BARCELONA, June 9 -- Construction of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia basilica may have started 137 years ago, but the emblematic monument got a building permit only last Friday.
The Spanish seaside city council awarded the licence to a committee in charge of finishing construction of the Catholic church for €4.6 million (S$7.1 million), Ms Janet Sanz, in charge of urban planning, told reporters. In a quirk of history, the authorities discovered only in 2016 that the building which draws millions of visitors every year had never had planning permission since construction began in 1882. Ms Sanz said the council had finally managed to "resolve a historical anomaly in the city - that an emblematic monument like the Sagrada Familia... didn't have a building permit, that it was being constructed illegally." According to the committee in charge of finishing construction of the not-yet-completed basilica, designer Antoni Gaudi had asked the town hall of Sant Marti, a village now absorbed into Barcelona, for a building permit in 1885 but never got an answer.
Some 137 years later, it is finally legal. The new building permit states that the basilica will finally be finished in 2026, with a maximum height of 172m and a budget of €374 million. Designed by Gaudi, a famous Catalan architect also known for the Park Guell, another tourist magnet in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. Construction, financed solely by donations and entrance tickets, is due to conclude in 2026, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the death of Gaudi, who was run over by a tram. The basilica is Barcelona's most visited monument, with 4.5 million visitors in 2017, and one of the main tourist landmarks of the country.
THE HAGUE, May 29 -- The Holland Garden pavilion, a mini green city, has fascinated many at the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing.
For Chinese and Dutch actors in sustainable urban development, a shared passion for doing it green brings vigor to bilateral cooperation. With state-of-the-art developments showcased at the Beijing expo, the Netherlands has again proved itself to be a global trend setter in Green living. Over the past more than 30 years, the Dutch and the Chinese have worked together to introduce a variety of Dutch native plants and flowers and new planting technologies and management into China, said the Chinese embassy in the European country. Bernard Oosterom, president of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, said China's horticultural industry has grown rapidly, with some of its domestic enterprises at the forefront of new technologies. "I firmly believe that the Beijing expo will bring the attention of the world to what China is doing to help the environment and improve the lives of citizens," the veteran Dutch gardener added. "It is my hope that this will lead to collective action that will lead to a better environment and greener cities through the use of plants and the landscape," he said.
A green city is much more than green plants, and horticulture is not the only area where the Dutch and the Chinese people are conducting cooperation to promote sustainable development. For example, in the field of urban water and land resources management, a consortium of Dutch institutes and businesses was created in September 2017 to promote joint research programs and commercial, tailored solutions with Chinese partners. Its many well-known members, including Deltares, Eijkelkamp, Priva and Tauw, boast expertise in areas ranging from sponge city design and planning, environmental big data monitoring and simulation, environmental and urban housing research to intelligent buildings technology and environmental control systems. As regards waste management and circular economy, the Netherlands likes to call itself "a small country with big ambitions." It has committed itself to becoming a zero-waste economy by 2050, wherein the economy will run completely on reusable raw materials. A Dutch group on waste management comprising research institutes and leading business players has already started working with the Chinese side to develop innovative plans on how to handle the problem. "China, with the largest population on earth, has a tremendous opportunity to turn waste into valuable resources and the Dutch partnership for waste management is eager to contribute to China's goal to create a proper waste management system as a crucial building block toward achieving that goal," said the Dutch Sino Business Promotions.
Wageningen University & Research (WUR), a Dutch global knowledge leader in areas like water resource management, climate change and urban farming, also has broad experience in developing green cities. "We do several projects on landscape architecture and nature-inclusive design of areas in China in order to create more liveable urban development," Tim van Hattum, the leader of the WUR's Green Climate Solutions program, said. "WUR is strong in a bottom-up co-design approach by organizing tools and services to co-create integrated solution together with stakeholders. We have knowledge of nature-based approaches, landscape architecture, and China is strong in large-scale pilot projects (such as the sponge city program) and large-scale implementation and urban development," he said. "The WUR green city approach could be of added value for urban development in China and there is definitely potential for future collaboration on the topic of green city development," he added. Zhang Guosheng, economic counselor of the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands, agrees that with the previous fruitful projects paving the way, the Sino-Dutch cooperation in building green cities is promising. "The Dutch are strong in green growth, and we Chinese are eager for a greener life," he said. "Cooperation in this field will offer not only a bigger market for Dutch enterprises, a better life for Chinese people, but also good cases for others to study."
BANGKOK, April 29 -- A village in western Japan has taken five Thai college students under its wing, training them in wooden architecture as the Southeast Asian country hopes to put such structures back on the map.
