French architect Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours and his team lead this Holcim Awards winner, in association with the French Scientific & Technical Building Centre (CSTB). The proposal for sustainable urbanisation 50km south-east of Lanzhou in China will preserve both traditional villages and agrarian land. It also offers new water-management solutions in an increasingly arid area.
Intensive urbanisation causes vegetation loss and exacerbates desertification. The development proposed by Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours offers a sustainable alternative to conventional urban planning. To counter the fragmentation and gradual loss of agricultural land in the Nanhe River valley, the project develops six “metropolitan villages” over 11 square kilometres and will intersperse farmland and traditional villages into its hybrid urban plan.
Reinventing the rules of urban development
The Yuzhong regional government and Chinese Society for Urban Studies commissioned Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours and his team to implement their vision in the north-western province of Gansu. The project is part of a national scheme to develop eco-cities and experiment with different urban design approaches.
By alternating urban housing with agricultural plots, the large residential project will preserve the rural heritage of this agrarian valley while offering a new philosophy of housing development that integrates nature and the water cycle into its blueprint. In bringing together traditional spaces with sustainable urban planning, the development will ultimately safeguard valuable farmland that might otherwise have been lost, when higher crop yields are needed as cities continue to encroach on arable land.
Making water-management a priority
The project also aims to address the issue of water scarcity in the region. Thirty years ago, the two arid mountains flanking the valley were green with trees. Deforestation has caused the land to become drier, reducing the rate of rainwater absorption. As a result, the natural water reservoirs are gradually disappearing and the only way of finding more aquifers is to keep drilling deeper.
As a response to water scarcity, the project includes an extensive irrigation system to supply the agricultural fields through a network of canals that will redistribute rainwater collected from rooftops and the surrounding hills. A system of ultra-light honeycomb structures (dubbed SAUL for “Structures Alvéolaires Ultra Légères”) will be deployed at the foot of the mountains as an artificial reservoir for local agriculture. The team of architects and engineers estimate that the device will collect up to one million cubic metres of water each year.
Although building was postponed due to the pandemic, Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours is optimistic that the project will soon begin implementation and take five years to complete. Residents support the plan, which will combine tradition and modernity.
Read the full interview:See more
Project description by jury
The rural fringe of Lanzhou, the capital and largest city in Gansu Province in northwest China has undergone a great urban territorial transformation over recent years. Agricultural land has been progressively fragmented, and several scattered villages in the Nanhe River valley are at risk of being razed to the ground due to policies that encourage densification. The Yuzhong Eco(logical) City project 50km south-east of Lanzhou proposes the transformation of the Nanhe River valley with a two-fold objective: the preservation of traditional crop-growing lands, and their integration into a wider urban and agricultural system. These aims will allow for a more productive and sustainable development of the area.
The territorial design is based on a finger plan intervention that branches out from the northern and southern embankments of the river to touch existing rural fabrics. This generates a new ensemble of six metropolitan villages characterized by the alternation of agricultural land and residential segments placed in continuity with the historic villages. The renewed zone is served by an improved water management system: spring and rainwater, captured from the hills and rooftops respectively, is collected and distributed through a series of canals to the agricultural fields and finally augments the river. The proposal also includes the implementation of new infrastructure to promote a sustainable mobility network and the production of energy from renewable sources including solar and biogas.
The Holcim Awards jury Asia Pacific highly commended the way in which the proposal offers a sensible and thoughtful alternative to current Chinese policies toward rural urbanization. The project suggests a territorial operation that, as opposed to the more mainstream demolition practices, very elegantly densifies and strengthens the existing rural fabric and co-located agricultural parcels, and brings new opportunities for farming communities. The intervention becomes a particularly well-balanced and contextualized model for an environmental, social and economic sustainable development of rural areas in China and beyond.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Agrarian Enrichment in China automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
The built environment has a significant role to play in addressing climate change and enabling the transition to a net zero and more inclusive future. The Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction global winners showcase the cutting edge of approaches to sustainable design, green architecture and materials innovation. In the 6th cycle, a Global Holcim Awards Bronze and two Global Commendations went to projects in the Asia Pacific region. The global prizes were presented at a handover ceremony at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. The regional Holcim Awards Main category winners for Asia Pacific were recognized at the same event.
