Low Cost Modular Environmental Eco-cities and Urban Villages


  1. Introduction
  2. Pattern Languages
  3. Urban Village Concept

    See Also

  4. More on low cost housing


City Edge Apartments

In 2005 the Australian Capital Territory Government asked for ideas on how to celebrate Canberra's centenary in 2013. This is to propose the construction of 40 new urban villages in Canberra to house 40,000 people, making it a showcase for low cost environmental design. Each urban village would house 1,000 people. They would be rapidly built using modular techniques, on the surplus school grounds in older Canberra suburbs. A proportion of the apartments and townhouses would be reserved for public housing. Low cost, high quality, environmentally efficient modular housing would be used. A combination of prefabrication and local materials would be used. Information Technology, the Internet and the web would be used in design, developments and use of the urban villages.

Pattern Languages for Architecture, IT and Living

Pattern Languages originated in described common solutions for architecture and urban design.

The first 94 patterns deal with the large-scale structure of the environment: the growth of town and country, the layout of roads and paths, the relationship between work and family, the formation of suitable public institutions for a neighborhood, the kinds of public space required to support these institutions.

From: "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction", Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, USA, 1977

They have been more generally applied to more general design practices in a range of disciplines.

Pattern languages are used to formalize decision-making values whose effectiveness becomes obvious with experience but that are difficult to document and pass on to novices. They are also effective tools in structuring knowledge and understanding of fundamentally complex systems without forcing oversimplification -- including organizing people or groups involved in complex undertakings, revealing how their functions inter-relate as part of the larger whole.

From: "Pattern language", Wikipedia, 2006

Apart from architecture, pattern languages have been applied in software engineering, to the design of computer software.

In software engineering, a design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly-occurring problem in software design. A design pattern isn't a finished design that can be transformed directly into code; it is a description or template for how to solve a problem that can be used in many different situations. Object-oriented design patterns typically show relationships and interactions between classes or objects, without specifying the final application classes or objects that are involved. Algorithms are not thought of as design patterns, since they solve computational problems rather than design problems..

From: "Design pattern (computer science).", Wikipedia, 2006

Urban planners and architects have not yet come to grips with the fact that IT and engineering now have as much to do with how communities are built as does architecture. In "City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village, David Sucher only mentions the web and Internet twice. On Page 30 he dismisses telecommuting and e-commerce: "The virtual office and virtual store via Internet will replace bricks and motar. Such predictions have obviously failed." On Page 43 he briefly mentions wireless Internet access in coffee bars and use of web based newspapers. He does not mention modular building techniques at all.

Perhaps it is possible to apply a unified view of pattern languages to the built environment, the IT systems used and the social structures used to govern them.

Urban Village

The "urban village" concept is an attempt to provide the benefits of living in a small community, with the infrastructure of a city. The concept has had difficulty in implementation as urban planners and developers can only influence the built environment and could only indirectly effect the economic and social activities carried out.

The expression "urban village" is a term to describe a place in the city which has all the characteristics of a village.

Largely as a response to managing public health and amenity, in the early part of the twentieth century our cities traditionally developed with residential, recreational, educational and work environments separated through separate land use 'zones'.

An urban village approach to controlling development seeks to combine all these activities making them more accessible within a single centre which is well served by public transport.

From: "Urban Village Policy, City of Ryde, 2006


Eco-cities an attempt to apply the "urban village" at a larger scale.

Tokyo's phenomenal growth is largely down to a single factor: migration from the countryside to the city. It is just one of many to have overtaken London, which with a population of 7.5 million today doesn't even make the top 20.

This rural to urban migration can now be seen in scores of cities across the globe. And it has brought us to a pivotal moment in human history. ....

From: "Eco-cities special: Ecopolis now, Fred Pearce, New Scientist , issue 556, 16 June 2006

Arup is working the design and financing proposals for a phased 84,000m2 development of an environmentally and ecologically sensitive area into an 'eco-city' in Chongming Island, Shanghai, China.

Dongtan Island is three quarters the size of Manhattan Island and will be developed as a sustainable city to attract a whole range of commercial and leisure investments. The first phase of this is planned to be completed as a demonstration for the Shanghai Expo 2010.

From: "Stage 1 Chongming Island, China, Arup, 2006

... The urban part of Dongtan and the farms will occupy a slice of land that lies near the eastern end of Chongming Island. At 86 square ­kilometers, Dongtan will cover about 7 percent of the island. ...

In the 1980s, when China was planning the new special economic zone within Shanghai, the decision was between Chongming Island or Pudong. It chose Pudong. Although that decision created a skyline as breath­taking as New York’s, it is breath its residents can ill afford, given Shanghai’s smog. The city, in short, cannot afford another Pudong. ...

From: " How to Build a Green City, Steven Cherry, IEEE Spectrum, June 2007

Less dramatic than new cities are new apartment developments in existing cities.

