I am currently renovating a new space for art and design, located next to IFP Studio in Heizhima hutong 13. The space is shared between IFP, WAM/万物 and Here & Now Studio and will be used for exhibitions, installations, workshops and alike. The official opening will be some time in June. Below are some snapshots of the current state of renovation:
Finally, after months of preparation, the Institute for Provocation is launching a new residency programme in collaboration with IASPIS. The 2-month residency is open for Swedish visual artists, architects and designers and starts in August this year. Deadline for applications is May 8, application here.
Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s international program for visual art, architecture, design and craft – announces a new residency collaboration with the Institute for Provocation (IFP) in Beijing during 2013-14. The residency is open to applications from visual artists, architects and designers, and is thematically focused on the topic of public space in China.
Residency period: In 2013, two separate residencies of two months each are offered to two candidates, one from August 22 - October 22, and one from October 20 - December 22. Please indicate on the application form which period you are applying for.
Application deadline: 8 May 2013
Application procedure: The Iaspis delegation of the Visual Arts Fund selects a shortlist from the received applications. The final selection of grant holders is made by IFP. Successful applicants are informed by Iaspis on behalf of IFP at the end of June.
Grant: The total sum of the grant is 50 000 SEK per person and residency. This should cover costs for return travel Sweden-Beijing, food, sustenance and eventual production costs over the 2 month residency. As part of the residency, IFP provides shared workspace, accommodation and a part-time assistant. Please see more detailed information below. About Institute for Provocation
The Institute for Provocation (IFP) is a Beijing-based workspace and think tank hosting residencies, research projects, workshops and lectures stretching the borders between visual and performing art, architecture and design. As a workspace, IFP focuses on the thinking process before or even beyond the actual creation of an artifact: the collection of dramaturgical information, the testing of different architectural scenarios, the summarizing of existing artistic vocabularies and realized projects, the experimenting with new media or disciplines, and so on. Space, territory and geography serve as bridges between many disciplines and IFP has a specific interest in research that proposes cross-disciplinary strategies to open up for inquiries into topics related to these notions.
IFP was originally established under the name Theatre in Motion (until 2010) by sinologist and dramaturge Els Silvrants and architect Shuyu Chen and has since 2005 collaborated with artists, architects and performers on a wide range of projects and residencies.
The studio and workspace is located in a 85 sqm renovated courtyard house in the old city of Beijing. The studio is shared with 1-3 other resident artist(s) and IFP staff, has basic facilities such as internet, projector and screen, basic hand tools, shared kitchen. The resident artist will be accommodated close to the studio in a private or shared apartment with private bathroom. About the residency
As a part of an ongoing research project into the conditions for public space in Chinese cities, the Institute for Provocation in collaboration with Iaspis invite artists, architects and designers to apply for a residency based around the topic of public space.
China's economic rise over the past three decades is the result of a conscious strategy in which cities are playing a key role. Urbanization has been and will continue to be the main instrument for bringing the people out of poverty and into a consumption- and service lifestyle. But as the existing cities sprawl out and new ones are built from scratch, little attention is paid to their spatial and social qualities. The massive leap in scale from the ancient architectures to the new forests of highways and high-rises that now dominate the cityscapes create an array of problems related to space, identity, environment and social and economic equity. The juxtaposition of opposites – formal and informal, open and closed space – shapes the syntax in the reading of the Chinese city.
The applicant is intended to form their own interpretation of the theme and eventually find a focal point for his/her research. Responsible for running the programme in Beijing will be Max Gerthel, Swedish architect and IFP collaborator since 2011, and IFP's artistic director Shuyu Chen. We will guide the artist and provide insights into China and Chinese culture, special knowledge about cities and public space as well as local contacts in various fields. The residency will revolve around research as the main activity, without any specific requirements from the host organization regarding output or production by the artists in residence.
The purpose of this thematic residency programme is both to have a close dialogue and exchange between IFP and the artist, as well as to create more continuity, as each artist contributes to a larger body of research. This accumulation of knowledge, observation and interpretation can thus be shared internally, but also to the local community.
As a part of Sessions, IFP's public programme, the artist will have the possibility to present themselves and their work, listen to other practitioners and take part in discussions. There will also be possibilities of collaboration with external institutions for lectures and/or academic exchange. The residency will also be announced through IFP's network and newsletter, further enhancing the artist's visibility in China.
Residents will be provided with a desk space in the shared workspace of IFP's studio, accommodation in the vicinity of the workspace, a part-time art assistant providing interpretation/ translation and other assistance, support and guidance from IFP staff and opportunity to meet other artists in related fields. If the resident wishes to bring their partner/family for the full length of the residency s/he must inform IFP two months in advance. Any extra expense for accommodation of related guests will be carried by the resident.
