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Rebuilding After Chinese Earthquake: Beautiful Bamboo Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

It has been a year since the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China that killed more than 70,000 people.

China’s strongest earthquake for more than half a century, with a magnitude of 8.0 (en.wikipedia.org), it devastated large parts of the province of Sichuan. More than 10 million people were made homeless, most of them poor and elderly villagers (cities were not badly damaged).

Getting Sichuan back to normal is critical for not only the province’s people, but for all of China. Sichuan is China’s rice bowl, growing more food than any other province. But despite the abundance of food, Sichuan remains poor and has seen its working age population move away for work. If it is to have a viable future then its communities need to get back to normal as fast as possible – and its farming economy back to full production.

The unprecedented media coverage of the disaster meant people across China saw the scenes of devastation and have since contributed large donations to help with the reconstruction. The Chinese government has pledged to spend US $151 billion on reconstruction projects.

Finding ways to re-house people after large disasters has become an urgent issue over the last five years. From the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina in the United States and multiple hurricane disasters in the Caribbean, restoring communities is critical for the health of the people and the economies they rely on. Experience has shown that temporary shelters have many drawbacks, being usually of poor quality for long-term habitation and a source of health problems.

The temporary shelters erected for the Sichuan homeless are unsuitable for long-term housing: the 12 square metre grey boxes – two sheets of aluminium sandwiching a polystyrene core for insulation – have no heating. The occupants roast inside in the summer and freeze in the winter. They are also located away from the main source of income: the farms.

The dilemma is how to build new, long-term houses that will not cost too much. Inflation has increased the costs of conventional building materials: bricks, cement and steel.

But the use of traditional building materials and home designs offers an alternative. By drawing on the abundant bamboo and wood in Sichuan and by building to traditional designs, cheaper but sturdy and beautiful homes can be built.

An average home now costs around 80,000 yuan (US $11,688). The Chinese government estimates the price is now 820 yuan per square meter for a new home: bamboo homes cost between 300 and 400 yuan per square meter. Government compensation is between 16,000 yuan (US $2,337) and 23,000 yuan (US $3,360) per family. The bamboo houses range in size from 75 to 200 square metres, and in cost from 22,500 yuan to 80,000 yuan for a very large home.

In Daping village, Pengzhou Town, original homes destroyed by the earthquake sit at the edge of a forested hill. Their frames are more or less intact, but the walls and roofs have collapsed. The new houses replacing them are large, two stories high and have solid grey clay tile roofs. The beauty of the designs stands out and sits in stark contrast to the temporary shelters and concrete buildings.

“There are 43 houses and two public buildings being rebuilt in this project,” says team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology. “The design and the main building material are based on the ecological and sustainable habitat idea. The place (Sichuan) is rich in bamboo and wood. These natural materials are cheap and friendly to the environment. In some buildings we use light steel which can be also recycled.”

The new homes are built to earthquake resistance standards. Led by Professor LiuJiaping, a team of 15 people from the research centre and two from a design institute developed the home designs and supervised the training of local people. They were joined by 10 people from an NGO called Global Village of Beijing, who managed the project to completion.

“All the designs were discussed with the local people,” continues Hu. “We trained a local construction team, which means the local people would build their own houses by themselves. Both our research center and the local people were involved in developing the home design.

“To get the trust from the local people is a challenge in the project. We resolved it by showing our respect to the local people. Before we started our design we discussed with the local people many times to know what kind of house they like. We built the first house to make them believe us.”

Hu believes it is possible to replicate the homes across Sichuan.

“The design is suitable for other villages in Sichuan which have a similar climate and culture with this village. To rebuild sustainable houses after a disaster we should know well about the local life, environment and culture – try to find the useful technique which was used in their traditional houses and upgrade the traditional house to meet the need of their modern life.”

Others have not been as lucky as these villagers. In the village of Yuan Bao, Chen Jingzhong, 66, has had to build a makeshift shack: “They wanted to get us to build our own houses but they didn’t give us enough money,” Chen told the Telegraph Magazine. “All we could afford was this shack, which we built ourselves, with our own hands and without any help from anyone.”

ResourcesArchitecture for Humanity: By tapping a network of more than 40,000 professionals willing to lend time and expertise to help those who would not otherwise be able to afford their services, they bring design, construction and development services where they are most critically needed.
Website: www.architectureforhumanity.orgChinese Red Cross: The Red Cross Society of China is accepting donations for disaster reconstruction and is coordinating rebuilding efforts in Sichuan
Website:http://www.redcross.org.cn/ywzd/Gerd Niemoeller has developed flat pack, cardboard homes that can be deployed quickly after a disaster and can become permanent homes.
Website:http://tinyurl.com/6t6jtf and the company
Website: http://www.wall.de/en/homeGlobal Greenhouse Warming is a website that tracks extreme weather events around the world: drought, flooding, severe storms, severe winter, tropical cyclone, wildfires, and extreme heat waves.
Website:www.global-greenhouse-warming.comThe Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer.
Website:www.bshf.org

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Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org
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Designed in China to Rival ‘Made in China’

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Harnessing the power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is a critical component of successful economic development. And the high export value of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

One country taking up this challenge is China. It now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The centre of gravity is very much moving China’s way: One study of 769 firms investing in 2,203 Chinese companies by Stanford University in California, found “the same firms that were successful in Silicon Valley … have transplanted their expertise to China,” according to Marguerite Gong Hancock in The New York Times.

