Vertical Cities

The Chinese Society for Urban Studies (CSUS), the Center for Design & the City at the American Architectural Foundation (AAF), and OTIS hosted the first Sino-U.S. City Design Summit in Zhuhai, China, July 16–17, 2013. The Summit was held in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development’s 2013 Conference on Urban Development and Planning. The Conference drew an audience of more than 1,500 Chinese mayors, government officials, developers, and city planners. At the Summit, delegate Benjamin Ward of Gensler contrasted failed policies of the past with nine principles for sustainable city development. 

As China’s urban population races toward 1 billion, the past 30 years of planning policies are starting to show signs of strain. The human scale and energetic street life inherent in China’s historical centers are making way for sprawling “super suburbs” where the car is king and social urban communities are all but being dissolved.

We will outline four failed policies: Urban Displacement, Setbacks, Gated Communities, and Daylight, all of which are contributing to socially and environmentally unsustainable cities of the future. We will suggest nine principles for sustainable cities using current projects to highlight a path to better communities. Our approach is “Context-Driven Design” rather than “Code-Driven Planning.”

Benjamin Ward is the Regional Design Director for Gensler in Asia. For the last 19 years he has practiced on three continents designing for multiple typologies and scales. His seven years of experience in China has provided him with unique insight into the issues surrounding the growth of cities and the drawbacks to current government policy. He currently lives in Shanghai and is directing projects in the Philippines and greater China.

Gensler is a global architecture, design, planning, and strategic consulting firm that specializes in a wide range of buildings and facilities owned or used by businesses, institutions, and public agencies. Its services engage the full building cycle from initial planning through design, implementation, and management. It focuses on its clients, understands their goals and strategies, and seeks to add substantial value to their enterprise through its work and services.

Featured image of Chengdu, China, courtesy of Cdwaer.

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The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.