China Day 6 – Ningbo (part three!)

After we left the University Campus at Ningbo, we were treated to a visit to the Ningbo Museum.

This is a municipal building constructed 2 years ago at a cost of £25m. It extends to 300,000 square feet. The architecture is stunning – very cleverly done. It has a quirkiness that appeals to me.

I always worry that modern buildings that try to be old become pastiche and awful. But this is neither; it has a mix of modern and old. Modern in the form of cast in-situ concrete, old in the form of reused bricks and tiles. The pattern on the concrete is of bamboo. Internally it is a huge space. This doesn’t seem to be an issue in China!

We visited the visiting and permanent exhibitions – the visiting one of modern jewellery, then the standing exhibition shows various local artefacts found around 7,000 years ago. It is an impressive collection – in an even more impressive building.

Although this was a flying visit, it was well worth visiting.

I came away, again, with the feeling that the Chinese do ‘big’ very well and quite often. Being at the University campus reminded us of home and I couldn’t help bet compare the Museum with The Nottingham Contemporary.The Contemporary is around one-tenth of the size, cost about the same and is on a constrained site. The architecture is nowhere near as good (in my opinion).

China Day 6 – Ningbo (part two!)

Part of my trip to China included a visit to the University of Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo.

Would the real Trent Building stand up?

although the sun was shining when I got out of bed; it was incredibly humid. We were picked up at the hotel by coach and set off for the campus around 40 minutes away from the centre. It is adjacent the new town I blogged about yesterday.

Out of the haze appeared a carbon copy of the Trent Building in Nottingham – it was a weird feeling. It really does feel like home – except for the humidity.

The University now have 5,000 students in Ningbo. There are 350 staff and it is growing – mostly because of the University’s reputation. Typical rates of employment (or going on to study for a PhD) of Graduates from a Chinese University will be around 30%. At Ningbo, the figure is just over 94%. They select the best of the best from all over China.

But our visit was really to see the award winning CSET building. This is China’s first Zero Carbon building – it actually produces more power than in needs from its Solar Panels. There are geothermal heat pumps and a (very) green roof.

The CSET Building at Ningbo

At MIPIM two years ago, this building won the International ‘Green Building’ award.

The building has been designed to showcase various ‘green technologies’, but it also functions as a centre for research. Although designed by Italian Architects Mario Cucinella, the components were all sourced in China.

The design draws on Chines culture, the fan like pattern is set in a glass structure – which resembles a lantern. It certainly grabs your attention!

Professor Jo Darkwa (who I met first at the Expo conference) showed us around and explained that Chinese students are now taking a real interest in the technologies to reduce carbon.

This really is a fantastic facility – the campus is growing, which is due to its success.

We were made to feel very welcome; I think they appreciate what Nottingham University has done for the City.

It was a pity we didn’t have more time and that there were no students around (they arrive back next week). We had another task though…an amazing museum – more on that later!

China – day five – Ningbo

I am spending two days in Ningbo China as I blogged about earlier.

I was just a passenger for this bit

And last night I went to an Official banquet – which was preceded by a formal meeting. This was a first.

The formal meeting was held in a large room with chairs at the end for the two civic dignatories – Councillor Alan Clark from Nottingham City Council and Hua Changhui – our host. He is Vice Chairman of the Ningbo Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. It was certainly an experience – we weren’t asked to say anything, just listen to the formal introductions and niceties. Ot lasted for half an hour.

Which was worth it for the meal. I think we had 15 courses of the best tasting food I have had all week. The atste was amazing – even if sometimes I wasn’t entirely convinced what I was eating…

The formalities continue during the meal when there are lots of toasts – with red wine. Probably 15-20. Some are collective, some are individual. I soon got the hang of it. But it is ‘bottoms up’ rules – in other words drain the glass. There is orange juice too, and the glasses only have a mouthful of wine which is immediately topped up by the sommelier. The banquet room also has its own chef.

There was a pudding of three slices of fruit….

We had been forewarned that this would be a ‘timed event. The host, having eaten, simply got up, said his goodbyes and left. He was gone aft 7.50pm – he arrived at 6.00pm. This apparently is normal.

