Great City by Adrian Smith +
Gordon Gill Architecture


News: work is about to start on a high-density, car-free "satellite city" for 80,000 people that will be built from scratch in a rural location close to Chengdu and later replicated in other parts of China.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

Designed by Chicago firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture for private developer Beijing Vantone Real Estate Co., Ltd, the 1.3 square kilometre Great City will feature a high-rise core surrounded by a "buffer landscape" of open space comprising 60% of the total area. Residents will be able to walk from the city centre to its edge in just 10 minutes.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

"The design is attempting to address some of the most pressing urban issues of our time," said architect Gordon Gill. "We’ve designed this project as a dense vertical city that acknowledges and in fact embraces the surrounding landscape.”

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

The architects claims the city will use 48% less energy and 58% less water than conventional developments of this size, producing 89% less landfill waste and generating 60% less carbon dioxide. The city, which will be connected to Chengu and other population centres by a mass-transit system, is intended as a prototype for other parts of China.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture are also working on the 1000 metre-high Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, which will be the world's tallest building when completed. Their 450 metre-high scaly-looking Dancing Dragons towers in Seoul, South Korea were unveiled earlier this year.

Image © Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.

Here's some text from the architects:


CHICAGO, Oct. 24, 2012—Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture is pleased to announce that it has completed a master plan for Chengdu Tianfu District Great City, a self-sustaining, environmentally sensitive 1.3-square-kilometer satellite city scheduled to begin construction this fall on an approximately 3-square-kilometer site outside Chengdu, China.

One of the first projects of its kind to be proposed or completed in China, Great City—developed by Beijing Vantone Real Estate Co., Ltd.—is envisioned as a prototype or model city to be replicated in other locations throughout the country. The development is intended to respond to the problem of overburdened infrastructure in many of China’s major urban centers without contributing to the high energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with suburban sprawl.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

When completed in about eight years, Great City will be home to about 30,000 families totaling 80,000 people, many of whom will also have opportunities to work within the development. The distance from any location in the city to any other location will be walkable within about 15 minutes, all but eliminating the need for most automobiles. The city will also be connected to Chengdu and surrounding areas via mass transit to be accessed at a regional transit hub at the Great City center.

The project has been designed to achieve a remarkable series of sustainable benchmarks. Great City will use 48% less energy and 58% less water than a conventional development of similar population. It will also produce 89% less landfill waste and generate 60% less carbon dioxide.

“Great City resolves the relationship between high-density urban living and sustainable development,” says Adrian Smith, FAIA, who directed the design process along with AS+GG partner Gordon Gill, AIA. “This project will provide all basic services to its residents through a sustainable infrastructure that supports education, commerce, culture and an improved quality of life. It demonstrates how China can reduce its ecological footprint while creating economic conditions that are affordable for the majority of citizens and address contemporary social concerns.”

The project has been designed to conserve existing farmland, with more than 60% of the 800-acre site area preserved for agriculture and open space. The 320-acre urbanized area will be surrounded by a 480-acre buffer landscape, whose natural topography—including valleys and bodies of water—will be integrated into the city itself. Within the city, 15% of the land will be devoted to parks and landscaped space, while 60% will be parcelized for construction. The remaining 25% will be devoted to infrastructure, roads and pedestrian streets.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

"The design is attempting to address some of the most pressing urban issues of our time, including the need for sustainable, dense urban living at a cost people can afford," says Gill. "Accordingly, we’ve designed this project as a dense vertical city that acknowledges and in fact embraces the surrounding landscape—a city whose residents will live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition to it. Great City will demonstrate that high-density living doesn’t have to be polluted and alienated from nature. Everything within the built environment of Great City is considered to enhance the quality of life of its residents. Quite simply, it offers a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

“We are extremely pleased with Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture’s master plan for Great City because of the firm’s world-class perspective and very high-level design experience,” said Vantone Chairman Feng Lun. “As we move forward with this exciting project, we are happy to face challenges together with the AS+GG team.”

The development program within Great City will include commercial, residential, office, light manufacturing and a medical campus which will provide health services to residents as well as a larger regional and perhaps national constituency. The city’s medical campus is also intended to address the needs of the growing Chinese demographic of young married couples who live in combined households with extended families that may include two sets of grandparents.

“For the first time in China’s history, more people live in cities rather than rural areas, which means that the country is in real need of examples of dense, mixed-use sustainable urbanism,” says AS+GG partner Robert Forest, AIA. “Our design for Great City is a shining example of what the urban future could and should look like, both in China and elsewhere around the globe.”

The city’s perimeter is defined by a clear edge, from which the city center can be reached on foot within 10 minutes. An extended recreation system connects the pedestrian network to trails that run through the green buffer and surrounding farmland. The infrastructure and public-realm networks include electric shuttles, plazas, parks and links to the recreation system. As a primarily pedestrian city, only half of the road area is allocated to motorized vehicles. All residential units will be within a two-minute walk of a public park.

Great City by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

“The sustainability framework for Great City, custom-designed based on the principles of LEED-ND and BREEAM, follows an integrated approach toward meeting the overall objectives of environmental, economic and social sustainability,” notes Peter J. Kindel, AIA, ASLA, AS+GG’s Director of Urban Design. “Great City will incorporate innovative technologies and infrastructure systems to achieve 48% energy savings of a conventional urban development.”