For the second IFP Sessions of 2013, Institute for Provocation will host Manchester based artist Maurice Carlin, who is the current resident artist Homeshop . His work revolves around the practice of publishing, defined as ‘the creation of a public’, a collective consciousness built around actions in public space.
Maurice will give a talk about his work and how it has developed from his experience of self-organisation through Islington Mill Art Academy, a peer-led experiment into alternative modes of art education. Islington Mill is a mixed-use building providing artists with incubation, production, collaboration and performance spaces. Home to over 50 cross-disciplinary studios, an artist-run B&B, gallery, residency and club spaces, it occupies a unique position within the UK, and has evolved over eleven years to become the cultural haven that it is now.
Maurice's work has been featured in publications including Frieze, The Guardian and A-N. Recent shows include First...Next...Then...Finally, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester (2013), Blanco Blanco, La Escocesa, Barcelona (2012), Self Publisher and Other Works, Banner Repeater, London (2011), How to Stay Awake, MCP, Antwerp (2011) Other Forms of Life (with Bik van der Pol), AND Festival, various locations (2010) and Beyond the Dustheaps, Dickens House Museum, London (2010).
IFP Studio, Saturday, April 6 at 6 pm (18:00 for our 24 hour friends)
The talk is held in collaboration with Homeshop, and the following day we will join there to take the discussion further. Se below.
Open discussion at homeshop
What are the challenges of establishing and running an independent art space/community? What possible structures can enable an independent art space to become independent of its core team? From another perspective, is there a line that separates, blurrily, an art practice from institutional organization, and what are the critical capacities proper to the different gradations?
On Sunday, Institute for Provocation will be joining Michael from Homeshop, Maurice from Islington Mill and others to launch a discussion around the topic of independent art spaces. Since we all represent various types of art spaces and collectives, we thought it fit to share our experiences in a public format, inviting everyone in to join this moment of self-reflection.
We have lined up with even more questions such as:
What contexts or practices does your space arise from? Who do you consider your "stakeholders"? What is the distribution of locality/international among your concerns? How long have you been active? What have been some changes during the life of your space? e.g. moves, reorganizations, renamings? Is there a separation between your physical space and your "project"? Is the space an institution? What necessitates or allows such a title? Is the space a form of artistic practice? Is authorship involved? How do you fund your space? How much does this enter into the activities that you consider your core concern? How are decisions made? How does this shape what takes place? Do you consider the way you run your space as a "model"?
Sunday, April 7 at 6 pm at Homeshop, Jiaodaokou beiertioao number 8
This installation was a part of SaYiZheng (Sleepwalking in Chinese, or sometimes translated as nonsense) a night art exhibition taking place last Friday in and around Doujiao hutong here in Beijing. The exhibition was organised by IFP's artist-in-residence Zoro Feigl and artist and curator Tianji Zhao. Altogether 23 artists participated, and quite a large amount of people came to see the exhibition and performances.
The idea behind this installation was to create a space with light, and as a response to the rough and ecclectic environment, I decided to create something that was quite purist and clean, but still made from materials found locally. The flourescent lights are activated by sound, which is also common here, especially in staircases of residential building blocks. However in the hutongs the lights are usually quite dim and the relationship to sound is more surprising. The configuration of a gate or a portal suited the site very well and provided a quite new experience of the hutong space. At the same time, its purity and materiality can refer to the typical white box gallery space, in which this kind of flourescent light fittings are virtually prerequisite.
The title, The Third Meaning comes from a text by Roland Barthes, referring to a third layer of meaning in SM Eisensteins films. I don't claim to harbor such a meaning, but if there is a third layer of meaning to anything, I'm sure someone can find it.
The next morning, only a few pieces of wood were left.
After spending the last four months in Sweden I have found a producer for the Omni table and it is now in production and sold through the furniture shop OLSSON & GERTHEL in Malmö. The table top is make in solid oak and comes in three finishes: Black stained, white oiled or natural soap treated. Black painted steel frame. More finishes and sizes coming soon.
You can order the table here, free delivered in Sweden, please contact OLSSON & GERTHEL for information about overseas shipping.
Later this month, friend and colleague Jordan Kanter will be running a workshop in Beijing together with Gilles Retsin (AA-DRL, Kokkugia). The workshop will be based in Dashalar, one of the most dynamic and well-preserved parts of the historic city of Beijing. Collaborators are CMoDa, a platform for digital art and crafts, fronted by former NOTCH organizer Yang Lei.
