A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The China Syndrome

Last month I was invited to speak in Xi'an, China, the home of the terracotta warriors.  The topic of the conference was water in the Tarim Basin.  Michael Campana of WaterWired graciously posted my trip report before the Rainbow Water Coalition was started.  No, greywater was not discussed at the conference.  But while traveling, I did observe some pretty remarkable things, like the magnificent new Beijing airport, the legendary air pollution, and contrary to popular belief, a new (or renewed) attention to living with nature and living a "green" lifestyle.

The China Daily recently ran this interesting article about the latest trends in building architecture with a keen eye towards sustainability. A new set of buildings just won an award; the last paragraph in this clip caught my eye regarding greywater:

"Having just completed the Linked Hybrid in Beijing, Steven Holl Architects has established itself among the top of this ground-breaking pack. Their eight-tower structure, attached by floating walkways, received this year's award by the International Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat for the best new tall building in "Asia and Australasia" and was also designed to qualify for a LEED Gold certification, the second-highest LEED rating obtainable.

The Linked Hybrid has one of the largest geothermal cooling and heating systems in the world, exemplifying energy efficiency in new Chinese developments. With the geothermal system, water pipes running through the apartments' floors flow 100 m below the basement in 660 wells, cooling the water in summer and heating it in the winter. The buildings thus maintain a natural temperature between 16 and 21 C without electric air conditioners or water boilers.

The buildings also recycle all of their "gray" water by filtering used water from sinks and bathtubs and reusing it to flush toilets, irrigate roof gardens and fill the structure's outdoor ponds. This reduces water use by more than 40 percent."

Recalling the movie The China Syndrome which portrayed the drastic meltdown of a nuclear reactor in the US, which once penetrated the earth's crust, mantle, core, mantle, and the crust on the other side of the world, would reemerge in China (although geographers would argue this is impossible as the Indian Ocean is on the "other" side of the world from the US), perhaps the metaphor for the new millennium of The China Syndrome is "I think we design for the future; we cannot design for the past," Li says. "A good building always provides opportunities for the future." 
During the course of my visit to China, I was fascinated at how eager my Chinese colleagues were to learn from western successes and failures regarding managing and developing water resources.  When it comes to "green" building and greywater reuse, I think we have much to learn from them.  Hopefully their philosophy and knowledge will melt through the crust of our traditional construction approaches for large new buildings.  


  1. Its strange how these examples of water efficiency works out paralelly with the 3 gorges dam and a railway line to Tibet that has severe ecological implications. Did you sense a concerted effort in China for sustainable cities or are these one of a kind initiatives?

  2. It is surprising how aggressive China and Taiwan have become in the green building arena. There are regular news releases about new green buildings in China and they are beautiful examples of green architecture. Taiwan has reportedly built the tallest green building:

  3. Tallest green building link: