Brisbane-based firm Cox Architects has designed a ‘mini city’ in the heart of the Chinese port city of Guangzhou in order to improve facilities without resulting in a loss of density while also incorporating a range of sustainable objectives.

Guangzhou is an expanding centre of commercial and heavy industry such as vehicle manufacturing. The city’s growth means that it has had to maintain pace in accommodate the exponential rise in the worker population, whole at the same time addressing a range of environmental challenges.

According to the firm, rather than isolating the housing from industry, they incorporated the benefits of industry into the new development, to create what they termed as “better environmental outcomes.”

The original development consisted of 16 individual residential tower blocks near a busy centre of the city. They were not unlike many similar apartment buildings in the area except that the proposed completed development would be much larger in scale compared to the surrounding buildings.  

Cox Architects says they decided to “seek fresh opportunities for this proposed new ‘mini city’ and to incorporate new urban planning techniques that would enhance the benefits of a large-scale development.”

The end result is a group of tower blocks linked in groups of four to form ‘pods’ with a semi-enclosed space between the blocks that can be ‘conditioned’ to improve the habitability of the apartments and create other commercial advantages.    

According to David Cox, managing director of Cox Architects, the design idea came out of some of the types of industries that Guangzhou supports.

“This development is entirely different in concept from that period in one fundamental way in that it breaks new ground in areas of development between urban planning and architectural and technical development,’ says Cox.

“Where architects are most needed is in understanding the connection between these elements of design,” he says.

For the Guangzhou project, this included combining the aerodynamics between the tower blocks, the incorporation of hybrid technology to reduce energy consumption and dependence on standard refrigerants to condition spaces within the complex and the development of materials technology for the building envelope using vehicle manufacturing techniques.

“This project breaks new ground in many areas of development between urban planning, architecture and technical development. Starting with urban planning principles of dealing with the spaces between buildings, the design of this project crosses many boundaries eventually leading to new technical developments from outside the building industry, Cox says.

He says that this project also “breaks the mould of what a typical high-rise apartment complex should be made up of.”