More info below:
// Workshop Overview
Ecology of Objects In the course of this 10 day workshop, we will explore new techniques for mapping, cataloguing and intervening in the processes of development of the Chinese city. Working directly in the streets, alleys and buildings of the historic Dashila district in central Beijing, we will trace the particular patterns of inhabitation, use/reuse, production and exchange, documenting the ways these processes are materialized in the physical structures of the site. Working out from this “ecology of objects,” this workshop aims to explore new perspectives for activating, illuminating and informing new meaning to the everyday spaces of the city.
Participatory Mapping // Object Oriented Urbanism This work proceeds in two independent, but increasingly interwoven tracks: on the one hand, the revitalization of the Situationist approach of participatory mapping to unveil the underlying, often hidden dimensions of city identity, formation and logic; on the other hand, the development of a computational platform custom built in the Processing coding language, allowing for the visualization and manipulation of the various objects and elements – both concrete and ephemeral – encountered in the site. This begins an exploratory process into possibilities for reconfiguration, mutation, remediation, logistical reorganization, etc. in the building up of city form that is both historically grounded and radically new.
Exhibition @ CMoDA (Chinese Museum of Digital Art) + Beijing Design Week We will work directly with the agencies responsible for the development of the Dashila district to envision strategies for dynamic, iterative interventions into the fabric of the neighborhood. This will be an intensive, team-based effort with the aim of generating exhibition quality work. We will employ a variety of overlapping media (diagrams, maps, renderings, video, animation, interactive computer scripts, etc.) to communicate the logics, narratives and iterative systems at work. The results of this workshop (and a previous workshop held in Dalian) will be exhibited at the 2012 Beijing Design Week and the GeoCity Smart City exhibition at the China Museum of Digital Art (CMoDA). The workshop is open to architects, landscape architects, urban designers and planners, geographers, artists, filmmakers and anyone interested in the intersection of city development, computation and design. No coding experience required.
// Instructors: Jordan Kanter (SCI_Arc, FuturePlay), Guest Instructors TBD
// Techniques: Processing, Rhino/Vray, Illustrator/Photoshop, Geotracking/Geotagging, Basic Film Editing + Motion Graphics
// Sponsors/Collaborators: CMoDA, Dashila(b), 北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited, 北京广安控股有限公司及旗下的北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Guang’An Holdings and Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited
// Dates: 2012/08/22 – 2012/08/31
// Location: Beijing Shijingshan Electrical Relay Factory, No. 8 Dawailangying Hutong, Dashila’r 石景山继电器厂分厂8号
// Workshop Fee: 500 rmb
// Apply: send resume + work samples (under 2MB) to firstname.lastname@example.org
The China of the Future will once again be the Kingdom of Bicycles - Yung Ho Chang (i) The reason why this quote makes me lose my faith in the gentlement who uttered it is that I just saw four (4) Bentleys on the twenty-minute bike ride back from the office. Sure, it's the right neighborhood of Beijing to spot this particular brand, since a Bentley dealership just opened in Sanlitun, but these were seen far away from it and I also saw a Ferrari passing a Maserati (in between Bentley number 3 and 4). I don't think I need to mention all the A8s, Mercedes Geländewagens, few Porsches and the mat-lacquered BMW convertibles which crossed my path. But more interestingly, just as I came out from the office in Chaowai SOHO looking around for my old Flying Pigeon, I heard a high-pitch roar and turned around to see an Audi R8, in polished aluminium finish (basically only a handful of these exist on the planet) swirling out on to the driveway.
When I was a child, from an age so early I don't have memories from to about 12, I was obsessed with cars. I could spot a Mitsubishi, a Citroen or even a rarity like Lancia from more than a hundred meters distance even before I could even say my own surname. Towards the final years of primary school, I started to hide it from my friends and classates since I was embarrassed to be interested in something so...mineral. I did go to the school discos and occassionally talked to girls but once a month when the latest edition of "Teknikens Värld" dropped down into the mailbox, I would dive into it and absorb every single technical specification, learning by heart the no of horsepowers of mundane saloons like Peugeuot 605 as well as super-sports cars that weren't even sold in my small Scandinavian homeland. I would digest every word of every virgin test drive and even chronicles about family life and the MGB club's trips to Jersey.
But again, after a certain age this fascination with the motorized world ceased, and I could move on to other, more important things like architecture, stopping on the way at Nirvana and flanell-shirts, Stussy jeans and Ice Cube, Graffiti, Skateboarding, Wu-Tang, Tommy Hilfiger, and finally German techno (which I still occassionally go out to enjoy). Of course, it was hard to rid myself of my past passion and I still have a habit of remembering the new car models when they hit the streets.