I was told that this was a typical political meeting format – business ones tend to me more informal, but food is always involved. It is a critical part of any meeting – either before or after. I can’t see myself getting the opportunity to do this again, I did enjoy the experience, even if it was rather alien to our way of doing business.

China – Ningbo City – day five

Today I went on the longest bridge in the world (I think!). It crosses the Hangzhou Bay connecting Shanghai to Ningbo.

It has been open for three years and runs for 22 miles. It cost three quarters of a billion pounds! The journey time has been cut from around 6 hours to just over two – most of which was spent fighting our way through the morning traffic in Shanghai.

The city of Ningbo as viewed from my hotel window!

After a very brief check-in and even briefer lunch we were taken to a new town on the edge of Ningbo. This is known as The Ningbo Eastern New City – it covers an area of 15 square miles. Water is a common feature of Chines Architecture and this is no different – water courses run through the whole place.

Over 170,000 people will live here – and another 150,000people will work there. Some buildings are already complete, the pace of building is simply staggering.

As I mentioned in a previous blog there is a theme I have noted here in China – they just get on with things. There is master-planning going on, but the whole development process is concertined. It is just astonishing how quickly buildings Cities go up!

Although impressive there were some issues. It reminded me of Milton Keynes (they had never heard of concrete cows!) but there is a difference – it is high rise, buildings up to 450m high. And it is, of course, all new. One example was the Cultural Plaza, spread across 4 acres there will be 3.2m sqaure feet of buildings. In context Meadowhall Sheffield is around 1m square feet!

There was a suggestion that many of the residents will move from the old town into this new development. We weren’t told what would happen with the area vacated.

When pushed about sustainability, there seems to be a nod to it, but it I’m not sure it embedded into everything. There will still be a 60% reliance on the car. There was no aim to have zero carbon. Each developer needs to have one low carbon strategy.

I couln’t help but think there was a missed opportunity here. But you have to admire the ambition and drive.


We have been discussing this strategy tonight on The Bund in Ningbo (The Bund seems to refer to a waterside walk and bar area). The suggestion seems to be that the carbon neutral strategy is taking hold, but some of the plans for the City were developed back in 2002. In terms of what gets left behind in the ‘old town’ it will probably be demolished. My concerns about all of the bad things about a new town (lack of history and culture etc.) are perhaps a symptom of the western world. Our Chinese interpreters believe that there is much more of a societal fabric; the bond between families and friends is much stronger – and shifting the whole place will not break that. I guess then that this is where our cultures are different.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Travel Tagged Eastern New Town, Milton Keynes, ,

Shanghai – Xintiandi urban renewal

Last night, after our long day at the Expo, we headed into another ‘suburb’ of Shanghai – Xintiandi.

This is a fascinating place, much smaller scale than the masive skyscrapers found at Pudong and around The Bund. It is a modern urban renewal project.

There is a museum at the heart of it. The Shikumen Open House tells the story of the area. Shikumen is the type of housing found in the area. Think “Coronation Street” but much bigger!

It basically grew in the 1930′s and followed a pattern of alleyways (known as Long- tangs) and houses behind gates. The term Shikumen literally translated means ‘stone gate’. There were a mixture of houses but the museum house was a fairly substantial family house with well-proportioned rooms and clearly the seat of an educated family. I am not sure that all houses were like this!

It was home to 8,000 families, but fell into disrepair in the 1970′s and 80′s. There was little money to resolve the problems, so the whole was redevloped. The people were relocated and a mass demolition took place, except for the facades. New shops and restaurants were created – and this is now a low level entertainment centre.

It really is a great example of how to do urban renewal. What remains of the old fabric has been faithfully restored – particularly the doorways. But they have been able to create new spaces behind. Some of the restaurants and bars are simply stunning. One had gold leaf on the walls…and a bar made of stained glass.

So far, this has been my favourite part of Shanghai – and I hope to get back before I leave for home.

There is a theme emerging here though – when a decison is made to do something, there is little sign of messing around. 8,000 families were relocated from this area to create a new district. For the Expo, it was 18,000 people.

