In an era of globalization and significant rural-urban migration, Israel-based Knafo Klimor Architects offer a new ‘urban and social vision that will address problems of chaotic urbanization’. The Agro-Housing prefab concept is a modern housing solution that integrates green building practices, smart growth principles and traditional values to create sustainable urban communities within China’s growing metropolises.

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The UN estimates that 50% of the population in China are going to reside in cities by 2010. This massive urbanization can potentially fragment communities, severely deplete natural resources, lead to considerable unemployment, undermine existing traditions, and increase air and soil pollution. Agro-Housing is designed to help avoid these negative impacts, and the importance of the project has been recognized worldwide – it won the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing.

Agro-Housing tackles the looming statistics with a high-rise apartment complex concept that incorporates a vertical greenhouse, creating compact homes that also enable families to grow their own organic produce. Other communal spaces are also built-in, such as a kindergarten on the ground floor, a ‘sky club’ on the building’s green roof, and flexible spaces for professional meetings and informal gatherings.

The building will be constructed with a number of sustainable building techniques: the gardens reduce carbon dioxide and provide natural cooling and shade, drip irrigation from the existing high water table is used to water the plants and grey water is recycled for gardening. The materials used for paving are recycled and there is ample bicycle parking in the shade. Other heating and cooling comes from passive solar energy and ground source heat pump systems.

The direct benefits to inhabitants will include greater freedom, better health and additional income, as well as creating a sense of community and preserving rural traditions. Urban growth becomes less expensive in the closer-knit communities with less investment in infrastructures and transportation systems needed. The level of time committed to commuting is reduced, and the community becomes more aware of the benefits and importance of sustainability.

Agro-Housing’s main structure is composed of steel, which is prefabricated and installed on site, enabling flexible spaces to be constructed. The steel, like the aluminum, glass and terracotta the building uses, can be recycled should the building be deconstructed. The estimated cost of construction per square meter is about €200 ($28 USD/square foot).