Copenhagen – part 2

As anticipated we went to Malmo in Sweden yesterday. Malmo is a 35 minute train journey from Copenhagen – you venture across the Oresund Bridge (which is like the baby version of the bridge linging Shanghai to Ningbo I went on last year).

The Turning Torso - Malmo

I especially like the Vastra Hamnen district – the harbour area. This is where you can see, actually you can’t miss, Santiago Calatrava‘s “Turning Torso” building. It stands out from miles around and is the centre-piece of this area of urban renewal. The whole place has fantastic public open spaces – water features run through the houses and shops.

What I noticed most was the massive development taking place – tower cranes and new roads are plentiful. It has really changed a lot since I was there 3 years ago. It is good to see – and the oprices of some of the hosuing stock was not as expensive as I imagined. A floating hosue boat (that description doesn’t do it justice) was £360,000?

We found an excellent coffee shop on the southern tip of the area – Espresso House – cappucino and cup cakes went down well.

The town is also really nice – an ecelctic mix of old and new – some buildings dating back to the 1500′s, other modern glass efforts. Public squares feauture too – the Eurpoeans do squares much better than us?

And that was it – we headed back across the water to Copenhagen – and an evening around the Tivoli Gardens. We started with dinner at that quintisentially Danish restaurant – The Hard Rock Cafe. We can’t be accused of not being immersed in the local culture? It took so long we ran out of time to look around Tivoli – we are hoping to go back…

Since Tivoli was a place we considered on our Sheriff of Nottingham tour a few years ago, I think we need to see it.

But, today was really about Malmo. I love the place. The Harbour area is, in my opinion, how buildings should sit in their environment. 10/10 Malmo.

The (not so) Great Mall of China

If you regularly read my blog, you will know that I have been to China twice in the last 12 months – both times to Shanghai. I was amazed to see the level of development. When we went to Ningbo, I couldn’t quite understand how you could build a city – but my questions were simply lost on the City Planners. They didn’t understand why we were questioning the demand side of the equation.

When I was in Shanghai in March I drove past hundreds (I don’t exaggerate) of apartment blocks being built. The scale of development is eye watering.

This week, my friends at Nottingham University sent me this link on You Tube. It is worth watching it! It shows the side of China the officials don’t want you to see. In essence (if you haven’t got 15 minutes) there are estimated to be 64 million empty apartments. The Mall visited by the reporter is simply empty – although they have a nice web site.

This is all rather worrying! At the end of the report the question was whether there would be an uprising and civil unrest. On the face of it you would worry, but my experience of the Chinese people is that they are incredibly tolerant; the State rules with a rod of iron.

The video…

Shanghai China – my second visit

Today I leave the UK again -for the third time in a month – and this time I go East… to China. It’s my second visit to Shanghai. I was last there six months ago visting the Expo and attending some University of Nottingham events.

You could go by Prius, but it takes a little too long?

I stayed in Pudong last time – East of the Huangpujiang River. But this time I am staying in the heart of Shanghai on the West Nanjing Road.

This trip is also with the University of Nottingham. It’s a shorter trip than last time – principally to attend a conference on Sustainability on Thursday and Friday in Shanghai. I am looking forward to the event – it has a mix of UK based firms and Chinese Companies – some of who are developers, others manufacturers of ‘green technology’. Although I am interested in some of the technologies I am really keen to learn about some of the design elements. I hope that we are going to see how the technology is being integrated into new buildings at the start.

But I am also working on the research I have mentioned here – I am hoping to get some time to write up some of the details of the 12 hour plane trip! This is the worse part of the trip. And that Shanghai is 8 hours ahead of the UK – so it ‘takes’ 20 hours to get there – but only 4 to get back!

I am also keeping a diary this week for the Nottingham Evening Post – for publication next week. I guess they don’t want to follow someones ‘normal’ week of “I went to a meeting” ad nauseum?

But despite all of this ‘green’ interest and learnings my carbon footprint isn’t looking too good either this year – especially having racked up 22,500 miles in the last month. I will plant a tree I think on my return – remind me!

I will try to blog from China, but sometimes my wordpress account gets blocked…

Shanghai 2011

For the second time in a six months I will be in Shanghai, China. I have been invited by The University of Nottingham to attend a conference and workshop on Low Carbon Innovations. This event is being organised jointly by The University and The Chengxin Eco-integration Company.

The Bund - Shanghai

I met the Chengxin Group when I was at the China Expo last year.

My visit this time is relatively short – just four nights, with two days at the Conference and Workshop. I think I might try to work on UK time!

Stephen George International are working in Shanghai – in a deal forged at the last conference, but signed back here in Nottingham. I met with the guys from this practice at The Expo last year. It was good to hear of a UK company winning fee paying work from the Expo visit.

This latest exhibition is to bring together UK and Chinese companies to discuss new business opportunities on low carbon industry/building projects. As this new technology develops we are getting more involved in this arena.

There will be discussions on a wide range of topics including sustainable construction, building materials, low carbon technologies, architecture environmental design, energy management, smart grid, building information systems, water saving, water treatment, noise control, waste management, CHP, renewable energy, HVAC systems, energy saving devices and waste heat recovery systems.

I am looking forward to going back to this mad place – I thoroughly enjoyed my last visit. Partly because of the Expo, but partly for the trip I had to Ningbo. This time, it will be much more business focussed. I am looking forward to learning something at the two day conference, but also to the challenges of trying to win business…

There are huge opportunities in China, both to help them as they grow their economy, but also as they start to invest in our economy. We have already seen some of that investment in Nottingham. Hopefully we can capitalise on this – and bring some more!

