Arup, the global design, engineering, and business consultancy, is the creative force behind many of the world's most innovative and sustainable buildings and transport and civil engineering projects. Founded over 60 years ago, Arup has operated in China for more than three decades, and almost a quarter of their worldwide staff of 9,000 is based in Hong Kong and China. Arup was initially commissioned by the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation in 2006 to put forward concept proposals for a new sustainable city: Wanzhuang Eco-City, located in Hebei Province. Plans for the 80 sq km site are now being guided by a Development Strategy, the Preliminary Control Plan and Sustainability Design Guidelines.

British engineer Peter Head has been a director at Arup since 2004 and is based in London. He is chairman of global planning and leads the company's planning and integrated urbanism business, which includes development planning, economics and policy, integrated urbanism, transport and environmental consulting and sustainable development. In his early career, Peter worked at the forefront of steel bridge technology, and in 1998 he was awarded an OBE for his services to bridge engineering. He is also chairman of the Steel Construction Institute. Peter was appointed a Commissioner on the London Sustainable Development Commission in 2002, representing the construction sector. There, he was a member of the group that drafted the Sustainable Development Framework for London, which led an initiative to create a voluntary code of practice for sustainable planning, design, and construction of London's built environment. For the last decade or so, Peter has been dedicated to overthrowing the notion that urbanization is inevitably the fast track to environmental collapse. Specifically, he is fighting to ensure that a growing number of the world's mega cities, and the associated mega projects, embrace sustainability principles from the outset. From 2004 to 2008 he was project director for the Dongtan Eco-City project near Shanghai, a project that has recently stalled. Over the last five years, Peter Head has lectured all over the world on sustainable development and the transformation of cities. He gave the 2008–9 Brunel Lecture Series for the Institution of Civil Engineers, titled “Entering the Ecological Age,” which he presented in twenty countries. The Brunel Lecture looked, in detail, as to whether there is a model that would enable 9 billion people to live sustainably on Earth in 2050. It asked which policies and investments would be needed to achieve this and whether it could be done without damaging the economy. In focusing on this ecological transition Peter developed retrofit scenarios for existing buildings.

Steffen Lehmann met with Peter Head at the IGBC Conference in Singapore in October 2009 (where they were both speakers) that discussed the world crises caused by climate change, food and water shortages, and resource constraint problems. Steffen asked Peter what the planner's and engineer's role will be in the cities' transformation to sustainable urbanism. Particularly, how such urban concepts and technologies could be scaled to fit the world's most populous country, China?

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

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