2023 GFD 🏆 Awards

Gold Winner – Nanning Shuangding Waste-to-energy Power Plant | United Units Architects

Located to the north east of downtown Nanning, the recently completed Nanning Shuangding Waste-to-Energy Power Plant sits surrounded by the eucalyptus forest, with the undulating karst mountains as a backdrop. Seeing United Unit Architects (UUA) Design Partner Yongzheng Li and Managing Partner Qizhi Li leading the schematic design stage, and China Urban Construction Design & Research Institute responsible for the subsequent stages, a traditional niche typology of architecture is redefined as a landmark for the 21st century, with nature and industrial function reaching a balance of harmonious unification. The architectural design takes inspiration from the stunning natural context, combing the functionality and human aspect to create the next generation of waste-to-energy power plants in China.

Global Future Design Awards 2024: Entries Open! 
Take your work to the next level. Register Now… 

Gold 🏆 Winner
Global Future Design Awards 2023

Nanning Shuangding Waste-to-energy Power Plant
Sustainable Architecture (Built)

United Units Architects

Yongzheng Li

Design Team
Yongzheng Li, Qizhi Li, Wenbo He, Falu Wang, Yanfeng Lyu, Bing Zhao, Liang Deng, Xinghua Ma, Yihao Zhang, Hongbo Fang, Bo Yang

Project Location
Nanning, Guangxi, China



Social Media Handles
Facebook: N/A

YouTube: N/A
Instagram: N/A
Twitter: N/A

Website URL

01 Background: Industrial Upgrading Based on Recycling Economy and Carbon Neutralization

Although the concept of waste-to-energy power plants is not new, they have only become more prevalent in China in recent years. In the early days, due to the lack of accurate information, public concern was often focused around the environmental impact of the secondary pollution on the environment, resulting in the “Not In My Backyard” effect, occasionally resulting in boycotts of the construction of new waste-to-energy power plants.

However, over time and with the continuous advancement of technology, public opinion has shifted, as waste-to-energy power plants have been able to achieve high-standard emissions, ensuring that waste gas, waste liquid, and waste residue are treated properly. In addition, compared with traditional landfill methods, waste-to-energy power generation can convert waste into carbon dioxide and thermal energy in a short time, with an increased level of control over the process. Therefore, not only avoiding methane emissions from landfill fermentation, but also replacing fossil fuels through thermal energy recovery for power generation. In effect having a dual carbon reduction effect of “controlling methane emissions and replacing coal-fired power generation”, and conforming to the global issue of carbon neutrality.

In order to actively promote the next generation of waste-to-energy power plants, combining advanced technology with effective public information campaigns has contribute to a more positive image and receptive audience. Therefore, the newly built waste-to-energy power plants hope to set a precedent for the next generation of power plants, not only through the utilization of innovative technology to produce energy effectively and efficiently with zero impact upon the environment, but with their design and appearance contributing to a shift in the way these industrial complexes are viewed by the public. With a focus towards aesthetics and a conscientious approach towards design, a new era in the public mindset is heralded. In addition the new design trend focuses on the integration of visiting and exhibition functions, improving the landscape environment of the factory area, and adopting the design idea of public buildings, thus redefining the perceived boundary between private industrial space and the public space, in essence creating a symbiotic environment.

02 Context: Rethinking the Nature and Culture

“The site of the project prompts us to reflect on the interaction between human activities and the natural environment in a very inspiring way. We hope to take this opportunity to set a precedent for similar projects, through metaphorical and abstract extraction of natural and cultural characteristics to unite art and engineering, provide multiple interpretations, and redefine the public attributes and humanistic values of industrial buildings.”

——Yongzheng Li

Nanning is the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a frontier city for China’s opening-up and cooperation with ASEAN, and is known as China’s “Green City”. The rich folk culture in the multi-ethnic inhabited area and the mountains in the karst landform area together constitute the resource of design language belonging to Nanning, and also become the spiritual contention between the people and the building. UUA hopes to build a waste-to-energy power plant that eliminates the “Not in My Backyard” effect and allows the public to accept and even love it, so that the advanced waste treatment technology can operate smoothly.

Although in the early stages the design team collected a large amount of data and pictures of Nanning, after arriving at the site they were still overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. Adjacent to a cement factory, the construction site is bordered by a eucalyptus forest, and the north side is backed by endless karst mountains. However, in the green environment, the continuous mountain range to the north of the site is broken by a bare plateau that has been flattened by the mining of the cement factory. This strong contrast left a deep impression on the UUA design team.

