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Published: Thursday September 13, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday June 1, 2013 MYT 11:14:26 PM

Architect Prof C.J Lim says future is smart cities

MELBOURNE: The city of the future will not just be somewhere to live, work and play - it will be where the urban and the rural overlap to form a "smart city" that promotes healthy living and food sustainability.

Such is the vision of author and celebrated urban planner CJ Lim, Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at The Bartlett, University College London.

A founding director of London's Studio 8 Architects, Malaysian-born Prof Lim believes the great cities of the future will serve to tackle one of the greatest issues facing us in the 21st century: food security. More than half the world's people live in urban areas.

At the same time, climate change, loss of agricultural land to development and a ballooning population are putting impossible pressure on the ability of traditional agricultural regions to meet the demand for food.

In his 2010 book 'Smartcities and Eco-warriors' (co-written with researcher Ed Liu), Prof Lim says architects have become skilled at incorporating sustainability principles such as climate control, greywater recycling, green roofs and renewable energy collection into their building designs.

He said cities, though, were infinitely more complex than buildings, and a shift in scale to sustainable city design called for a radically different approach.

Prof Lim, a former student of St Michael's Ipoh, said the smart-city principle takes the city's residents as its starting point and its reason for existence.

It proposes the re-integration of cultivated land within an urban economy and the establishment of an ecological symbiosis between nature and built form, he said.

It is taking the idea of rooftop and vertical gardens into the 21st century.

Growing up in the small village of Pasir Pinji near Ipoh gave Prof Lim an early introduction into the harmony that could be achieved between the natural world and the human world.

And visiting his mother in Pasir Pinji every year from London reinforces his love for the rural environment.

In an interview with Bernama here, Prof Lim said:

"Let's take the traditional Malay house. It was designed to engage beautifully with the local climatic requirements, with low-thermal materials, solar controls, and that ingenious natural ventilation system: the raised floor.

"These dwellings on stilts have a harmonious relationship and understanding of the tropical climate."

When Prof Lim was commissioned by the Chinese government to create a blueprint for the city of Guangming, he found that the region was a major food producer for Hongkong, Macau and southern China.

However, with the government's blessing, he developed a plan for a smart city that could house 300,000 people while retaining the region's agricultural value.

Prof Lim's Studio 8 Architects describes Guangming as a combination of urban design and eco-sustainability "arranged into human-scale clusters or housing/farming suburbs in the form of towers and craters".

"Each suburb is self-sufficient, with its own high street, square and individual character. The city's vertical floral gardens sit alongside the vertical kitchen garden farms around which people can sit and socialise."

Borders of lychee orchards filter the air, and biogas-fuelled buses provide eco-friendly transport. At the centre of the city is an artificial beach and a canal that leads to the revitalised Maozhou River, which includes a reed bed water filtration system.

The same principles can be introduced anywhere, Prof Lim says.

"Intelligent architecture in Malaysia reflects locality, resources and the environment and has in-depth understanding of heritage and community.

"There are many good examples, including the traditional Malay house; the Cheong Fatt Tze 'Blue Mansion' in Penang is a stunningly beautiful and poetic building; and of course the innovative cutting-edge designs by the great Ken Yeang."

In Penang, he submitted a proposal for sustainable housing that incorporated a 'smart envelope' to grow food and reduce heat gain.

"The wealth of the smart-city plan (in Malaysia) will include physical and social well-being, independence, greening of our cities and, most importantly, access to nutrition.

"A design manifesto that embraces food security and sustainability will provide for a mutual, self-sustaining support network that develops socio-economic relations and contributes to community cohesion.

"Food knowledge can also help combat the rise in obesity, which has significant health, social and economic impacts on cities," he said. With careful planning, a little thinking outside the square and the willingness of governments to take a risk on a new approach to urban planning, Prof Lim says future cities can be healthy, self-sustaining communities that are a joy to live in.

Prof Lim is currently the Visiting Professor of Research at RMIT University, the International Specialised Skills (ISS) Institute Fellow, and is supported by the City of Melbourne.

His research in Melbourne 'Imagining the Emergent City' is an urban research project that explores the potential of large-scale urban infrastructural interventions to address the fundamental requirements of food, water and shelter to meet the challenges posed through rapid population increase and climate change that will affect future Melbourne. - Bernama

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