Getting things done is what the Chinese seem to do best! Not much seems to get in the way.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Travel Tagged museum, Shikumen, , Xintiandi

Shanghai 2010 – The World Expo

As I blogged earlier, my last day at the conference gave me an opportunity to have a look around the Expo site. Like most things here in Shanghai there aren’t sufficient superlatives – it is vast. Some of the Pavilions are whacky, big and bizarre. Or one from three of these!

The UK Pavilion at the Expo - a square hedgehog?

It was my intention to see the UK Pavilion – having travelled so far – and it is certainly different. It has been nicknamed “The Hedgehog” – as it is made up of thousands of perspex ‘needles’, which penetrate the core. Inside at the end of the needle is a seed of some description… It is slightly odd, but works quite well. As to what it is all about – I think that is up to you. People were queuing for around 2 hours to see it though. We timed it perfectly as we had just finished inside when a foreign dignitary arrived – and they effectively close the place down.

One wall at the Italian Pavilion!

We had a great lunch in the Italian Pavilion adjacent the UK offering. Pasta and risotto is different from all the other food you get here! That too was good, with emphasis on Italian design – there is Ferrari California, some Vitra furniture, Zegna clothes and lots of pasta. This was much larger than the Uk offering, but was more about content than building design. It was also very busy – the car in particular drawing lots of attention!

The China Pavilion - towering above everything!

We then saw the China Pavilion, which comprised a number of smaller pavilions within – each of which had its own queue! This particular pavilion (and the London Zed House) will be kept that Expo site after the exhibition finishes. Everything else gets demolished! The Pavilion is a vast structure – Pagoda shaped and bright red. It is a useful reference point on the site as it towers over everything else! Inside was a showcase on the advances China has made – particularly in technology. Some of the displays were very clever particularly in imaging technology.

Then there was the interesting Iran pavilion – which was slightly odd – and more about propaganda than a celebration. The models of their nuclear power stations were interesting! Anyone seen any WMD anywhere?

We had done well, seeing this many pavilions as some of the queues are very long! But we failed to get into the Japanese Pavilion which showed a five and a half hour wait. Apparently Robots play the violin inside. We had been told that this was a ‘must’, but the queue pushed it out of reach.

And that was it, it didn’t rain like the first night, but it was hot and sticky. I am glad I saw the UK pavilion. But I wonder about the actual Expo. The infrastructure is huge – roads, bridges, water crossings. And for a six month show. They expect to get 70 million visitors, but the majority of this thing gets demolished. So I come away admiring some of the quirky ‘architecture’ but really wondering ‘why’?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham, Travel Tagged China Pavilion, Italy Pavilion, Shanghai Expo, UK Pavilion

Shanghai – Day four – the conference closes

The second day of the Nottingham City Council and University of Nottingham Conference took place in the London Zed Pavilion at Expo 2010. The weather has pretty much been the same for the last 48 hours – 32 degrees and 80% humidity.

I stayed for three keynote speeches today.

Firstly Peter Walden from Carbonlow in Derbyshire explained the background to the UK’s carbon emission reduction programme, primarily in terms of the legislative framework. He also highlighted some of the challenges the UK will face in meeting the targets set – primarily that we shall be building zero carbon houses by 2016 and commercial property by 2019.

Then Professor Mark Gillott from The University of Nottingham explained the Nottingham H.O.U.S.E project. House stands for House Optimising the Use of Solar Energy. The challenge was to enter a competition in Madrid and build the house in three days. It had to reach certain criteria – but also had to be capable of being dismantled and shipped back to the UK. It is going to be installed on the University Campus. What I found really interesting about this talk was the way in which we have changed our consumption of energy – at the turn of the last century consumption was principally on heating; now it is on power for equipment!

The third talk was from Jo Darkwa – from the Ningbo Campus of the University – he spoke about the Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies – “CSET”. This was useful as my next stop is Ningbo – and hopefully a look at the centre!

And with that, my part of the conference closed – there were some further talks, but these were aimed at ‘manufacturers’. And this was my last opportunity to see the Expo…

More on the second part of my day later!