Mitsue, a village located in Nara Prefecture, aims to revive its aging yet key forestry industry through a plan to export model homes using local timber to Thailand, where wooden architecture has become a dying industry. Forest occupies about 90 percent of the area but, due to a prolonged drop in the price of timber and depopulation, the village where the forestry industry once thrived began seeking alternatives to make use of its abundant natural resources, according to the crowdfunding website for the project. The idea was hatched when the village reached out to professor Shin Murakami of Sugiyama Jogakuen University in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, on advice for a town renewal project. Murakami had been conducting joint research with Bangkok's Sripatum University on environmentally friendly wooden architecture.
Although timber has been a predominant building material in Thailand in years past, there has been a noted decline, mostly due to a lack of good quality teak wood and coarse timber, which is easily infested by termites brought on by the country's tropical climate. Most of the buildings in Thailand are now made of reinforced concrete, and the culture of wooden architecture has not been properly handed down through generations due to a lack of technology to support the industry, according to the project website. At Murakami's suggestion to export model homes using the local timber, the three parties signed an agreement to collaborate on the project focusing on popularizing wooden architecture in Thailand. The five Thai students, who study architecture at Sripatum University, later came to Japan. The students' three month training from March includes learning about the designs of stilted houses for Thailand, as well as gaining an understanding about construction processes through observation.
Oros Loasantisuk, 26, one of the five students in the program and an aspiring architect, touted the advantages of the village's hands-on practical approach. "The designs of wooden architecture may differ from country to country but wood is environmentally friendly," the student said.
"We hope they learn about the brilliance of wooden architecture, Japan's high technology, and the high quality of housing here," said Takefumi Nakako, who works in the department of community development for the village. "We'd be happy if (the experience) leads to the spread of wooden architecture in Thailand," he said.
CHENGDU, April 20 -- Dukezong ancient town in Shangri-la, a resort county in Southwest China's Yunnan province.
An ancient town in Shangri-la, a resort county in Southwest China's Yunnan province, caught fire on Jan 11, 2014. The blaze was under control by 2 pm, without causing injury or death. According to the local government, a total area of 40,000 square meters, with 335 households, was affected by the fire. 242 houses were destroyed.
CHENGDU, April 18 -- Gongchenlou in Weishan county, Southwest China's Yunnan province.
A fire broke out Jan 3, 2015, at Gongchenlou, an ancient tower built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), in Weishan county, Yunnan province. Although no casualties were reported, the conflagration destroyed most of the 600-year-old landmark, which was listed as a provincial-level cultural relic.
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 16 -- National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
A huge fire engulfed Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, lighting up the night sky with towering flames as firefighters and museum workers raced to save historical relics from the blaze. The esteemed museum, which houses artifacts from Egypt, Greco-Roman art and some of the first fossils found in Brazil, was closed to the public at the time of the fire, which broke out at 7:30 pm Sunday local time, it said in a statement.
BEIJING, April 16 -- Lingguan Mansion complex at Jiulong Temple in Mianzhu, Sichuan province.
The 16-story structure was said to be the tallest wooden pagoda in Asia. No casualties were reported in the incident, and the cause of the blaze is under investigation. According to local media reports, the original Lingguan Mansion was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and destroyed in a magnitude 8 earthquake that hit Sichuan in 2008. The temple, with what was considered the tallest wooden tower in Asia, later became restored but remained under construction when the fire broke out. The cause of the blaze is still unknown.
MOSCOW, April 16 -- Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has offered French President Emmanuel Macron the help of the best Russian specialists in rebuilding the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Also Putin conveyed his condolences over the fire that damaged France’s national symbol, the Kremlin press office reported on Tuesday. "The Notre Dame is France’s historical symbol, an invaluable treasure of the European and world culture, one of the most important Christian shrines," Putin stressed in his telegram. "The disaster that happened in Paris at night caused pain in the hearts of Russians," the telegram reads. "Putin has expressed the hope that it will be possible to rebuild the cathedral and offered to send the best Russian specialists with the extensive experience of restoring world cultural heritage monuments, including the works of medieval architecture, to France," the Kremlin press office said.
PARIS, April 15 -- Historic French cathedral Notre Dame has been ravaged by a huge blaze.
Dramatic images and video show the 850-year-old building ablaze as a huge emergency operation was launched. The shocking scene in the French capital unfolded this afternoon, and flames have been seen coming from the two bell towers. Officials have cleared the area around Notre Dame, a City Hall spokesman confirmed. It is not yet known if anyone has been injured in the fire. Firefighters are helpless to bring the blaze under control because the flames are so far away, according to reports. Le Monde journalist Raphaëlle Bacqué reports that the fire is too far away for crews to be able to act. It is not known if anyone is inside the building, which closed to the public at 6pm local time, 50 minutes before the blaze was first reported.