Chinese relations are proving more and more noteworthy for their contrasting approach to international trade. Having set three cooperative environmental goals—addressing issues in climate change, sustainable urban development, and water security—the two nations are establishing a ripe economic base for international collaboration and innovation.
A project launched in Hangzhou last month could soon reveal the architectural and technological implications of this strategic partnership. With energy-efficient microalgae exteriors and blockchain-monitored building systems, the FrenchDreamTowers, designed by XTU Architects, are a stunning expression of form and function that feel like a glimpse into the future.
For thousands of years, the banks of the West Lake of Hangzhou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have drawn poets, architects and artists alike. The grounds, dotted by pagodas, lily ponds, rockeries and wood causeways, have been said to represent the “idealised fusion between humans and nature.” Now, a partnership between a Chinese developer and Systematic, a French business cluster supported by the Île-de-France region, seeks to continue the local tradition of harmonious urban integration with landscape.
The design of the FrenchDreamTowers is a distillation of forms from various sources, including Chinese history, haute-couture fashion and nature. The fluting, twisting, chimney-shaped towers recall—in various contexts and from different angles—such dissimilar imagery as a dress on a runway, the roof of a temple and the spathe of a lily.
“The large roof evokes the traditional architecture of pagodas,” Anouk Legendre, cofounder of XTU Architects, explains, “but the shaping of the façade also recalls an embellishment of fabrics and different materials, highlighting the diagonal movements of the design… a torsion which suggests the motion of a long twirling dress.”
The composition of the towers further operates to optimize the energy usage of the building. Although standard panels used in most glass construction today are composed of two separate panes with a pocket of air between them, XTU Architects plans to utilize that space as a greenhouse environment for bioreactive cultures.
“The cultivation of microalgae on the building façade is a process that has been in development at XTU for many years,” Legendre says. “It allows for a symbiosis: the bio-façade uses thermal materials to regulate the growing temperature of algae, which in turn contributes to the thermal regulation of the building.”
But the façade materials are only one part of the microcosm XTU Architects seeks to create. The shape of the towers strategically directs stormwater towards basins on the roof and ground. Through natural phytoremediation processes, flora growing near these basins cleans polluted air and rain before it is released into the atmosphere, while aquaponics systems embedded in the structure allow for the cultivation of vegetables, flowers and fish.
Delimited by these bodies of water, the ground floor serves as a public space that sprawls under an undulating roof, reminiscent of the hilly landscapes surrounding the West Lake. It is supported, Legendre explains, by a “large wooden frame which highlights both Chinese and French skills in wood construction.” A pool above it collects and channels rainfall while creating a central courtyard for occupants, and further up, the towers are crowned by tree-lined greenhouses which double as communal spaces.
A blockchain support-network created by Hangzhou-based Gold Truffle Engineering will manage air quality, energy storage and the multitude of environmental systems interacting within the towers. This will be the first application of a massive internet-of-things superstructure designed to address the needs of future smart-cities—stimulated in part by a Chinese commitment to spend more than $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020.
The mixed-use development is to serve a wide variety of public and private functions. The four towers will house spaces catering to Chinese demands, leveraging record profits in French exports of luxury products, food, art and technology. These include fusion restaurants, panoramic bars, hotels, spas, fashion shops, tech hubs, coworking spaces, art galleries and artists’ residences. All areas will be connected through the natural spaces as well as an aerial-walk, encouraging the exchange of ideas and future collaborations between disciplines.
As China continues to invest billions in world infrastructure, with projects such as the One Belt Road Initiative and the Baltic Pearl Project, the cross-pollination of cultures will continue to pose challenges and opportunities for the global economy. But with its latest project, XTU Architects proves that good design can allow these partnerships to materialize in a sustainable, responsible and mutually beneficial manner.
Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as French fashion, Chinese history and horticulture, the FrenchDreamTowers suggest a world where cultural and economic exchanges cycle as naturally as patterns of evaporation and precipitation—a give-and-take that engenders more than great architecture, but a future where the boundaries between technology, culture and nature begin to blur.
View original article at: China and France build on relations with new eco-tower
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