Why China’s new urban playbook creates business opportunities for international architects

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 5:22pm

China’s move to build “functional”, “economical” and “ sustainable” cities will offer big business opportunities to international architectural firms who can provide professional knowledge and advice on urban planning to local authorities, says architectural firm Aedas chairman Keith Griffiths.

Griffiths, whose company has been expanding in China in the past decade, is upbeat on the directive on urban planning issued by the State Council last month. The directive lays out the development guidelines for local authorities in implementing urban design.

China has been gaining little out of controls in urbanisation, said Griffiths. The directive aims to stop local authorities from selling off land without proper planning, he said.

The central government now requires urbanisation to be better planned. Because of the new approach, Griffiths sees huge business opportunities in the world’s second-largest economy.

“We will have more master planning work. We will be expanding our urban team to develop urban planning for local authorities, not just for developers.”

READ MORE: Megalopolis: the future of urban planning in China

Aedas is one of the largest global architecture and design practices with offices worldwide.

According to the new directive, urban architecture must be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye” rather than filled with “oversized, xenocentric, weird” buildings. It also states that no more gated communities would be built and those already in place would be gradually opened up with connecting roads.

Concerns have been raised by the industry over future design direction and business opportunities.

There are also worries over the potential safety risks from opening up gated communities. But Griffiths said some people misread the message.

The government demands urban design to be bespoke and unique, he said. “They want (architecture) to be functional, economical and sustainable. Nothing wrong with that. In my view, it’s perfect.”

As for gated communities, Griffiths said the aim of the directive is only to bar local authorities from selling huge plots of land to developers and then block the roads.

READ MORE: Managing China’s urban spread

He said some residential projects in China are over 5 million square feet. “That is the size of Kornhill (in Quarry Bay) and that in Taikoo Shing. Can you imagine having no major public roads in Kornhill and Taikoo Shing. If there were no public roads in Taikoo Shing, how would you get from Chai Wan to Central?

“You cannot privatise road systems and not allow people to use them. All this is about how to design cities,” he said.

He also said he supported the directive promoting transparency, preserving heritage and establishing a code of ethics for the architecture industry.

“The worst thing that is happening now is non-transparency. International companies will benefit from the new directive,” he said.