Just last week, we published the outstanding winners of the 2011 Regional Holcim Awards for the Asia Pacific Region which celebrates smart, sustainable solutions in architecture and construction. Taking the top prize in the program's “Next Generation” category was MIT student August Liau for a project to increase bicycle commuting in Beijing, China. The project advocates pedal power as a dynamic alternative for urban transit and recalls its well-proven potential in the world’s former cycling capital.
Following is the proposal in detail.
Project Description from the Architect:
This project intends to be a catalyst for a renewed bicycle culture in Beijing, the capital of the former “Bicycle Kingdom”. Beijing, having more bicycles than any other city in the world just 15 years ago, has in recent years undergone a drastic shift to become a city consumed by cars and highways. This has produced disruptive voids in the traditional small-scale fabric of the city that once made the old city unique. It has also produced some of the highest traffic volumes, longest automobile commute times, and some of the highest levels of air pollution among major world cities. This ironic transformation from a city dependent on the most sustainable form of transit to one that is gridlocked by the form that is the least sustainable is what this project critiques.
Recognizing that this shift is largely attributed to the changing culture of the citizens as they gain higher economic status, the project aims to create a place to generate an attractive counter-culture to the current trend toward motor vehicles. It will target the population of the growing white-collar working class as its main audience, as they are the ones who are setting the trends of contemporary transportation in Beijing.
The proposal is a new building typology for the city - a bicycle commute center which will occupy the urban void space produced by the highways. The center will provide an ‘oasis’ in the city, a place which promotes a lifestyle of wellness and sustainability centered around the daily bicycle commute - a lifestyle antithetical to that of the motor vehicle. The guiding metaphor for the project is the “auto”-mobile lifestyle, derived from the literal meaning of the phrase for bicycle in Chinese: “zi” (auto/self) “xing” (mobile/sufficient) “che” (vehicle).
Comment of the Holcim Awards Jury Asia Pacific:
The jury is convinced by this remarkable project due to its visionary and strategic approach. It advocates bicycling as a powerful alternative for urban transit and recalls its well proven potential in the world’s former bicycling capital. The visionary idea is shown to integrate pollution reduction and energy saving solutions into existing structures while addressing the urgency of implementing different approaches to urban transit – here and in other cities of the world. Moreover it demonstrates how residual central spaces may be occupied with beneficial and sophisticated design solutions in function, embedded systems and aesthetics that are well integrated.
This “out-of-the-box” thinking sends a message to all developing metropolitan areas and provokes a process of rethinking by contemporary urban planners.