In addition to improved efficiencies within buildings, the city will use seasonal energy storage to use waste summer heat to provide winter heating, and a power generation plant will employ the latest co-generation technology to provide both electricity and hot water. AS+GG has worked with the infrastructure consultant Mott MacDonald on plans for an Eco-Park located on the northwest edge of the city will integrate waste water treatment, solid waste treatment and power generation.

AS+GG's master plan includes architectural design guidelines for massing and placement of buildings. Several international design firms, including AS+GG, will begin design work on the architecture later this year.

About Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture is dedicated to the design of high-performance architecture in a wide range of typology and scale, from low- and mid-rise residential, commercial and cultural buildings to mixed-use supertall towers and new cities. The office uses a holistic, integrated design approach that explores symbiotic relationships with the natural environment. AS+GG is currently working on projects for clients in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Canada and the United States. The partnership was founded in 2006 by Adrian Smith, Gordon Gill and Robert Forest. For more information, please visit

  • CrazyHouseCat

    3 square-kilometer = roughly 1 square-mile site, 60% of which is green space. Am I crazy, or does the rendering make that “pile of building” look a lot more like something that will fit in say 5 square-miles (like downtown LA)? Something is not right here.

    And IF I was being crazy about the scale thing, what about all the empty “ghost” cities all over China (Google it, over 64 million vacancies)? Sure, this one might be more “sustainable” as they claim. But conceptual cities like this simply cannot sustain itself commercially. All the shops, businesses and offices will be empty (because of insufficient population to support their functions), and therefore the housing intended for workers will be empty since they are totally overpriced. The only other kind of people who would ever live here are retirees (due to its geographic isolation).

    Functionally, this is the kind of theoretical project that belong only in academia, no?

    • Alai

      You’re mistaken. 1.3 square kilometers of building area – compare it to the World Trade Center site of 0.065 square kilometers, where 50,000 people worked. The scale of the thing is quite reasonable.

      And it’s not really isolated. It would have a train going into the bigger city, so it would have better commuting and traveling connections than lots of suburbs today.

      Of course the economy may not be ideal for it right now…

    • Christian Vera

      It seems as if China has a grand project for their future. The 50 million vacanies might go on changing as China changes. China is not going to look the same in 10-15 years as it does now. Expect economic change in China because as new economic reform presents itself, China will slowly make itself the worlds future superpower and will dominate all industries. China now has their own Sillicon Valley. China is going to make the world look very different. Don’t under estimate China’s potential.

  • TDH

    Urban proposal without a plan? PLANS PLEASE!

    • We’ll put some plans up tomorrow morning. The story came in very late as we were going home so we only had time to write the text and put one image up. Sorry!


  • Eric Widstrand

    Interesting concept with a few holes I particularly don’t know how to fill without further explanation:

    1. So 80,000 (assuming a car each) all are parking in a gigantic parking garage that’s located on the outer rim, so they can take public transportation (somehow) to their car when they need to leave the community? Security issues in my mind…

    2. If this is self sustaining, there will still be import/exports done in order for food, goods, consumables, etc. to be in all of the stores. This seems to propose a nightmare for getting goods into the businesses if there are no roads to support freight trucks/trains to individual businesses.

    • Alai

      1. I don’t know if you can assume that every person (!) has a car. One per household, maybe. In any case, most people leaving the community would take the subway from the center which would go straight to the bigger city.

      2. It didn’t say there were no roads. “As a primarily pedestrian city, only half of the road area is allocated to motorized vehicles.”

  • Ogier de Beauseant

    A lot of hi-tech stuff here. Can it be maintained? What happens if the elevators breakdown? China might want to study Gordon Cullen’s plans done for Alcan that envision low density housing on a train loop that will feature industry, education, recreation etc, situated around the rail line. But it lacks the pizazz of the high rise towers: self contained cities of glass and alloy.

  • Chuck Draper

    Not once in the whole article did I see the words food or gardens. Self-sustaining? What a laugh! Quit while you are still behind.

  • poipon

    It’s gonna become a ghost city… there are many others in China, did you know it?

  • Arnie Ferentinos

    This plan will create an efficient city but it will cost a lot of money. Considering it will only hold 80,000 people is the money worth it and how will people in China pay to live in such a technologically advanced city.

    If even ten of these cites are built if won’t help China a lot, because there will still be cities like Beijing and Shanghai which hold more than 10 million each and 10 of these cities will only hold 800,000 people.

    • Anon.

      Well don Arnie. Way to read the textbook.

  • Aaron Campbell

    This project seems like a good idea in terms of efficiency and saving greenhouse gases. However, it will cause huge congestion on streets for people on bikes or such, as well as pedestrians. Anyone trying to get around the city, will be held up enormously even though it is supposed to be a 15min walk from the city centre anywhere. Imagine if all 62,000 ppl/sqKm went outside at the same time! Chaos!

    Also, it will be both convenient and inconvenient in terms of shopping. Many shops will have to be stacked on top of each other, and finding a certain shop or a shop that sells a certain kind of product would be a nightmare!

    Also, what is the budget for this, and where is it coming from? How is China going to be able to support such a scheme? Is this really going to be a good idea in the long run? It might last for a few years, but after that…I like the idea though.