With the overall dimensions determined by the power generation process, the main facade of the factory building is 200 meters wide and 55 meters high. Looking to the north along the road leading to the factory, and considering the perspective effect between near and far, the volume of the factory building is close to that of the background plateau. In order to respond to the natural environment and the memory of the site, the main facade of the building is featured by a pattern of an undulating mountain range to visually remedy the damage of human industrial activities to the maintains, evoking the self-examination of human activities. 

If the impression of the mountain is the architect’s freehand brushwork for the natural environment, then the vertical lines on the building facades from a close-up view are the delicate touches of the embroidery. UUA takes regional natural forms and folk crafts as design references, and responds to the acute question raised by the site through the facade design. In an easy-to-understand and far-reaching way, the architecture takes into account the two aspects of nature and culture, shortens the distance with the people, and becomes a shaper of the landscape of the earth.

03 Facade: The Beauty of Tectonics Based on Parametric Design

The pattern of the mountain range is on the upper part of the factory building and its silhouette is derived from the combination of four sets of trigonometric function curves. The mathematic control not only ensures the smoothness of the curve, but also provides parameters for design development. The upper part of the building is composed of two systems of aluminum cladding and glazing, forming a visual experience with exquisite detailing and superimposed illusion.

The aluminum cladding system is comprised of vertical louvers which alternately use mirror finish and matte finish, creating a rhythm of strong reflection and weak reflection, and the surroundings is reflected on the building facade abstractly with striped reflections. The length and the fold line of each louver is defined by the curve, transforming the curved surface into a series of flat surfaces. This optimization effectively simplifies the construction and reduces the project budget, meanwhile enhancing the machine aesthetic of the facade, which not only conforms to the industrial rationality of the building, but also echoes the humanistic attribute of the building.

As the main body of the mountain range pattern, the glazing system is incorporated with triangular patterned glass fins with mirror stainless steel edging, forming a three-dimensional visual depth. To satisfy the need for uniform illumination of the internal space, the glass fins on the east, south, and west facades can effectively diffuse the harsh daylight entering into the building, avoiding the difference of brightness caused by sunlight.

The podium of the building contains a variety of functional spaces, thus horizontal strips of windows and aluminum spandrels are adopted to accommodate flexible opening of windows. The dynamic form of the spandrels is optimized by triangulation, which not only simplifies the construction, but also echoes the language of mountain range.

By manipulating the color, texture and form of the facade, the design team endow the building with a dynamic aesthetic that changes with the viewing angle, light, and weather in an imperceptible and sophisticated way, reducing the impact of the building’s vast volume on the environment.

04 Process: The Aesthetics of Machine in Operation

As the core of industrial architecture, the machine demonstrates a unique aesthetic experience for its functionality, rationality and logic, showing the intelligence and wisdom of human beings. The mass of the factory building is an honest reflection of the layout of the internal machinery. Uncovering the building envelope, the process of waste-to-energy power generation is also an interesting and fascinating engineering spectacle.

The garbage trucks enter the factory building along the ramp and unload to the enclosed garbage pit with a negative pressure. After a period of fermentation, the leachate from the garbage is initially purified and sent to the sewage treatment plant for final treatment. The fermented garbage is sent to the feeding hopper by the crane grab, and finally reaches the incinerator. The flue gas generated by the combustion of garbage is purified and discharged to the air after reaching the national standard; the fly ash is solidified and stabilized in the factory and then disposed of for landfill; the bottom ash can be comprehensively utilized (such as brick making). Finally, the thermal energy generated by waste incineration is used to heat high-temperature steam to drive the steam turbine generator set to generate electricity, which is connected into the national grid.

05 Summary: Art and Engineering Unified

The distinctive regional environment can often stimulate the bold ideas of architects, while large-scale infrastructure projects carrying social responsibilities usually require careful decision-making. Therefore, to achieve a balance between radical and conservative depends on an ingenious and effective design strategy. The architectural design of Nanning Shuangding Waste-to-Energy Power Plant responds to the context of the site in an artistically expressive way. Perhaps more importantly UUA’s design team realized the design concept with rigorous engineering rationality, creating a state-of-the-art factory where art and engineering come together as one.