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If all new housing developments in China (11 million units a year) were built on the ecoblock model, the government could save $35 Billion a year, 1.3% of GDP, from not having built additional infrastructure to meet demand for energy, clean water, sanitation and waste disposal.

More significant would be the reduced load on the environment.
Environmental damage in China currently generate a calculated $200 Billion per year in costs.

It is believed that utility prices will rise significantly in China over the next 10 years, thus making the investment in renewables more attractive.

A cost benefit analysis illustrated that net return for a developer is predicted to become positive after a 20 year period. It is therefore clear that unless the developer receives additional fees for providing utilities, it is now the government that stands to benefit most significantly.






Harrison Fraker

Dean of the College of

Environmental Design,
UC Berkeley, CA

Use the controls below to hear an audio clip by Dean Harrison Fraker:

"China has been able to succeed in this incredible development process by developing what we call ‘superblocks’. These are roughly 1km2 residential developments where the city provides the arterial streets and then the developer buys the rights to build everything inside the blocks. Superblocks can have anything from 2,000 to 10,000 units of housing in them, and because the Chinese are so efficient, they’re building something like 10-15 of these per day. For 3 years my students and I at UC Berkeley have been trying to develop an alternative to the superblock which is completely off the grid, generates its own electricity, processes its own water and own its waste. Mass replication of a model such as ours is the key to China really becoming sustainable – I’m talking about ecoblocks as far as the eye can see – not superblocks."



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Jean Rogers

Jean Rogers and her team at ARUP’s office in San Francisco were brought in as reknowned engineers and consultants to validate the UC Berkeley project. At first wary of a mass replicable design, they have now become as passionate about the potential of the ecoblock as Harrison and his students are.


“The interesting thing is that the technologies we propose are not that new but instead we have combined them in a unique integrated system… the first strategy we use is all the best techniques of energy conservation – insulation, passive solar, natural ventilation, daylighting, efficient appliances etc and that can reduce the load by as much as 40-50% so then we’re only asking renewables to do the remaining 50%. We’ve integrated 3 renewable sources – so none have to be oversized to do whole job. We have wind turbines on the tops of the tall buildings, that meets about 40-50% of the electricity demand. Then we have photovoltaics on the roofs of lower buildings that also act as shading devices for the units – these take care of another 40%. The remainder is then done by this very old principal which is to convert the sewage sludge, kitchen waste and yard waste into gas that then runs the backup generators.

Simultaneously because the sludge is taken out of the sewage system, we can process the water by using constructed wetlands on site. We’re also collecting rainwater to top off that supply so we only need a tiny amount of municipal water.

Of course none of this will happen without a really great business model. Rather than the developer plugging into centralized infrastructure that usually supports superblocks, this model allows the developer to also be a property manager. In this way they could both own and operate the ecoblock and collect the fees for utilities that the government would normally collect. We’ve calculated that this manager can actually charge about the same price that the homeowner would usually pay for utilities and still make money. Its therefore in the interests of the developer to replicate this model throughout China. The challenge is that the Chinese are politically incredibly conservative and this is new, these are technologies that have never been put together in this way, and even though they’re now persuaded that the science and tech would work, they really want to have a proven model. So whats so exciting about the project now is that they want to push ahead with a pilot project – the city wants to do this, the ministry of construction wants to do this and if the demonstration works as well as we think ti will, then there could be a massive change. If the ministry of construction decides this is the way they want to build, almost at the snap of a finger, China could start producing these ecoblocks and it would have a huge impact on the issues of sustainability in the country.”

Caroline Harrison drawing attention in the
Qindao Ecoblock neighborhood.
The ecoblock project site in July 2007.

Current Project Status (as of January 2008)

"A draft workplan for Phase 2 of the project has been submitted to the Qingdao City Government. Phase 2 will progress the concept design outlined in the Pre-Feasibility Study Report to the stage of Detailed Specific Plan and Design Guidelines for the Qingdao site. The intention is that Qingdao City Government will fund 50% of the Phase 2 costs (with some monetary input from the Energy Foundation) and The Paul Allen and Family Foundation (Vulcan) will fund the remaining 50%. The Qingdao City Government has issued a letter to confirm that they will provide this funding - this letter is an interim measure in advance of the formal signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Qingdao and UC Berkeley. We hope to have the full funding in place to start the Phase 2 design process by March 2008."

- Sarah Gillhespy, Senior Sustainability
Consultant, ARUP San Francisco

Not only will this model protect natural resources, it will also align itself with one of the world's top green initiatives. Additionally, residents will avoid taking out home loans to update their house in order to adhere future governmental 'green' regulations because these standards will have already been met by the EcoBlock. This self-sustainable housing block is the way of the future and UC Berkley aims to successfully implement the model on a worldwide scale.

The EcoBlock model upon which this concept design has been based comprises 600 residential units located within a series of 5- to 7-story townhouses, six 12-story tower blocks and four 24-story tower blocks (see Figure 1 for an illustrative layout).

These are arranged around a series of courtyards which could be either publicly accessible or semi-private. Parking will be minimized and provided below ground and on the streets. The layout of the Ecoblock will encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport. Residents will be encouraged to use neighborhood electric vehicles through a car-share scheme.


How the Chinese Construction Industry WorksThe Role of the Chinese GovernmentAwareness & Attitudes to 'Green'China's Cultural ContextGreen Building Products in China
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