The Holcim Awards winning projects from five world regions are recognized at regional prize handover events. All winning projects at the regional level automatically qualify for the Global Holcim Awards, in which the submissions are evaluated again by a global jury, which was chaired by Hashim Sarkis (Lebanon/USA) in 2021. Participants can submit additional material on their projects, including detailed information on the carbon footprint of their project over its entire life cycle and the project's contribution to the circular economy. The entries that the jury considers outstanding at the global level are then awarded prizes at a global handover ceremony. Due to the pandemic, this procedure was adapted: all regional and global prizewinners were invited to the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, where they received their prizes at a single handover ceremony.
Toward net-zero emissions and circular material flows
The issue of sustainability is of paramount importance in construction. In view of climate change and diminishing resources, new approaches are needed along the entire value chain of the construction industry as the building sector moves toward net-zero emissions and circular material flows. Developing and applying these new approaches are what the Holcim Awards promote. The prize money of the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design totals USD 2 million.
The number of competition entries shows how intensively specialists in the fields of architecture, engineering, urban planning, materials science, construction technology, and related disciplines deal with sustainability issues: A total of 4,742 projects from 134 countries were submitted in the 6th cycle of the competition. About half of them fully met the requirements and were then scrutinized in extensive online jury meetings in the five regions around the world. The juries spent a total of over 100 hours sifting through and ranking the winners in the Main and Next Generation categories. Around half of the entries worldwide were submitted in the Next Generation category, which seeks bold ideas and visionary concepts by participants up to 30 years of age. The 21 winning projects in this category were announced in virtual ceremonies earlier this year: www.holcimfoundation.org/awards/6th-cycle.
In the Main category, the Holcim Awards recognize projects that are nearing implementation at an advanced stage of design. In the Asia Pacific competition region, many proposals dealt with combining technical and political aspects into a sustainable whole. The regional jury, chaired by Nirmal Kishnani (Singapore), selected projects in Australia, Cambodia, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam as the main winners. The project authors come from all over Asia Pacific, but also from France, Germany, the UK, and the USA, and they convinced the jury with their coherent concepts and bold approaches. The high quality of the winning projects is also reflected in the fact that in the global competition a Bronze Award and two out of four Commendations went to this region. The other Global Holcim Awards went to Switzerland (Gold), Colombia (Silver), Morocco (ex aequo Bronze), Cabo Verde and Jordan (Commendations).
Bringing together technological aspects with policies
As Head of the Academic Committee of the Holcim Foundation, Marilyne Andersen was a member of all five regional juries and the global jury. She emphasizes the importance of having these juries composed of international members: “It’s crucial to have local or regional knowledge of the policies in place and what trends are happening in the various countries,” she says. This knowledge of the local context played a decisive role in assessing the projects. “We could see how projects could influence these trends,” she explains, “how projects can showcase important possibilities or can push against certain trends.” It goes without saying that such developments change over the years. Ten to fifteen years ago, projects in the Asia Pacific region primarily dealt with rural socioeconomic issues or water and sewage management, whereas in the past two competition cycles the dominant theme was education.
“This time it was also a lot about bringing together technological aspects with policies applying to different aspects of sustainability,” sums up Marilyne Andersen. The jury ultimately decided on three Awards and four Acknowledgement prize winners. In addition to prize money totaling USD 310,000, the winners received a personalized trophy featuring the Holcim Foundation’s iconic icosahedron, which symbolizes the golden ratio and therefore ideal proportions. The trophy base is made of EvopacZero, a climate-neutral concrete by Holcim Switzerland, exemplifying materials that enable circular flows and sustainable construction. Holcim is the sponsor of the Holcim Foundation, which conducts the competition.
