Architecture is used to improve living conditions

Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen


Architecture can control the environment in order to improve human habitation in different scales. For the city scale, government of the city Macau has reclaimed the land from the sea since 1863, as a way to take advantages from its topography for a less crowded urban space. For the village scale, Dogon people created their own defensible and comfortable village around the cliff by adapting the special landscape in Dogon. Indeed, this technology also works in smaller scale, such as a specific building, with humans’ development in technology, people have stronger ability to control the conditions in a limited zone: Larkin Building is the first building designed to accommodate with mechanical air-conditioners controlling the temperature inside in order to improve people’s working condition. Architecture has served people with improved conditions of protection and convenience since the day it was born, and it develops as humans developing knowledge of science, construction and living qualities.


CITY- Macau reclamation from the sea

Macau, China, 1863-now, Government of Macau


The growth of land in Macau allow it became a peninsula from an island. (Draw by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)
The growth of land in Macau allow it became a peninsula from an island. (Draw by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)

Macau, as one of the four great casinos in the world, owns the highest GDP per capita in Asia. The gaming industry, tourism and service industry are the main business in Macau now. Adequate land for commercial construction is very important in order to keep the high-speed economic development. On the other hand, high housing price in Macau gave pressure to citizens all the time because of the large population and limited land. In order to give citizens more space for living, commerce, agriculture, industry and other social activities, Macau, the city on the southern coast of China, started to have architectural project of filling the sea for new land in 1863 (the first recorded land-reclamation project was in 1912). According to record in 1840, Macau was a small island of only 2.78 square-kilometers, while in 2010, it had grown up to contain 29.7 square-kilometers (including Macau Peninsula, Dangzai, Luhuan, and Ludang-city) with population of 530 thousand people. However, even though Macau has expanded triple times of the area in 1840, the population density of Macau is still the highest in the world: according to the Guinness World Records, there were 52 thousand (110 thousand maximum) people per square-kilometer Peninsula (9.3 square-kilometers) in 2010. The land limitation could reduce the living quality, negatively influence the urban development, and also slow down the speed of economic increasing. Thus, Chinese government had to permit a new land-reclamation project for 3.6 square-kilometers in November, 2009 to relieve the pressure of being over-crowded. Increasing available land from land-reclamation project helps decreasing housing price; the lower housing price may attract local and foreign investments to promote economy; and in the virtuous cycle, the better economic support land-reclamation projects. However, land reclamation should not be blindly proposed, as Lao Long, the head of the DSSOPT (Urban Planning Department of the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau) said: ‘[The final plan] will be put in action gradually according to the reality of Macau and the society needs’. Even the latest land reclamation project has been researched, reviewed, and revised for three years with scholars and experts of oceanology to reduce the negative effects on the environment as much as possible. Architecture helps improve the living quality in Macau with not only land-reclamation projects to deal with problems from land limitation, but also designs of reliable structure and plans of reasonable land-use.


Village – Dogon compound among the cliff

Dogon village, Mali, around 17th Century, Local people


This is the elevation of Dogon Village. Local Dogon people built their house among the cliff in order to have a safer shelter and broad view. (Draw by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)
This is the elevation of Dogon Village. Local Dogon people built their house among the cliff in order to have a safer shelter and broad view. (Draw by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)

With the concerning of site, material, and structure, architecture has been a tool to improve human living condition by protecting from exterior threats and providing convenience since the past. For instance, since the 15th Century, people of the tribe Dogon have established their own cultural and functional village in Mali, South Africa. The principal area of Dogon is in a cliff up to 500m and near the city of Bandiaga. The most essential factor of Dogon people’s site choice was the concerns that the Niger River flowed near the cliff and there was a rivulet flowed over the lower part during the wet season. Besides, the facts that most land of Dogon occupation is highland and cliff and Dogon people refused to convert to Islam thousands years ago also prompted them to build their home in defensive positions along the Bandiagara escarpment. Thus, they did not only alleviate the land limitation and prevent invasion, but also avoided water shortage without taking the risk of being submerged. Although the technology and material are limited in ancient time, Dogon people used their landscape as much as possible to improve their habitation.



Building – Larkin Administration building with air conditioner

The Larkin Building, Buffalo, NY, 1904-1906, Frank Lloyd Wright


Larkin building is a six-story, light-courted main block building that the ventilation ducts were at the outer corners of the main block without adjacent stairway. (Pic by rosswolfe1 and diagram by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)
Larkin building has a light-courted main block building that the ventilation ducts were at the outer corners of the main block without adjacent stairway. (Pic by rosswolfe1 and diagram by Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen)

With humans’ development in science and technology, architecture goes beyond simply space being protected from exterior threats, but also artificially endowed with ideal living conditions. In 1904, Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of ‘organic architecture’, designed Larkin Administration Building for the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, New York. Larkin Building is the first recorded commercial building that was designed to accommodate with air-conditioned facilities inside to control the temperature. It was finished in 1906, before the word “air-conditioning” came into common use in 1920s. The client required a sealed building with mechanical ventilation, so Wright specified a refrigeration plant that cooled the air-cooling coils in the air-handling plants with water of 50°F. The air-handling plants provided 4 to 5 changes of fresh air per hour to provide heating and cooling, and the air flowed down toward the floor line in winter and flowed up toward the ceiling in summer. As the first building that designed to accommodate modern air-conditioning facilities, Wright had to make innovative solutions for some architectural problems.

