Efficient Design: Chongqing vs. Portland


I’ll be posting something more thoughtful on living in the New North District of Chongqing later in the Summer, but for now, I wanted to put up a few pictures of our apartment and my current understanding of how this building (right) compares to my LEED Platinum apartment building in Portland.

Living Room

The living room has a rather large couch on one side with a rather large plasma screen TV on the other.  The tall equipment in the left corner of this view with the LED screen is our central air conditioner. The air conditioner is a GREE brand unit with an China Energy Label rating of 2 (the second most efficient ranking) and its connected to a large exhaust unit on the deck. Currently my experience using this is a bit limited as the controls are all in Chinese, so I will hold judgement until later. The couch shows another cultural difference, being covered by a sheet and then white towels to protect it from sitters. In Portland, I don’t have a dining room table, so this would make sense there, but this apartment has a full dining room table with 4 chairs, so it seems clear these towels are to soak up sweat and prevent the couch’s fabric from wearing even slightly (this might be due to the rental nature of this apartment). Finally, the TV, its digital cable box, and DVD player are nearly identical to what you’d find in the US.

Lighting

The bulk of the apartment is lit by sunk-mount fluorescent bulbs (probably 12W), but the exceptions are notable. The ceiling of the living room holds this elaborate light fixture lit by energy inefficient halogen bulbs. I think this is meant to be a showpiece, and even my apartment in Portland has decorative halogen fixture in the living room/kitchen area. The bathroom has four heat lamps in the ceiling near the shower, which seems a bit overkill, although with a window and the heat this city experiences much of the year, I wonder if it is really used. And finally, the bedrooms each have decorative fluorescent fixtures. Overall, I’m hugely impressed with the focus on low energy bulbs.

Bedrooms

These pictures show my (Derek’s) and Jenny’s bedrooms. As you can see both have their own windows and heavy blinds. They also have their own AC units, allowing the central AC unit to be shut down and more targeted cooling during the night hours. You can choose from low/med/hi and cooling/fan/heating with rotating or fixed directing blades. Why we don’t use these more in the US is beyond me, but most places I’ve travelled outside the US employ them effectively.

The windows are another story entirely. I have only been here one day, but from my understanding it is a standard hot day in Chongqing so I feel comfortable commenting. These windows are cheap and ineffective as barriers to heat. While they are double glazed, they are very thin, and the seals between the panels are minimal. The heat gain through these gaps is noticeable, particularly in my bedroom which sits out from the building and therefore has a rather large number of panels for the size of the hole in the wall. There are heavy blinds to cut down on solar heating and from a quick look around at the other buildings, nearly everyone uses these all day long.

Kitchen

The kitchen is really an interesting example of East-meets-West. The picture above shows a very Western looking countertop and styling for all items, except the rice pot on the left and wok on the right of the stove are sitting on fixtures that are part of the gas stove and cannot be removed. (Unfortunately, this means no homemade flapjacks for two months.) Next to the microwave on the left is a water sterilizer that boils water for drinking. I was told when I arrived that this is considered healthier water than bottled water because bottled water is perceived to have chemicals in it that prolongs the time it can remain in the bottle. As a former biologist, it’s hard to understand how boiling tap water that likely contains both contaminants and pollutants, would be healthier than sterile water bottled by a factory maintaining even minimal standards. Perhaps they’re worried about BPA?

If you turn right from this modern Western-ish kitchen, you face a very Chinese kitchen scene: A washing basin and opening screen wall for when the cooking heats up the kitchen. This is where we’ll clean clothes and pluck our chickens. Of course, this IS still a posh new complex, so the wash basin is now in modern French kitchen style. After the first day, there are some interesting points to note here. For one, this glass screen wall heats the room up like a sauna. This is an northeast facing

window, so at least it cools relatively early, but I left the door to the kitchen shut to prevent cooling that room and when I got back at 7pm there was a noticeable smell in the hot room. Should we leave some dirty dishes laying around or chicken packaging in the trash we will pay a hefty price! Above the wash basin is our water heater, which is happily small and apparently efficient given I have used no hot water and it has made no noise as a result (i.e., it’s not heating and dumping unnecessarily).

Bathroom

The bathroom is relatively small (particularly in terms of ceiling height) compared to American standards, but efficiently laid out. The four heat lamps in the ceiling each have their own covered switch, so you have a lot of control over what lighting you choose to use, if you choose any given that there is a good sized window. I like that the room is tiled from ground to ceiling. Surprisingly, for a country with such a water shortage issue, this bathroom is an amusement park ride for water use. There is the sink with a spray hose, the toilet (with dual flush), the shower, the standing toilet, and two water valves. (All but the shower is depicted in the picture above). I don’t know what purpose all of these taps serve, but it seems unlikely that there is a hidden efficiency at work here.

Views and Green Features

Let’s start with the views. The image above is what you see when you walk out onto our balcony and look east. Essentially you are seeing residential towers from left to right, foreground to background. I was told that the complex on the left is actually one of the best known in the city and the one we should tell taxis we live in so that they can find the approximate location of our actual home. All along the bottom you can see the many trees that have been planted. In the future, I will post street section shots that show these trees serve little purpose but to shade the part of the sidewalks where cars park (due to insufficient parking lots), however, I’m told their intention was to shade the sidewalk for pedestrians.

The first image of this post shows our view southwest, with one of the buildings of our complex on the left and other residential buildings in the background. These trees are part of an elaborate garden at the center of some of the buildings. Walking through them today, there is a long artificial waterway with ducks, fountains, benches, and workout equipment. By 8am this morning, older people from the building were out on the covered seating talking under our balcony and enjoying the space provided (more pictures to come).

In addition to these gardens which help cut down the heat island effect as well as providing a private park for residents, the roof of the street fronting commercial buildings have their own plants. I don’t know what purpose these serve, but they appear to provide shade and could even grow fruit. It’s also hard to know if that is an informal home of some sort in the corner of this roof deck. Looking at the residential buildings in the distance, more of them have green roofs with trees and vines than in our direct vicinity. I’ll try to get better images of these as we explore the district.

And finally, my favorite oddity to date. You are looking through our balcony’s railing at what appears to be a fake green roof of some sort. Someone has laid bows of trees over the top of this shade (where the elderly were chatting this morning), to cover up the ugly structure with a tree-top effect for those looking down from the apartments above. While I’m sure this worked for a week or so, in the Summer heat, these poor branches are withering very quickly and providing little benefit.

So how does this view compare to my view from Portland? Well, I am very lucky to have a nice view of downtown looking south. There are some very obvious differences, but the clearest is the height of buildings. Portland’s careful control of view corridors through building height limits has resulted in structures new and old that are rarely more than 30 stories. The other big difference is that in downtown Portland, the buildings are largely of a commercial nature. The small building in front is the historic Sovereign Building apartments, but for the most part you have to go north of downtown to the Pearl District or south of downtown to the University District to find modern residential high rises and none of these are complexes with a dozen buildings and multiple gardens.

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4 thoughts on “Efficient Design: Chongqing vs. Portland

  1. Andy says:

    What luxurious accommodations! Having a kitchen is pretty incredible, actually, but don’t let it keep you from ordering random street food all the time!

    Like

  2. Ali says:

    Wow! Lush living in Chongqing!

    Like

  3. Seriously! I was just happy that my room had a western toilet but now I’m going to have to complain to someone;)

    Like

  4. Jake Warr says:

    Hmmm, quite a contrast to Jorplace Hostel in Delft. I’m with Shavon – I hope we can effectively get you guys out of there and into something crappier.

    Like

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