Reforestation program in Hanoi, Vietnam
Global Holcim Awards Bronze ex aequo and Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Propagated Sanctuary
A large group of volunteers plans to restore the subtropical forest on Banana Island, a 26-hectare island in the Red River. By planting endemic trees and plants, the project aims to introduce abundant greenery within the urban fabric, reduce carbon emissions, and multiply the number of native species. The flora will enable animals to return to their natural habitat, boosting regional biodiversity. The project will also create an educational recreational area for Hanoi residents and an open-air laboratory for interested scientists and research institutions.
“We want to restore part of the island to the condition it used to be in,” explains prizewinner Marek Obtulovic of Oddo Architects, Hanoi, Vietnam. “It’s about renaturation, not about creating flower beds and green lawns.” The jury recognized the clear relevance of this proposal for Hanoi and highly commended the way landscape design is deployed to integrate the urban and natural environments. This proposal, says the jury, stands out as a bold act of awareness that shines an urgent spotlight on the recognition of green infrastructure in Vietnam.
Sustainable urban and agricultural system near Lanzhou, China
Holcim Awards Gold Asia Pacific - Agrarian Enrichment
In China, new cities have replaced many old villages – for example, those scattered across the Nanhe River Valley, where farmland is being progressively fragmented. This project envisions a new form of sustainable urbanization in the valley by preserving the cultural heritage of the agricultural land and by integrating the farmland into a broader urban and agricultural system. Six “metropolitan villages” incorporating historic villages are proposed. The masterplan includes an extensive irrigation system for the farmland. Springwater and rainwater are collected in underground basins and distributed through a series of canals to the fields. This water-management system minimizes evaporation and can store a million cubic meters of water every year.
“The project is about a morphology of architecture and agriculture,” explains prizewinner Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours of PDAA, Paris, France. “Transition is the most important thing: You pass from urban life on the street to a natural space, a sort of farm, and then into the fields. Farmers should also live here and cultivate the land.” The jury was impressed with how the intervention becomes a particularly well-balanced and contextualized model for holistic sustainable development of rural areas in China and elsewhere.
Urban revitalization in Shenzhen, China
Holcim Awards Silver Asia Pacific - Ancient Rejuvenation
Shajing Ancient Fair is the largest historic district of Shenzhen city, but young people are moving out, old buildings are deteriorating, emissions pollute the air. Many historic sites are at risk of loss due to neglect. This project aims to revitalize the historic district through a well-planned mix of preservation, cultural, employment, and infrastructure-improvement measures. The concept demonstrates a viable alternative to demolition. Architectural, landscape, and interior design projects are proposed at six locations along the river.
“Our project is an answer to the question: Should urban renewal continue to use the approach of demolition and redevelopment or should the original character of villages be preserved?” explains prizewinner Jing Han of ARCity Office, Shenzhen, China. “It’s an experiment regarding the future development of urban villages.” The jury was fascinated by the bold yet balanced, delicate, and non-intrusive spirit of the project. The intention to raise collective awareness of the importance of preserving local heritage was highly commended.
Extreme sustainability in Sydney, Australia
Holcim Awards Bronze Asia Pacific and Global Holcim Awards Commendation - High-Performance Tower
The high-performance tower in Sydney is a 39-story building accommodating 4,000 workplaces. Introducing a new sustainability model, the design addresses an expanded program, incorporates next-generation systems, and presents an innovative typological and structural concept. It brings nature into the workplace, supports economic vitality, and points the way to a more sustainable mode of new construction.