Four orange box indicated the four ventilation system on each floor. ("The Fall from the Plateau." Abitare RSS. (accessed October 30, 2013).
Four orange box indicated the four ventilation system on each floor. (“The Fall from the Plateau.” Abitare RSS. (accessed October 30, 2013).

Wright assigned large areas of the basement for water storage and air-handling plants, located the service ducts of air-conditioner adjacent to staircases running from basement to roof and allowed that to be expressed on the outside of the building, and he also extended columns with false sections to contain steel supply ducts. Besides the new technique, there were also traditional architectural strategies of passive heating and cooling involved. The whole building was surrounded on three sides by trains whose coal -burning engines poured out clouds of pollution. (Quinan, Jack.66) Therefore, it is essential to keep the whole building clean since Larkin building is build for a soap company, and soot will lead to the soiled corespondence. Also, the Larkin Building had 13-foot-high stories increase the individual heating and cooling effect in each, used thermal-mass for walls and ceilings to alleviate the temperature changes, and used recessed windows to reduce overheating.




In conclusion, architecture improve human habitation in different scales by accommodate, modify, and change the environment. In the city scale, land-reclamation project in Macau solved pressure from land shortage and high population-density while kept the economic development. In the village scale, Dogon people adapted the specific landscape of cliff to created their own defensible and comfortable village. Even if the smallest scale, the era-advanced solutions by Frank Lloyd Wright created the sealed but ventilated space in Larkin Building with mechanical air-conditioners. All three examples revealed a constant attempt of improve living conditions by using architecture. In various times, humans always have the need of improving their conditions to achieve better living qualities in various scales, and architecture is a subject that satisfying this need through different method.




Wenxin Zeng and Xiangru Chen.China completed Three Gorges Dam.




Arnold, David. “The Evolution of Modern Office Buildings and Air Conditioning.” ASHRAE Journal. (1999): 40-54.,d.eW0&cad=rja (accessed October 14, 2013).

Wright specified a refrigeration plant to distribute cooling water for air-cooling. He made the Larkin Building the first building designed to accommodate with mechanical air-cooling


Blair, Harrison. DOCOMOMO US, “Larkin Building.” Last modified Aug 17, 2012. Accessed October 14, 2013.

This website includes documentary information about the Larkin Building, including photots.


China Soudi, . Soudi (Land Research), “Macau Land-reclamation.” Last modified Sep 21, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2013.

The percentage of increased land from land reclamation project in Macau and the law that regulated future land reclamation.


Douny, Laurence. “The Materiality of Domestic Waste The Recycled Cosmology of the Dogon of Mali.”Journal of Material Culture. no. 3 (2009): 309-331. 10.1177/1359183507081897 (accessed October 14, 2013).

The Dogon domestic waste is in multiple forms to be recycled.


Glaser, R., P. Haberzettl, and D. Walsh. “Land Reclamation in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.”GeoJournal. no. 4 (1991): 365-373. (accessed October 14, 2013).

By analyzing the procedural patterns of land reclamation in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, there is connection between land changes and economic growth.


Imperato, Pascal James . Dogon cliff dwellers : the art of Mali’s mountain people . New York: L. Kahan Gallery/African Arts, 1978.

The way Mali’s mountain dwellers used surrounding natural resources to construct dwelling conditions is a kind of art.


Jiang, Gaoming. “Land reclamation: tread carefully.” ChinaDialogue, Last modified Nov 03, 2008. Accessed October 14, 2013.

This article discusses several possible environmental problems caused by unplanned land-reclamation, but Macau has not been a bad example for these environmental issues yet.


Liu, Yi. “Macau:a history of reclaiming lands from the sea.”Ten Years of Macau Recorded Dec 19 2009. CCTV. Web,

This documentary video introduces the history of Macau reclaiming lands from the sea. It also includes the reasons, concerns, procedures, and the effects of this project.


Pearson, Michael Parker, and Colin Richards. Architecture and Order: Approaches to Social Space. Routledge, 1994. Village Compound&source=bl&ots=5Rg0OTUcjZ&sig=B9z6vRI7mjTAGeI_mFBh4c7Wdw4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=1wdcUvf8D8eErQG_rYHYBg&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBA

The settlement of Dogon resulted from the concern of safety, and it results in a certain space order for them.


Quinan, Jack. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin building : myth and fact / Jack Quinan.. New York: Architectural History Foundation ; Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press,, 1987.

This book introduces the documentary information about the Larkin building, including the history and air-conditioning system of it.


Vítor, Quintã. “Old neighbourhoods’ law pushed back to 2011.” Macau Daily Times, Dec 05, 2010. (accessed October 21, 2013).

The head of DSSOPT promised to efficiently use the new land from land reclamation.


Wang, Lianwei. “Land Reclamation, Macau is Growing.”People’s Daily, Overseas Ed. editionNov 04, 2010. (accessed October 21, 2013).

Official introduction of the latest land reclamation in Macau (permitted in 2009).


Wilcox-McCombs, Devin. “A Glimpse of Dogon.” One World One Village (blog), Jan 21, 2012. (accessed October 14, 2013).

Personal experience in Dogon Villages, including records about the architecture there.


Xinhua. “Macao’s land reclamation to improve living conditions.” ChinaDaily, April 07, 2008. (accessed October 14, 2013).

According to this newspaper article, Macau’s land reclamation can alleviate population pressure by alleviating land shortage. However, this project needs concerns of historical sites, environmental protection, and efficient land development.

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