If I had seen a one-in-a-billion Audi, four Bentleys, one Maserati and one Ferrari in the course of 20 minutes as an 8-year-old, I would probably have thought I was dreaming.
Now I just feel sick.
I feel sick because I am in China and nowhere should you see so many ridiculously expensive cars in such short time frame but at a car salon, in Geneva, Frankfurt, Paris Detroit or Tokyo. Maybe even Beijing Car Show. But not on a Tuesday night at 9.15 in a developing country.
This place seems just sprawling with people who don't know what to do with all their piles of cash (yes, they do still use cash in China, for obvious reasons, and in huge amounts since the largest bill is 100RMB). And all they seem to have forgotten what it's like to ride on a bicycle, for never have I seen such egoistic drivers as here. Never ever do they stop until they are centimeters away from hitting you. Their automobiles are constantly in motion, as if they thought the engine would stop if they did (which is probably the case wth the first Chinese-made cars that were rolling on the roads). And as if to celebrate this fact, they never want to turn them off. I've gone through parking lots outside shopping malls where many of the cars were idling just to keep the AC on until the owners came out again several hours later!
Not to get too deep into it here, but I feel this topic is so loaded with political, economic and consumption ideals that it deserves to be studied, in facts and without judgement. I want to understand, both how this could become such a common way of unloading heavy wallets, and a symbol of China's growth and rise as a global power. How did the world's biggest bicycle-city become the world's biggest car-city in one generation?
(i) From The future will be...China. Thoughts on What's to Come Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pinoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli/UCCA, 2012
It's now been two days since we drew our last screws into the two projects that became the product of the ITERATE workshop. The first thing I want to do is to thank our dedicated students Song Yating, Zhai Jingyang, Wu Yulun and Yangyang Seunghee. Without their adventurous choice of joining this speculative workshop, it would not have taken place. The fact that we had a group of students pushed us to do our homework and prepare a rigorous theoretical framework for our exploration, presenting a wide range of precedents and references from many different fields. The point being that we are operating in a field that crosses over to many other disciplines, and the two pieces that came out of the workshop also constitute an ambiguous result in terms of definition.
Defining what it is we made is perhaps not the most important issue here, but it still one of the crucial points of criticism that we are now facing. Early Sunday morning I received a phone call from our landlord saying that a group of neighbours had gathered in the courtyard in protest of the installation of sticks and string designed by student Yangyang Seunghee. The problem was not only that we had failed to inform all the neighbours in the courtyard behind, but also that these suspended objects were hanging at a height where you would have to crouch down to avoid collision, creating an especially precarious condition because of the lack of lighting during night time.
In a different context though, this installation might have been understood as a temporary artwork which could be spared a few hours of existence, but in the context of one of the few remaining preserved Beijing courtyards, it was seen by the local retired residents as a threat to their security and therefore must be taken down. To make it simple, we were naive towards our neighbours' capacity to accept a temporary piece which would force them to take a different route, and they were perhaps overly dramatic in their reactions against this alien object. Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting on the consequences and how they could have been avoided.
Which leads me back to the main topic; the content of our exploration and conclusions which can be drawn from it.
There was a series of underlying notions in the formulation of the framework this workshop, and by extension in the research project that now has started. From my own side, I would like to stress the ideological aspect of our project: Addressing the prevailing issue of the credibility of our contemporary consumer society. The workshop addresses this issue in two direct ways: By limiting our source of material to used or discarded matter, things that would have been disposed of in landfills or incinerated, we would not impose unnecessary pressure to the environment for the purpose of developing a specific new knowledge. The fact that these objects have unique variations in terms of form, colour and texture as well as possessing their own latent history, make them all the more gratifying to work with. In addition, we explored the social aspect of how these objects can be retrieved and harvested in the specific context of Beijing's old city. The second point is the fact that the tool we used in the reconfiguration/design of these materials, Processing, is a free, open-source software and coding language. This of course means that while you as a designer first have to design and customize your tool in order for it to become efficient, it also brings a lot of advantages. During the past two weeks we only scratched the surface of the possibilities offered by using this environment, but the future process will be directed towards developing and streamlining the code to our use.
Another major aspect is of course that of using our abilities as designers to propose and speculate on solutions for local and global issues. This aspect of the workshop is perhaps where we failed. Despite an ambitious level of research in the way some materials are used and how they are instrumental in the accretion of small reclaimed spaces in the hutongs of Beijing, the connection between our design process and these issues became increasingly blurred in the second week. In many ways, it is just as important to learn new tools as to be critical to them while they are being applied.
