Saturday, April 17, 2010

Develop to Not Develop

We just went to Hainan to look at four new sites for future projects. The Chinese government is currently pushing tourism development in Hainan. So there is a close-to-hysteria atmosphere on the island with everyone trying to be the first to grab the newly released sites (us included). Hainan is the only tropical island of China. Strangely it has been sleepy for the longest time. Becoming an own province in the 80s (after being part of Guandong Province until then) has not triggered anything - besides some development in Sanya. It has done the Island well. It is pleasantly relaxed, with clean air, beautiful beaches, lush landscape and friendly and humble people. Even the developers appear to be less greedy than anywhere else, rather achieving lower density, yet appreciating the nature more. So what will happen when the gold rush kicks in? What will happen to the definition of environment in terms of density and urbanization, quality of life and speed of development? Will we see another massive destruction at any costs as we have seen this in the pearl river delta for the last 20 years? Or is the label "tourism" helping to develop to not develop.

As Architects we are financially at the bottom of the food chain, but on top of the food chain when it comes to destruction of environment. I always believe, that if you have to be the bad guy, at least be glamorous and become rich from it. So thinking about our profession, makes me actually really sad. Especially in moments like those, when we entered Moon Bay in Hainan: It was the most beautiful site I have seen in a long time. Far away from civilization, only accessible via a small float, it rewarded us with a long white beach front with lush landscape behind and crystal clear water. Traces of mankind are only found in form of rubbish, which floats from all over the world to this untouched land.

And yes, we are only called in to think about how to develop this stretch of land. How to make it accessible and how to develop it in such way, that it becomes a commercial success. How to convince the client, that the biggest value of the site is exactly the opposite of development. How can we develop, in order to avoid development? We started discussing with the client a few options of how to build less but smarter, yet gain more from it in terms of revenue as well as preservation of landscape. Luckily, the client is a local developer, who loves his island. He is very perceptive to humble developments and we still hope, that when it comes to dollars and cents, he still will be...

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