City Edge O'Connor

The "City Edge" apartment and townhouse complex located in the inner north Canberra suburb of O'Connor, provides one model. The complex is adjacent to the O'Connor shops, and was built on a site which previously had public housing. The ACT Government made an arrangement with a non-profit housing cooperative and a developer to redevelop the site. Some apartments were reserved for public tenants, but most are privately owned. One property is fitted out as a smart apartment, as a high-tech project. There are also several ground floor apartments specially fitted out for the disabled.

Governance at the Local Scale

Australia, the USA and the UK have different national government structures to India and China. But at the local level the need to make decisions about basic services, such as water, energy and garbage collection force similar governance structures. A body corporate for an Australian apartment complex is a non-profit collective, not unlike that governing a traditional village.

At one end of the spectrum, cohousing can provide a collective social structure in modern apartments.

Cohousing communities consist of private, fully equipped homes and extensive shared amenities, including a common house and recreation areas. They are designed and managed by the residents who have chosen to live in a close-knit neighbourhood that combines a healthy blend of privacy and community living.

The cohousing concept attracts people for different reasons. Whether you are single, married, have kids or don't, the model can suit you. Some members look forward to knowing their neighbours and enjoying the community facilities. Others like the fact that there will usually be someone around to help out with the kids. Some people like the option of having shared meals together in the dining hall and having access to a large garden. We all like the fact that the whole development is designed for the residents, environmentally sensible and energy efficient.

From: "What is cohousing?, Canberra Cohousing Association Incorporated, 2004

At the other extreme, individual services are provided to individual households by different utilities.

Utility Madness - Water

Now, this single card smart card (after being charged up) was inserted into three different meters near our apartment! One was an A/C unit right outside our apartment and the other two were hidden in compartments in our walls that allowed access to the plumbing and water metering devices...

Utility Madness - Electricity

No smart card here. Just gotta pay for electricity in a special ATM-style kiosk outside the apartment office. I was forced to do this quickly when our electricity went out the second day and the fans for the air-conditioning went out. ...

Utility Madness - Gas

Gas is controlled by a blue-colored smart card with a picture of a rising rocket on it. You can pay for gas at the apartment office using a credit card so this was the easiest to charge up on our first day. In our apartment there is an exposed gas pipe in the laundry room that has a metering device on it. ...

From: " Utility Madness - Water, Chaoyang Dwelling, 2005

Electronic Governance

Much has been made of Electronic or e-Government at the national and regional level. The Australian Government has a set of eGovernment initiatives. However, it is at the local government, village or neighborhood level that government has most effect.

The ACT Government has a typical set of services available on-line. Development Applications, proposing changes to building are publicly notified on a web site. Objections or comments can be lodged by email. The plans can also be lodged and fees paid online.

In Australia there is generally no recognized government below that of a local government (corresponding to a city, town or shire). However, the body corporate provides a de facto government for cluster housing.

Bodies corporate provide a legal framework in which unit owners or occupiers can enjoy common property together. Common property may include driveways, paths, stairs, passages, lifts, lobbies, common garden areas and other facilities set up for use by all members and occupiers of the units. Under the Subdivision Act 1988 (the Act) if a plan of subdivision contains common property then a body corporate is created when that plan is lodged with and registered by the government Registrar of Titles.

When you buy a unit that is part of a body corporate, you automatically become a member of that body corporate. When you sell a unit, the new owner replaces you as a member of the body corporate. ...

As a member of a body corporate you are responsible for decisions about repairs, maintenance and insurance not just for your own home but also for the common property.

From: "Body Corporate A Quick guide to the law in Victoria, Victoria Law Foundation, 15 March 2006

While a small block of four units may only have one set of stairs, a roof and small patch of grass to look after, a large complex, such as City Edge in Canberra, may have hundreds of residents, its own roads, parks, street lights, telecommunications, energy generation and distribution infrastructure. The body corporate provides governance for the decision made and is, in effect a fourth tier of government.

Some Australian Modular and Sustainable Home Designs

  1. Clean Earth Homes:

    All CleanEarth HOMES reduce greenhouse gas emissions by being passive solar designed and fully insulated to achieve minimum 4 star energy performance, with most homes achieving 5 star performance (this depends mostly on site conditions). All appliances are selected based on their maximum energy star performance within the client budget range. The materials in the home are also selected to reduce the amount of energy contained in the home overall.

  2. ehabitat modular system

    - The entire system was conceived with passive solar principles in mind. This makes every ehabitat extremely cheap to run and good for the environment. - They are designed for the temperate regions of Australia, but can be simply adapted for more tropical environs. We use low embodied energy and non 'off gassing' materials throughout.

  3. ModAbode prefabricated, modular units.

    An e-BODE consists of prefabricated, modular units that are constructed in a factory to ensure a finish of the highest quality. An e-BODE is ordered with ease and manufactured in a few weeks. The modules arrive at your site on a flat-bed truck, ready to be positioned on the foundations.An e-BODE will be a calm refuge from a hectic world and the perfect backdrop for the shifting patterns of your family life.

  4. SmartShax Lightweight, environmental huts

    Lightweight, environmental huts originally designed by architect Ken Latona ideally suited to the Australian coastal climate. " Basic amenity plus maximum connection to where you are".

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