Heritage and tradition: Innovating for a sustainable future

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Heritage and tradition: Innovating for a sustainable future
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Heritage and tradition: Innovating for a sustainable future

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Heritage and tradition: Innovating for a sustainable future
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Traditional architecture is a melting pot of history, culture and knowledge-systems spanning centuries. Its continued decline globally begs the question: what can the past offer to the present and the future?

In the second episode of the Holcim Awards 2023 limited webinar series, we speak with Xu Tiantian of DnA_Design and Architecture and Joshua Bolchover of District Development Unit whose respective Holcim Award-winning projects – Gold-winner Fujian Tulou (Zhangzhou Shi, China) and Silver-winner Ger Plug-in 3.0 (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) – exemplify two unique approaches to adapting heritage for contemporary living.

The former restores dilapidated and abandoned historical structures to bring vibrancy back to rural communities. The latter juxtaposes traditional tented structures with resource-efficient home extensions for healthier, low-impact living.

Qifeng Tulou is one of the seven tulou part of the Fujian Tulou project, which reimagines the region’s traditional tulou buildings for new use based on the specific needs of the village they are located in. The Qifeng Tulou will become an agricultural production workshop for a local tropical fruit plantation.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Fujian Tulou, Xu Tiantian explains, is an adaptive reuse project in Zhangzhou Shi, China, that rescues the region’s traditional tulou structures – typically a circular or a rectangular building, built as both a defence structure and collective housing for hundreds of people.

Cuimei Tulou is a circular building still partially occupied by its original inhabitants – the local Hakka people. The intervention preserves and upgrades the existing living spaces and adds new programmes only within the vacant spaces to provide economic opportunities to its residents.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

By introducing context-specific public cultural programmes into seven tulou, the project is a model for conservation that could breathe life into the thousands of similar abandoned buildings in the region.

A ger is a round and portable tended structure, commonly used as habitation by the nomadic groups of inner Asia, including Mongolia.
© Charles MingZ / Envato Elements

Ger Plug-in 3.0, says Joshua Bolchover, is an adaptation and evolution of Mongolia’s traditional gers – circular structures made of timber, felt, and canvas, optimised for nomadic life. As people settle into cities, the ger becomes an anachronism: a fixed urban structure.

The project – a flexible, energy-efficient housing prototype developed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – is an extension to the ger that fulfils the requirements of modern urban living.

View of Ger Plug-In 3.0, which provides an incremental housing strategy that responds to specific site conditions and needs of the residents of ger districts in Mongolia.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Interestingly, both projects correct the “deficits” of traditional structures, seeing them as opportunities for intervention.

Joshua explains that, at present, most households in the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar do not have sewage and sanitation systems. Ger Plug-In 3.0 offers the traditional ger a 12 sq m extension with a toilet, a shower space, a septic tank, and an electric heating system.

The project also helps households change their energy mix from raw fuel to electricity which reduces energy use intensity by 36%.

The incremental strategy of Ger Plug-In 3.0 can cater to varying household sizes. The core unit is available at a relatively low price which can then be extended depending on their financial resources.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

In the case of the Fujian Tulou project, Tiantian points out that many portions of the tulou buildings have become disused or collapsed over time. The project relooks at these remaining structures as a new spatial typology, one that is infused with social and cultural programmes based on a village’s needs, thereby becoming nodes of urban acupuncture.

The Huoshao Tulou is a relic of an original square tulou building. The rammed-earth walls stand like a monument in their unique form after being burnt down by fire 200 years ago. It will now become a rammed-earth educational workshop.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The conversation with Tiantian and Joshua turns to the question of why retain the ger and tulou? Why not simply build anew, in ways that are more efficient?

For Joshua, the ger is a tradition that continues to be needed. It is the cheapest form of habitation in the region. For Tiantian, the tulou hold immense heritage value; they carry collective memory and local identity.

The Fujian Tulou project acts as a prototype for the rest of thousands of unattended tulou buildings, which can make them performative in the contemporary context.
© Zhangzhugang, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Licence via Wikimedia Commons

At the regional level, the Fujian Tulou project can be scaled up across the thousands of neglected structures. This is, Tiantian explains, an effective way to achieve environmental and economic targets.

For Joshua, Ger Plug-In 3.0 leads to a new methodology to reinvent existing building typologies, thereby aiding urban growth.

Visualisation of a ger district where the Ger Plug-In has 3.0 been adopted by all households. By changing the ger itself, the project aims to change the direction of urban transformation towards more resilient and sustainable growth models.
Source: Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Joshua and Tiantian emphasise that the traditional forms and methods – labelled vernacular – are not fixed. They are ever-evolving. As conditions change, these structures and the ideas they embody, adapt, as exemplified by the two projects.

This limited webinar series is created in collaboration with:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognizes the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognized platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

The Holcim Foundation is proud to team up with Ecogradia and the host of its podcast, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This limited webinar series is created in collaboration with:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognizes the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognized platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

The Holcim Foundation is proud to team up with Ecogradia and the host of its podcast, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Senior communications executive
Sana Gupta

Art director
Alexander Melck | Phlogiston

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown | Phlogiston

Video editors
Guellor Muguruka | Phlogiston
Madelein Myburgh | Phlogiston

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Traditional architecture is a melting pot of history, culture and knowledge-systems spanning centuries. Its continued decline globally begs the question: what can the past offer to the present and the future?
Explore the reality of greenery in architecture — pragmatic sustainability or mere aesthetics? Leonard Ng navigates the fine line, urging honesty in distinguishing between environmental impact and visual appeal.
Tackling the carbon dilemma requires a fresh perspective. Stuart Smith reveals how considering a building’s entire life cycle impact can simplify carbon reduction decisions, guiding us towards more sustainable choices.

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