University City

April 28, 2013

Charlotte professor researches ‘Vertical cities’ among new visions of urban life

The time may come when we won’t run out to the store, but up to it.

The time may come when we won’t run out to the store, but up to it.

We won’t kneel to tend our gardens, but stand to reach them on our tiptoes. Our commute to work will be measured not in the minutes spent tolerating traffic, but in the time ticked away enduring elevator music.

Just as humanlike beings tramped about on all fours, then eventually stood upright, our physical communities may someday do the same.

In the planning of many new Asian cities, it’s already happening: Vertical is becoming the new horizontal.

Architects, responding to the mass influx of people from rural to urban settings, are designing what has become known as vertical cities, where retail shops, business offices and homes all exist under one towering roof.

“The building can become compressed and can house the functions of a small city,” said Zhongjie Lin, an associate professor of architecture at UNC Charlotte and one of the leading experts studying modern urbanism and its current trends, such as vertical cities.

Over the years, Lin’s research has yielded numerous articles and books that examine the most efficient ways to house large populations in East Asia, where countries are becoming more urban and at a faster rate than their Western counterparts.

His research has been funded by more than a dozen fellowships and grants over the past decade.

This year, a fellowship granted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars in Washington, D.C., has allowed Lin to narrow his focus of study on China’s mass urbanization.

When that fellowship is up in May, another one will allow him to continue his research into next year.

Lin learned this month he was one of the 173 recipients to receive the 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Nearly 4,000 scholars applied for the prestigious award with the 88-year history that’s given only to those who demonstrate exceptional talent in either scholarship or creative endeavors. Three fellowships were awarded in North Carolina this year.

Lin will to use the grant to finish his research on the new towns under construction in China. In 2014, the research will be published in his new book, “Constructing Utopias: China’s Emerging New Town Movement.”

China is undergoing what experts say is the largest mass migration in humankind. Each year, 16 million Chinese trade their rural lives for urban ones. China’s government estimates the country’s fast-paced economic development will cause a need for 400 new towns to be built within the next 20 years.

The need has sparked the attention of architects from all over the world, many of whom bring their futuristic visions of urban life – such ideas as space-saving vertical farming – to the drafting tables.

In 2007, Lin co-founded the master of urban design program at UNC Charlotte, to further future architects’ understanding of the ever-changing urban environment. The degree examines how fluctuating demographics and shifting environmental and sustainability stances can influence urban planning and design.

What he teaches today may not necessarily be what he teaches tomorrow.

“Cities should be looked at as organisms,” said Lin. “The city is continuing to grow and evolve.”

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