The design pursues low-energy and high-comfort performance, because “a good working environment is a very attractive asset,” says prizewinner Wolfgang Kessling of Transsolar Energietechnik, Germany. He and his team tackled an ambitious challenge: “How can we create excellent workplaces and leisure spaces so that people will not only enjoy coming to work but also get the most out of the building when interacting with it both physically and digitally in order to perform at their best?” The jury says the design successfully combines structural, environmental, and programmatic elements to achieve its goals in terms of sustainability and considers the building a remarkable contribution to sustainable architecture that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Empowering the homeless in Minalin, Philippines
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific and Global Holcim Awards Commendation - Empowering the Homeless
This project combines social housing for 125 homeless families and a solar power plant that will produce and sell enough energy to finance the development. The roofs of the buildings are covered with photovoltaic panels that will generate 25 times more power than the residents will need. The surplus energy will be sold, and the revenue will be used initially to pay off the construction of the buildings. The jury was impressed by the project’s ability to fully and creatively bring together different stakeholders to address two urgent societal issues: homelessness and access to renewable energy sources. “We hope to make housing affordable for everyone,” says project author Prasoon Kumar of Billion Bricks, India and Singapore.
Sustainable habitats in Shenzen, China
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Green-Blue Network
This project transforms an inadequate urban sewer system into an efficient and valuable green-blue asset for the city. The design harnesses the biological processes of mangroves and wetland plants to naturally treat and clean wastewater, which can then be used to irrigate and fertilize crops. This approach can save 70 percent of the energy typically required for wastewater treatment. “We want to present replicable solutions to restore native habitat in the middle of the city,” tells prizewinner Kongjian Yu, professor at Peking University, Beijing, China. The project is highly refined and provides thoroughly researched and precise information on the life-cycle assessment, says the jury, praising the straightforward and robust methodological approach.
Social housing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific - Upgrading Labor
Over 17,000 factory workers live in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone – many in inadequate housing. This project proposes 3,000 new social housing units for these people, high-quality affordable homes that will provide a healthy and adequate standard of living. The design appropriately responds to the requirements of the workers and the ecological context of the site, resulting in a simply organized and aesthetically pleasing environment. “We are implementing a model that could easily be replicated in other rapidly growing cities,” says Avneesh Tiwari of atArchitecture, Mumbai, India. The jury sees the design of the proposed housing complex as well contextualized, aesthetically pleasing, and simple yet well-balanced in terms of space distribution and programmatic planning.
Prizewinning projects and author teams online
The winning projects and authors in the Holcim Awards Main category were honored at a hybrid event at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice on 13 November 2021: the 33 regional winners 2020 as well as the eight winners of Global Holcim Awards prizes 2021 were announced. A film of the handover ceremony and virtual presentations of all winning projects, including detailed descriptions, videos, jury reports, and statements by the authors as well as numerous illustrations, are available at www.holcimfoundation.org/awards. In addition, the latest book of the Holcim Foundation features in-depth interviews with the prizewinning authors: www.holcimfoundation.org/publications.
The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction was created in 2003 by Holcim as an independent legal entity to raise awareness of the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning, and the building industry have in achieving a sustainable future. The Holcim Group is a global leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions and enables greener cities, smarter infrastructure, and improved living standards around the world. The company is driving the circular economy as a world leader in recycling in order to build more with less.
Members of the Holcim Awards jury Asia Pacific 2020
For the first time in the history of the Holcim Awards, the projects submitted in Asia Pacific were discussed and evaluated by the jury online. The independent, international jury of experts was chaired by Nirmal Kishnani, Professor of Architecture at the National University of Singapore. At his side were Sandra Boivin (R&D Support Director, Holcim Innovation Center, France), Chanasit Cholasuek (stu/D/O Architects, Thailand), Nondita Correa Mehrotra (RMA Architects, India), Richard Hassell (WOHA, Singapore), Christopher Lee (Serie Architects, Mumbai, Singapore & Beijing), and Erwin Viray (Head of the Architecture Sustainable Design Pillar, Singapore University of Technology & Design). Further jury members representing the Academic Committee of the Holcim Foundation were Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland) and Philippe Block (Professor of Architecture & Structure, ETH Zurich, Switzerland).