Shanghai – DAY THREE – Conference

The City of Shanghai was veiled in a murky warm cloak this morning – which didn’t really change all day. The temperature remained at a constant 29 degrees. It was sticky!

The London Zed House - zero carbon!

This was the first day of the Conference hosted by The University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Council. And the venue was the London Zed House in the Expo site. After a brief queue we were in the site and I started to realise the enormity of the place. It was suggested by one of the delegates that 500,000 people had visited on Friday – the highest number yet for a single day!

Prof. Saffa Riffat opened the conference with a theme. Mass Urbanisation is the greatest challenge the human race faces. In context 900 million Chinese people will live in Cities by 2020 – the shift is away from the countryside. This has a massive impact on society – particularly in relation to CO2 emissions.

The former MP for Nottingham, Alan Simpson then asked if we really could redesign the future. The UK have introduced a Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) and people who overspend will be fined. Then there is the issue of new builds – and how we ensure that these comply with Zero Carbon emissions in the future. The technology is already in place, but we build around 250,000 houses each year. There are 25 million other houses.

In a nod to the Opium Wars in Shanghai, Alan likened our buildings to being ‘drug dependent’. Each needing a daily fix of air-conditioning or heat or power.

The final question was that we have the technology now, but we need to change behaviour. In other words – can we redesign ourselves?

Julian Marsh then took to the podium and shared experience so the Meadows in Nottingham – where he has a house and where he is building some new houses for Blueprint, one of my clients. The Meadows has had its fair share of troubles – not least of which there is high fuel poverty (where at least 10% of income is spent on energy). There have been a number of projects which are trying to introduce green technologies – including retro-fitting Photo-Voltaic Cells. The interesteing note was that with some Grant Aid and Feed In Tariff’s the money gained back from the energy companies is used for the local community – and spent on local projects.

Kevin Kendall from The Birmingham University shared some astonishing statistics – 96% of the Worlds electric bikes are in China. In 2006 there were 10m. Today there are 100m… His point was that there is a move away from the combustion engine toward electricity – but the the battery technology is still in its infancy. Typically electric battery cars can only do journeys of c.55-80 miles. But hydrogen fuel cells are being tested and these have a better return – up to 300 miles. But we also have to resolve the charging time – which can be 5 hours or more.

Abu Bakr Bahaj from Southampton showed us some interesting tips about PV’s – notably about solar shading – a particular problem in Shanghai – where buildings are next to each other.

There were some speakers from Ningbo too – but more of that in a later blog!

Tonight there is a Banquet, so more food. And I fancy a pizza – but have a feeling that may not be on the menu.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Green stuff, Nottingham, Travel Tagged Alan Simpson, CRC, Hydrogen cells, Julian Marsh, Kevin Kendall, London Zed Pavilion, , Pizza, PV Cells, Shanghai Expo

Shanghai – Starbucks!

I mentioned in my last blog that I had ‘found’ Starbucks in Shanghai. It won’t surprise you to know that I had done some research before I came out to Shanghai (purely out of interest of course). There are ten branches.

The Peoples Square Starbucks branch

I also found a review on-line, but this was in Chinese – and my Chinese is pretty limited. I can say “yes”, “no” and “goodbye”. So Google translator was useful back in the UK, but is less so here! The translation was:

Been put pigeons. Shopping shopping ah wandered here on. Other nearby café. Would like their home. Attitude has always been good. Sincere smile. Out accompanying the new Tiger Cup is nice. Super Cup 卡普奇诺加 or favorite little cinnamon. On the second floor of the sofa seat is very comfortable. Toilets very clean.

I’m not sure I saw any Pigeon based food or drink, they did have some of the regular Starbucks food – but not all. Blueberry muffin was good!

The food was quite ‘westernised’ and it is here that you realise that the Chinese people in Shanghai really do want to (literally) have a taste for the west. The formulaic way of serving and delivery was just the same as back home. The shop layout was identical as were the colours. They don’t have brown sugar though!

And there’s no sign of Sainsbury’s trying to shut them down…yet?

Shanghai – day 2 – an amazing place….

My second day in China, started with sorting out some very wet clothes from last nights attempt to see some of the Expo. Even my jeans had to go to the Laundry – they would never have dried on their own!

After some “housework”, I set off for The Peoples Square and found what I had been looking for – Starbucks. And it is quite similar to back home – except my Grande Cappucino was swapped for an Iced Cappucino – for obvious reasons – it was 33 degrees outside.

Then I headed for the Shanghai Urban Design Centre – which shows in Architectural models the growth of the City. One model takes up a whole floor – and gives you an impression of just how big this place really is. And it is still growing…by the minute!

The model of the City - my hotel on the right...

I had arranged to meet a number of Nottingham folks at lunchtime – and we met in a fantastic bar on “The Bund” – a roof terrace with stunning views of the River and Pudong. The lack of rain helped! “Club Sandwich” is a traditional Chinese dish, so, reluctantly, I went with it. With Lager. And chips.

The afternoon was fascinating – we had a walking tour with Benson Lau, an Architect from Hong Kong originally but now working in Nottingham and living about a mile from my home (in the UK…). We walked into Old Shanghai – a very different place to the high-rise of the Bund and of Pudong. He took us to Yu Gardens which were an oasis in a sea of madness. They ooze tranquility. We were given an insight into some of the clever design tricks used 400 years ago – they really were clever designers, looking at ergonomics particularly.

But the highlight – which surprised me was a visit to a tea house in the gardens. I normally preach that tea is a drink with milk and sugar and all that other stuff is for girls. But I was painted in a corner and had a choice – go thirsty or try it. No milk and no sugar in sight. Nor a mug – just a thimble full. And we tried – Jasmine, Flower Tea (which was spectacular in looks), Ginseng, Lychee and Dragon Well. The latter being the most expensive. The Chinese treat tea like we treat Whiskey. My favourite was Lychee, which tasted better than it smelled. Not one of our group really agreed on a particular though! It was truly an experience – and lasted about an hour.

Next up was a ferry ride across the Huangpu River to Pudong and the dizzy heights of The Jinmao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Centre. These buildings have vied for the highest building spot, currently in Shanghai, it the latter at 101 storeys. But both are to be eclipsed by a new tower, just starting at 150 stories…

Cappuccino in the 56th floor of the Jinmao was amazing -if only for the view up of the rest of this 88 storey beast! The WTC building is a little brash and looks like a bottle opener, but the Jinmao is really quite stunning. It is based on the figure 8 – which is lucky in Chinese. It also costs Y1m per day to run!

Jinmao left and WTC right - both vertigo inducing?

There was some research done in the 1990′s that Pudong was sinking at a rate of just over 1m every decade. As Shanghai on average os only between 3 and 4m above sea level this is somewhat disconcerting. I have a feeling that the conference tomorrow may well touch on this. The rate of sinking has now slowed, but the rate of building certainly hasn’t. This is an area of pure decadence – a completely eclectic mix of styles and with very little respect of each other. Master-planning this is not.

So my ‘easy day’ was drawing to a close, before the conference on Saturday & Sunday.

Jazz in Peace - no that's not right...

But the evening was certainly different – in the Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel on the Bund. Our table had been booked two weeks previously, such is the popularity of the place. It was like going back in time – the bar started in the 1930′s and I think there are some of the original band members. But the company was good and it was another new experience for me. If I’m honest it’s not my sort of music, I left “Oh when the Saints..” some time a go, but the musicians were extremely talented.

A nightcap on another terrace bar on The Bund was the final act of the day – barring my taxi ride back to the hotel – an expensive £3.60. I keep having to double-check – the transport is really that cheap!

Tomorrow I have the Expo to look forward too; I hope it’s not raining – my shoes are still wet from the rain 24 hours ago!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Dragon Well, Flower Tea, Ginseng, Jasmine, Jazz, Jinmao Tower, Lychee, , Peace Hotel, Peoples Square, Pudong, Roosevelt Hotel, Shanghai Expo, Shanghai World Trade Centre, tea, The Bund, , YuGarden