Architecture and the biggest prize

I had missed the presentation of the Stirling Prize for Architecture a few weeks ago, but caught up with it at the weekend.

The £20,000 prize has gone to Zaha Hadid for the Maxii museum in Rome.

It took 11 years to build and cost euro150m! It has been described as Super-Modernism.

I like it but, as is usual with Stirling, I liked the Bateman’s Row scheme in London better. It was a labour of love for its Architects who made a workplace, home and apartments. It has a great human scale and is more ‘real world’. It was a real fight to make it work and Soraya Khan and Patrick Theis, the architects have done just this.

Sometimes these prizes are won by ‘money’ rather than ‘design’ – although I can appreciate Maxii’s design credentials. It would have been disappointing with the time spent and the money thrown at this project if it had been ‘ok’?

I guess that in the current climate we are going to see fewer major projects in our current funding climate – that is unless you head over to China. My vote would have gone to the Ningbo Museum I blogged about here. I can imagine in a few years time that there will be a clutch of awards heading east – to the Far East!

In the meantime here’s a video of the Maxii

appalling architecture and concrete cows

I was in Milton Keynes last week and saw the house in the image. I haven’t photoshopped something out of it. Or into it. It is a pure unadulterated image.

It is difficult to rationalise this in architectural terms. Perhaps a schoolchild in year one had given the inspiration Playschool style. “Here is a house, here is a door and a window”. After that I am struggling. Perhaps the kid ran off – and decided to play dolls instead?

Brutal simplicity. Or just ugly beyond belief. The latter I think.

Sadly someone has to actually live here – unless it is some form of holding pen? I had wondered whether it might be a Spooks ‘safe house’ but it is so bland that it isn’t anonymous. It stands out like a proverbial sore thumb.

Would it inspire you? It makes me feel depressed just looking at it.

When I was in Shanghai last month we visited Ningbo and the new housing ‘town’. I remarked to the Chief planner that is was very similar to Milton Keynes. I had our translator ask if there were going to be concrete cows. She thought I was mad (true?) but dutifully translated. They weren’t. They were bemused.

Some of the architecture in Shanghai and Ningbo might be described as pastiche, but I didn’t see anything as bad as this!

Milton Keynes was allowed to experiment with its layout and architecture in its gestation. The layout works most of the time (it is difficult to get a grid-iron system wrong) but this sort of building is just woeful. I cannot imagine what the designer was thinking.

It makes me want to say that Poundbury is good. Which it isn’t. But it – and most things – are better than this!

Shanghai 2010 – my thoughts….

It is time for me to pack my bags and leave China. I have a 12 hour flight ahead…

It has been an amazing trip. And it is difficult to try and convey on my blog what I thought. But I will try!

I actually drank some of this!

Shanghai is just a mad place. Big, brash, noisy and full of beans. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but latterly as I found more of the City I grew to like it. Xintiandi, The Old Town and the Bund all have some historical context- Pudong is more modern and has some fantastic architecture. The Cloud 9 bar on the 88th floor of The Jinmao Tower is incredible (as is the taller World Trade Centre next door at 101 floors), but when the next skyscraper gets built it will be 150 stories – nearly 50% higher again. I saw the WTC in cloud more than once – so the new building will have interesting views.

The Expo conference was interesting and there were some great speakers – some real food for thought. But the Expo itself left me wondering what it was all about. I was glad, though, that the UK Pavilion was not an embarrassment to us! It was utterly brilliant – fun, quirky and inexplicable. I like that! Some of my Luddite friends will think it a nonsense. But they are just a bit off the pace?

Then Ningbo was much better than I expected it to be. It is different; smaller scale, but fiercely ambitious. The new town they will build is going to be huge. The University Campus is something we can be proud to be part of. The Chinese people are.

The food has been excellent throughout my trip. The Government Banquet in Ningbo was a real experience, but other Chinese meals have been good too. I am not entirely sure what I have been eating sometimes. But ‘when in Rome’? Dumplings are very nice! And the tomato is a fruit – eaten with melon for pudding! The snacks I had one night I later discovered had eyes – it was a good job we were eating in the dark!

Duck & Turtle sauce for supper sir?

I have seen some strange sights – live food at the side of the road is never going to catch on in the UK!

The heat and humidity are energy sapping. And I was told it was quite cool when I was here – it regularly reaches 40 degrees. 95% humidity is not unusual – especially in Ningbo. It can be decidedly unpleasant.

Transport is easier than I thought it would be. Taxi fares are incredibly cheap – my average fare for a 15 minute trip was £1.50. The tube is even cheaper – 30p or 40p a ride. The Maglev from the airport is fantastic; the bridge across from Shanghai to Ningbo is an amazing engineering feat.

I have made some new friends along the way, both in the Public and Private sector – and both English and Chinese.

Our translators and advisors in all things Chinese - Jessica & Meadow

Sadly, my Chinese speaking is no better than it was at the start of the week. But this was partly that we had some excellent translators for the week! Jessica and Meadow from Nottingham City Council were brilliant – at least I think they were! I shall never know – although we never go thrown out of anywhere when they were around.

Would I come back? – Yes definitely.

Would I recommend it? – Yes definitely.

But you have to get off the beaten track – much like most places, the tourist traps are the same. But the real China can be found – and it is only just beneath the skin. And when you find it, it is great. It is not repressed as far as I can see, but I was in a very Westernised part of the Country.

And if I could sum up the attitude of this place, I would steal (on their behalf) the old Nike slogan “Just Do It”! That should do nicely!


By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Travel Tagged Bridge Ningbo to Shanghai, Jinmao Tower, Maglev, , Tea House, The Bund, , World Expo, WTC

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 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, ,