With growing global concern over environmental protection, more countries and businesses are focusing on eco-friendly and innovative developments. This movement has been led by China, which has long pronounced its transition towards a green and low-carbon economy. As reported in Global Times, China’s solar panels, wind installations, and hydropower have top global rankings, driving its way towards its carbon peak and neutrality goals — involving commitments of at least 130 trillion yuan (US$18.85 trillion). Although these are ambitious targets, China’s exponential growth may make these attainable in the near future.

According to a write-up on China’s transformation by LHH, the Chinese are seeing economic power and standards of living that rival most western countries, particularly in cities like Shanghai. In just a few decades since opening its economy in the 1980s, China embraced the leading edge of technology, engineering, and architecture, which is evident in the infrastructure of its major cities. Through the planning of future cities, greater technological advancements are constantly designed and integrated.

Investment in sustainable building

While green buildings (GB) may initially appear as expensive and complicated structures, the benefits they carry have a high return on investment. The World Economic Forum’s report on green buildings notes how these structures can cost 5% to 10% more than conventional buildings, in exchange for more energy savings over a long term, improved air quality, and lower emissions. In addition, computer modeling has predicted that temperatures may drop by as much as 2°C if an urban rooftop is green, providing positive health benefits and even encouraging productivity at work. Considering these perks, it’s unsurprising that more countries are looking to invest in their green infrastructure.

Part of China’s efforts to get designs and inspiration for the country’s emerging cities is through architectural competitions such as the Future Science and Technology City. As shared in our post on a competition entry by architecture company MVRDV, the Chengdu Sky Valley may integrate both agricultural and modern buildings on a hilltop, encouraging a more sustainable, natural, and self-sufficient lifestyle amongst its inhabitants. Through these opportunities, there can be a better understanding of what are common visions and designs that may work well for a designated area.

National policies supporting green buildings and concerns

As shared in an environmental and economic study “Green building in China”, the Chinese government is heavily involved in mandating the development of GB. Several compliance instruments like building permits and urban planning have already been set, such as incorporating the National Assessment Standard for Green Buildings (2019) and the Green Building Energy Labeling (GBEL). These regulations largely support the use of international private GB standards such as LEED or ISO 14001.

However, while these policies have supported GB growth, there is still much work to be done. Currently, GBEL certification is only required for new public buildings while remaining optional for residential buildings. This may disincentivize businesses to build green by themselves, so it’s essential that the Chinese government actively promote GB to encourage private investment and compliance. Furthermore, there is a need to constantly update GBEL standards, which may increase administrative costs.

Considerations for Western architects

While national policies are important, the overall design is still dependent on the architect. According to art curator Evangenlos Kotsioris, Chinese architecture promotes both social and environmental sustainability by redirecting and reusing the use of traditional materials and existing structures. Rather than forcing sustainability, architects should work to build harmony with nature, and integrate local culture and behavior to maximize the results of GB.


Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.