Sustainable Design and Build: Exporting Liveability concepts to China


Australian cities rank as some of the world’s most livable cities, which is in turn creating huge opportunities in China in the design, and build fields, writes Sophie Loras.

“Liveability” might seem like a remote concept to some, but Australian architects and designers are making inroads in China exporting their consulting services off the back of it.

China’s urbanization rates are staggering. Figures from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences show 620 million people in China – or 46.6 percent of the population – lived in cities and towns at the end of 2009 (from 10.6 percent in 1949). That figure is set to increase to 52 percent in 2015 and a further 65 percent by 2030. How China will build and develop these cities for their millions of new inhabitants has been a priority for the Communist Party for many years.

When Dom Tassone of the Victorian Government’s Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD) accompanied then Victorian Premier Steve Bracks to China in 2004 to commemorate the state’s 25th anniversary sister-state relationship with Jiangsu Province, he could see the obvious opportunities for Australian design and architecture firms.


Mr Tassone remembers the clear message the mission wanted to leave with their Jiangsu counterparts – that Victoria wanted to help the province become more livable. “The Chinese,” says Mr Tassone, “just jumped at it.”

High-level government connections and meetings between then Victorian Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, and Jiangsu Party Secretary, Mr Li Yuanchao, (who had recently been elected head of the CPC Central Committee’s Organisation Department), saw the launch in 2006 of the Victorian Government’s hugely successful Australian Urban Systems (AUS) project – a cluster of Victorian and Australian sustainable design firms working off each other to gain contracts in China.

As the Project Director of AUS, Dom Tassone says every Chinese city his team has met with in the last five years has been very clear about wanting to make their cities ‘more like Melbourne.’ Liveability, he says, makes ‘cents’ for export.

The AUS model has proved so successful that Dom Tassone has received interest from other Australian states and countries interested in replicating similar models.

The project has already achieved in excess of A$50 million in export of consulting and planning by its AUS members, and that is just to China.

ABF media

The hub has also had success in the Middle East and is now continuing to expand into India and Latin America.

Through continued government connections and its growing reputation, initial AUS projects in Jiangsu have now opened doors for Australian firms in Hainan, Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing.

liveability_lab_xitaihu_aerial_slide“We are promoting liveability for the cities of the future and we do this very well,” says Mr Tassone. “Liveability is implacably linked to green sustainability,” he says.

“We’ve got some of the most creative architects in the world, so on top of liveability, we also have world renowned creativity.”

* Pictured: Melbourne-based LAB architecture studio’s proposal for the core area of Xitaihu in Jiangsu Province envisions an integrated network of leisure, retail, employment and residential precincts all focused on an active engagement with the waterfront, underpinned by an understanding of ecology and sustainable urbanism.


Melbourne, and Australian cities in general, continue to rate highly on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s world’s most livable cities list, which divides liveability into specific indicators including:

• Stability & Political environment

• Medical & Health

• Culture & Environment

• Employment & Education

• Infrastructure, Housing and Public Services

• Economic Growth and Stability

While competition in the design and build sectors in China remains a highly competitive environment, Australia’s competitive advantage, says Mr Tassone, is that it is a newly urbanized country which has developed new cities and sites.

“China has the economic capacity and government support to change farmland into whole new cities,” says Mr Tassone.

“Australian firms such as GHD and Grocon are now global brands, and the Chinese love that,” he says. “This in turn attracts Chinese investors into the city and the venture.”

Karl Fender, Founding Director of Fender Katsalidis Architects and the National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, says the Australian public, in particular in Victoria, have very sophisticated and high expectations about the kind of housing they want to live in which in turn becomes embedded in the way housing is designed in Australia.liveability_karl_fender_web

Mr Fender (pictured right), whose firm’s most famous landmark is Melbourne’s iconic Eureka Tower in Southbank, is well versed in designing apartments and won the tender for a landmark 11-tower premium residential complex on Shanghai’s renowned Wulumuqi Lu. The project, which began construction in 2005, blends a modern, sustainably-designed complex with the street’s surrounding low-rise heritage buildings.

“We do a lot of apartments through our Australian designs and are at the forefront of apartment design particularly in Victoria and Sydney,” says Mr Fender, “and the experience you develop in that process, developing very good apartments, was the same for Wulumuqi Lu, but sensitive to Chinese expectations.”

Mr Fender says that his Australian designs were able to bring a structural completeness to the buildings in Shanghai, with the firm using an Australian engineer to peer review Chinese engineers working on the project.

“The level of design work [in Australia] is equal to anywhere in the world, take that, and an ability to listen, and Australian architects are becoming a very compelling force on an international scale,” says Mr Fender.

“Other cultures enjoy working with Australian architects and enjoy a high level of design response.”

While sustainability and green buildings feature heavily in the context of liveability, there are also big opportunities for Australian firms in other niche areas around that. These include:


Clean water technology, cleaning up polluted lakes, waste-water, industrial waste, heavy metals and sewage solutions.

“A Chinese city may approach AUS for a study on how to clean up their lake which may then lead on to opportunities for assisting with a tourism development around it,” says Dom Tassone.

Making headway in this area already in China are firms including GHD, Hyder Consulting and the Melbourne Water Corporation.


Master planners designing for a city of the future are looking at this area as China sets targets to increase the number of beds available to its ageing population in care. Aged care can range from everything from residential and health facilities to gardens and forests.

SPORTING DEVELOPMENTS:liveability_watercube_ptw_slide

Sporting facilities are a key component of a liveable city says Dom Tassone.

“Australia is the envy of any sporting country in the world,” he says.

From consulting on event management for polo, tennis and car racing to designing luxury golf and ski resorts, Australia has a lot to offer China in a range of fields.

Standout Australian sporting venues in China include Thomson Perrett designed golf courses and Australian-designed Beijing Olympic venues such as PTW’s iconic Water Cube (pictured above) and Bligh Voller Nield’s archery, hockey, tennis, rowing and white water rafting venues. 


The Tangshan eco-city in Jiangsu is one the AUS’s most prized projects and was awarded to Australian engineering and consulting firm GHD, in partnership with Hyder Consulting and SGS Economics & Planning in October 2008.liveability_ghd_urban_buildings_web

The 52 square-kilometre project covers conceptual planning, architectural design, regulatory planning and detail planning. The Tangshan New Town will house 350,000 people and will become an important modern tourism resort, profiting from its natural springs and Tangshan Mountain.

GHD, as the leading member of AUS Cluster for Tangshan New City planning design was responsible for managing the design, and undertook the main city planning design, including the city development strategy plan. Meanwhile, Hyder has overseen specialty traffic planning and SGS, the economic analysis and evaluation.

*Pictured: Capitalising on the waterfront in the Tangshan development. (courtesy GHD/AUS)

The service provided by GHD, Hyder and SGS for Tangshan New City Urban Design project is a demonstration of the AUS at work – capitalising off its relationship within Jiangsu and incubating a number of potential future opportunities for AUS Cluster members in areas including the construction phase and in the areas of architecture, building services and landscaping.

The project has received significant coverage in local media and members of the AUS have received VIP treatment from the Nanjing Mayor and other important provincial government officials.

The Building Commission of Victoria, Charles Wright Architects, Aspect Studios, Woods Bagot and SDG Shine have also made contributions to design services through the AUS Cluster. 



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