But the country wants to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’. This is critical because the majority of the profits to be made are actually in the designing, patenting and marketing of products. Manufacturing, as has been shown in the recent media controversy over the products made by Apple (apple.com), is not the main profit centre.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas. But through its network of sub-contractors,the number employed overseas in Asia, Europe and elsewhere is around 700,000 (The New York Times). This includes around 200,000 assembly jobs in China. These workers can make US $17 a day or less.

Apple makes hundreds of dollars in profit for each of its iPhones. Apple can do this because it is the designer of the phones and holds the copyright, and it is the branded company that has built up its reputation and developed a highly sophisticated marketing and distribution network around the world. Through clever use of design, Apple created products that look distinctive in the marketplace. And those are the factors that determine the ability to make this profit. As has been noted, it isn’t just cheap wages that keep Apple’s profits high.

Getting consumers to desire and buy your products is a challenge for any company. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design and is produced efficiently will generate a good profit.

The classic example from the past is Japan. Devastated during World War II, Japan set about re-building its manufacturing prowess from scratch. It brought in American innovators to introduce new concepts in manufacturing.

Japan’s openness to the new ways enabled it to re-fashion its manufacturing industries to exporting to the developed Western nations, in particular the United States. At first, quality control was an issue and Japan was mocked for making cheap quality trinkets, toys, automobiles and motorcycles. But it quickly changed from this to a reputation for making quality, affordable products and moving quickly into the burgeoning micro-electronics and consumer products markets. It also was a pioneer in computer gaming and entertainment.

The recent achievements in supercomputing in China are pointing to where things can go. China has developed the Sunway Bluelight MPP supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShenWei). It is able to do a quadrillion calculations per second: making the Sunway Bluelight one of the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. It was built with a Chinese-made microprocessor, and importantly, uses lower amounts of power than other supercomputers.

The clever bit is the ratio of computing power to wattage used. Energy-efficient computing is critical if computers are to make the jump to the next level in processing power.

All these trends coming together hint at big changes in the coming years.

In the past two decades, the electronics sector has enabled a number of developing countries to improve trade performance, in particular East and Southeast Asian nations.

Improving education is critical to the growth strategy. Improving education, like encouraging the pursuit of engineering as a profession, as China has done – it now has more than half a million estimated graduates, the most in the world – means new skills and ideas are coming to the industry (engineeringinchina.net).

But this is not enough. New ideas are essentially a creative process and this needs connections to business and the ability to experiment and play with ideas. Start-up incubators have proven a successful way to do this.

Thailand is a good example: Around US $4.5 billion was invested in the country’s electronics industry between 1986 and 2001. This created 300,000 jobs. The sector became so important it made up a third of the country’s exports.

Realizing that much of the work was assembly manufacturing, the government set up the Thailand IC Design Incubator (http://www.nectec.or.th/rd/electronics/be204-45/be204-45.php) to work on hard disk drive development and move up the value chain.

“In 1978, I saw workers stringing together computer memories with sewing needles,” Patrick J. McGovern explained to The New York Times. McGovern is the founder of the International Data Group, which invests in Chinese enterprises.

“Now innovation is accelerating, and in the future, patents on smartphones and tablets will be originated by the Chinese people.”

In the past, China was not able to make significant progress on this development for two main reasons. The first is copyright piracy and theft of intellectual property rights. During China’s economic rise, this theft was rampant and the country developed a reputation for being home to a vast marketplace of knock-offs of major Western brands. And the second reason was the heavy hand of the government, which scared off many entrepreneurs.

But China is re-structuring its industries to focus on innovation. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents and was in a neck and neck race with Japan and the United States. As fuel for the innovation rocket,venture capital is critical. And China is now the world’s second largest venture capital market, with the total jumping from US $2.2 billion in 2005 to US $7.6 billion in 2011.

It is this journey up the manufacturing ‘value chain’ that many countries look to with admiration and jealousy. And the secret to being able to move up this value chain is design – savvy product design combined with savvy design of manufacturing methods to continually drive down costs and drive up quality. How long until China has its own Apple and not just an Apple knock-off (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14503724)?

Resources 

1) Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design.Website: http://www.red-dot.de

2) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

3) C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

4) Dahua: Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. is a partially state-owned publicly traded company based in Hangzhou which sells video surveillance products and services.  Leading video surveillance product and solution provider in IP camera, NVR, HD cctv camera, Analog, PTZ and other vertical solutions. Website: https://www.dahuasecurity.com/uk

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The NEEMIC brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China. 

Read more here: Creating Green Fashion in China

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Creating Green Fashion in China

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

China is the world’s largest manufacturer (Euromonitor) and the largest clothing maker, producing a quarter of all textiles and clothing. It is a global fashion production hub, and many major global clothing brands have their products made there – whether they admit it or not.

Although most people probably do not give it a second thought, the fashion and clothing industries can be highly polluting and exploitive. The use of toxic fertilizers to boost cotton yields leaves behind a legacy of contaminated soil and water tables. Dyes used to colour clothing also can be toxic and pollute water. For people working in this industry – many of whom are women – conditions can vary widely and include low pay and high stress.

According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, “it is difficult for companies sourcing from China to be sure of fair working practices. There have been many reports of low wages, long hours, and unfair working conditions in factories in China.”

But one innovative fashion brand is out to transform the way the garment business works in China and to develop a template that could be used in other places such as Africa.

The design duo of Hans Martin Galliker and Amihan Zemp has set up their clothing brand’s studio in one of Beijing’s historic hutong (alley) neighbourhoods – narrow streets of low-rise buildings that were the traditional urban dwelling environments for generations of Chinese people. The NEEMIC (neemic.com) brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China.

The business’s belief is that the world has enough fabric already to meet the clothing needs of the population. In response, NEEMIC makes its clothing from a mix of recycled natural materials and new organic materials. According to its website, NEEMIC collaborates “with young designers from London to Tokyo to create a particular metropolitan aesthetic.”

“We use the finest natural fabrics for a perfectly comfortable feel,” Galliker said. “We pick the finest natural materials from leftovers of the industry, recycle used clothes, and strive to order new fabrics only from certified organic producers.”

Hans Martin Galliker began as a farming apprentice in his native Switzerland, and brings a practical bent to his approach to fashion. He draws on his knowledge of farming and agriculture to create a unique eco-conscious fashion product in China.

Galliker got his start in fashion working for a brand in Shenzhen, southern China. He worked with the organic farms there, and this inspired him to explore sustainability in fashion design and ways of introducing the principles of fair trade to the fashion and textile industries in China.

Galliker is passionate about taking a different attitude to fashion: “There are many fashion brands and many of them are … meaningless,” he told the China Daily newspaper. “They do fashion which looks more or less … the same, which has no creativity and does a lot of harm to the environment.

“Growing cotton is highly chemicals and labour-intensive, which degrades the soil and pays people very low salaries. And the dyeing and colouring processes pollute rivers and people receive low salaries but have to work long hours. The whole textile industry is really bad for the environment.”

NEEMIC has completed three collections of clothing since it was founded in 2011.

“We started selling some of our designs at a boutique in Beijing that focuses on upcycling fashion. People like it and want to buy more,” said Galliker.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste material into new products (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upcycling).

And to counter any negative perceptions that organic cotton clothing can only ever be unfashionable, Galliker is out to prove it is possible to create stylish organic clothing.

On top of building the brand, Galliker also works to educate the industry and change ways. He is also setting up a branch in China of the Hong Kong Organic Textile Association (http://neemic.asia/organic), which encourages fashion designers to jointly buy organic materials. He also publishes a website on sustainable agricultural practices in China, with details on current policies on organic farming.

“It is very normal for Chinese farmers to use many fertilizers, but the environment is going bad and consumers do not like this kind of farming,” Galliker points out. “For farmers, it’s not meaningful to produce only to make money to live a decent life. It should be more than that.”

The NEEMIC operation is lean: the Beijing studio does all the designing of the clothes, programming of the multilingual websites and runs the online shopping and payment sites.

For now, the goal is to not only increase the use of organically grown materials but also to introduce the fair trade concept into China.

“In two years we want to do fair trade production,” Galliker said.

And he has Africa in his sights with his green fashion template.

“In the long term we will have many successful projects here or non-profit companies … a lot of creative force and investment so that we can help rural regions in Africa to do sustainable agriculture projects.”

Resources

1) Ethical Fashion Forum: The Ethical Fashion Forum is the industry body dedicated to a sustainable future for fashion. A not for profit organisation, EFF aims to make it easy for fashion professionals to integrate sustainability at the heart of what they do. Website:http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/

2) Hong Kong Organic Textile Association: Its mission is to promote organic textiles in Hong Kong Website:http://www.facebook.com/HKOrganicTextileAssociation

3) Tips on how to upcycle. Website:http://www.independent.co.uk/property/interiors/the-insider–how-to-upcycle-without-much-effort-2343100.html

4) How to create a Lookbook for a fashion brand. Website:http://noisetteacademy.com/2011/05/creating-a-lookbook/

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021