Members of the Global Holcim Awards jury 2021
The independent jury that evaluated the projects at the global level was chaired by Hashim Sarkis (Dean of the School of Architecture & Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA). The jury included Angelo Bucci (spbr arquitetos and Professor of Building Design, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), Bruce Gibbons (Thornton Tomasetti, USA), Anne Lacaton (Lacaton & Vassal Architectes, France), and Mun Summ Wong (WOHA, Singapore). Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland), Maria Atkinson AM (Green Building Council of Australia), Meisa Batayneh Maani (Maisam Architects & Engineers, Jordan), and Brinda Somaya (Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, India) represented the Board and the Academic Committee of the Foundation as additional jury members.
Holcim Awards winning projects Asia Pacific
Global Holcim Awards Bronze ex aequo (USD 50,000) and Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Propagated Sanctuary in Hanoi, Vietnam
The cultivation of an urban forest and economic catalyst on Banana Island.
Winners: Marek Obtulovic, Nguyen Duc Trung, Mai Lan Chi and team, ODDO Architects, Hanoi, Vietnam
Holcim Awards Gold Asia Pacific (USD 100,000)
Agrarian Enrichment near Lanzhou, China
A project that envisions a new form of sustainable urbanization in the Nanhe River Valley.
Winners: Jean-Pierre Pranlas-Descours and team, PDAA, Paris, France; Cristina Garcez and team, CSTB, Paris, France
Holcim Awards Silver Asia Pacific (USD 50,000)
Ancient Rejuvenation in Shenzhen, China
A plan to revitalize the historic district of Shajing Ancient Fair through a mix of interventions.
Winners: Yuxing Zhang and Jing Han, ARCity Office, Shenzhen, China
Holcim Awards Bronze Asia Pacific (USD 30,000) and Global Holcim Awards Commendation
High-Performance Tower in Sydney, Australia
A new sustainability model pursuing low-energy and high-comfort performance in a 39-storey tower.
Winners: Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar Energietechnik, Germany; Edwin Chan, EC3 Design, USA; James O’Callaghan, Eckersley O’Callaghan, United Kingdom; Corie D. Sharples and Andreia Taixeira, SHoP, USA; Ric Wang, Atlassian, Australia; Njnotschka Titchkosky, BVN, Australia
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000) and Global Holcim Awards Commendation
Empowering the Homeless in Minalin, Philippines
Sustainable social housing for homeless families.
Winners: Prasoon Kumar and Robert Verrijt, Billion Bricks, India and Singapore
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Green-Blue Network in Shenzen, China
A project for nature-based urban drainage infrastructure.
Winners: Kongjian Yu and team, Peking University; Turenscape Architecture & Planning, Beijing, China
Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize Asia Pacific (USD 20,000)
Upgrading Labor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A project to sustainably upgrade the living conditions of the local workforce.
Winners: Avneesh Tiwari and Neha Rane, atArchitecture, Mumbai, India
Maintaining the villages and the local population with six new metropolitan villages
For many years, Chinese urbanization has destroyed many old villages in a global densification process. In the Yuzhong project between the Nanghe River to the hills in the south, a large agricultural valley is occupied by a series of villages. This project proposes to conserve this traditional urban precinct and at the same to redevelop a more productive agriculture program.
The urbanization process began with a specific analysis of the human installation. The model is a finger plan which begins on the Nanghe River to the hills with large land segments of alternative agriculture in relation to housing and social program in continuity with the old villages. The foundation of our strategy is to create a new model of six metropolitan villages integrating all the ancient villages.
Capturing all water resources and establish new sustainable water management
The water question for this territory is the elementary condition to maintain the population and the agriculture activity, particularly with a densification process. In this part of west China, the evaporation of water is a very complex question.
We proposed different interventions:
An articulated offer of global and local mobility services
Important infrastructures of transportation are a regular urban strategy today in many projects in China. The reduction of using cars is a great ambition in China to reduce the CO2 emission.
This urban development is a part of a larger territorial urbanization. We have taken into consideration the project already deciding two main transport networks:
The objectives are to reduce the consumption of energy, using natural and renewable energy resources: solar, biomass. The project has the ambition to divide by 3 of total energy needs and by 8 of heating needs compared to conventional accommodation in the Yuzhong region.
Different options of energy mix proposal have been adopted:
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