A mastermind of green design

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-01 11:03
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A mastermind of green design

This site in Sandao, Hainan province, has been recreated in the virtual online world of Second Life where the public will design an "Eco-friendly Community" that will later be built on the actual site.

When David Greenberg stumbled across a cluster of tree houses while trekking the jungles of Maui, he felt a sudden and mighty urge to rebel.

"That was the moment I knew I wouldn't be an urban designer," he says. The California native with a disdain for convention and an admiration of nature would instead reinvent himself as an "anti-architect" and "anti-designer".

It was a hike that eventually led Greenberg to South China's tropical island province of Hainan, where he would build his own tree houses in Sanya city's Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone. The project marked the beginning of his career in the country's "sustainable ruralism", ecological tourism and poverty reduction.

A mastermind of green design

Greenberg's latest undertaking in Hainan is perhaps his most unorthodox - at least in its methodology.

It involves the development of an "Eco-friendly Community" in a bamboo forest in Sandao, 14 km inland from Sanya's Yalong Bay. The twist is that the undeveloped site has been precisely recreated in Second Life - a virtual, 3D, online world in which people from 100 countries construct identities, interact and buy goods and property.

Competing students, architects and designers develop this "community where people will live, work and visit (encouraging) a wide range of uses, occupied at all times of the day (to) stimulate social, technical and cultural progress", the project's website arcspace.com says.

Clad in a digitally rendered World Wildlife Fund tee - a departure from the Hawaiian Aloha shirts he normally favors - Greenberg's Second Life avatar explains the vision and rules of the competition in footage posted on YouTube.

All structures must be at least 25 percent bamboo, while the remainder should be made from "green" materials. The centerpiece of this community would be the traditional Chinese medicine-oriented "Bamboo Spirit Spa".

Every step of virtual progress will be broadcast on YouTube to encourage public participation. Assessments of the work will be made by public votes cast through multimedia presentations, and a panel of international architects, engineers and Chinese academics "from both the real world and the virtual world".

After the second phase of voting wraps up on Dec 1, the finished product will actually be constructed on the site.

"It's kind of like American Idol but better, because it's all in real time and truly interactive," Greenberg says. "In American Idol, there's distance between (it and) the audience, but in this, everybody gets to be a part of it, because you can go to the set of this, whereas you can't go to the set of American Idol."

Before coming to Hainan, Greenberg spent three years in South Central Los Angeles working on reconstruction in the wake of the 1992 riots. He had studied the Watts Riots in university and specialized in urban design's impact on segregation.

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