With better planning and stronger focus for the Processing classes, we would probably have come further in the form explorations on an earlier stage, giving more time to establish a solid relationship between our materials and the environment in which they were found. To resume to our mission statement, we wanted to explore the intersection between design, computation and public space. By designing without specificity in neither user nor site and erecting the pieces in a sheltered, semi-private courtyard we not only avoided confrontation with the public, but projected an sense of arrogance towards the local community. Instead of allowing our neighbours and our initiated friends from outside to meet inside a common fascination for our research, and despite good intentions, the works provoked a sense of alienation from the point of view of our neighbours.
To conclude, I would like to see this experience as part of an ongoing process, in which we tap into a wide range of material flows in the city, in production processes and socio-economic systems and reformulate unwanted output into operational synergies. In other words, turning waste, in whatever scale, into desirable matter.
Came across this article in Financial Times about the emerging 2nd and 3rd tier cities that will output 40% of global growth in the coming 15 years. In Asia, this growth will come mainly from construction of the cities themselves, which is of course something to question: Why this obsession with this kind of growth, when the already existing cities in China essentially looks like this:
And the new cities like this:
Which is pretty much exactly like the suburbs built in Europe (mainly) during the heyday of cheap state loans and increasingly poor building quality. The only difference is, back then it was social housing, now they are built with speculation in mind and a large percentage of them are empty empty, in some cases entire new cities without residents. Most of the apartments are already sold, but the rents the owners is not enough to pay back their investment, which means that the investment is based on the presumption that the price will keep rising, which is quite unlikely, in areas that have been proven to be unpopular. After all, people move to cities based on their outlook of finding jobs there, but how many jobs can be found in an empty city?
The best part of the FT article is its concluding point: "(...) according to an Ipsos/Mori poll, Mumbai, a city with 55 per cent of its population living in slums and 65 per cent of its population working in the informal economy, is the “happiest” city in the world, its residents the most satisfied with their quality of life. London, just as astonishingly, comes in at number two."
Cities, like any other man-made products, need to evoke feelings of desire, creativity and joy, otherwise they just become devices for people-storage. Hmm, that sounds vaguely like a cynisist reintepreting Marx.
More on ghost cities here.
Courtesy of the new high-pressure weather that so mercifully started hovering above Beijing a few days ago, I am finally seeing, actually seeing, my surroundings for the first time since the summer started 2-3 months ago.
And the other day, when reflecting over the fact that being swept into a haze is, also historically, the default condition for most of China, I could see why it made so much more senseto build around a courtyard rather than isolated elements on a surface. You are not trying to grasp an ungraspable landscape far away, but having full control over your nearest surroundings, your family and your own belongings. Considering the cultural AND climatic aspects, this must be the underlying logic why Chinese (traditional) architecture works the way it does.
This brings me to the next question: What is its current logic? It seems to often come down to one word: Speculation.
On Sunday I am hosting the informal opening of Black Sesame, the studio space in downtown Beijing that I will share with Institute for Provocation (IFP). Since we found the space in late March, we have been struggling with a few different entrepreneurs for the renovation, and shedding both sweat and tears (not too much blood, yet) in the process. Sweat mostly because of the escalating costs. The renovation will be an ongoing process but we have nevertheless moved in and I work there since about two weeks.
The event is open to our dear friends and colleagues, but please don't be shy to drop by and introduce yourself if I don't already know you. Hope to see you there!
After spending a few days in the south part of China - Suzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong consecutively - I returned to Beijing late last night. The wind is strong and the air it carries is dry and dusty, the taxi driver is (unusually) reckless and by the time I arrive in the apartment, I am very aware of which city I am in. This change of location (and mood) immediately invoked some thoughts about what kind of city Beijing is, and perhaps more importantly, since its influence as an urban planning model throughout the country, how to define the Modern Chinese City. The three cities mentioned above serve as prominent examples of how cities in China which have a history and legacy that make them unique, but where in the new developments they are slowly becoming more and more alike.
Moving through Beijing by bicycle should be a very natural experience. Until about 15 years ago, everyone in the city were getting around by bicycle. the narrow hutongs which are nowadays almost crammed with cars, making it difficult for us on bike to get past the slow-moving, clumsy chunks of metal driven by new drivers who seem to think everything else should adapt to their new investment. Not to speak of the impossibility of anyone stopping or even slowing down at a pedestrian crossing. In Beijing in general, and in other Modern Chinese Cities I have experienced, most power is always given to those who already have it. Personally, I am reluctant to accept this kind of disrespect for fellow citizens, and as I move through the city, by bicycle or public transportation, but my fellow commuters seem to have acquired the in Japan so admired stoicism. So I start to speculate into where this silent acceptance might originate. Why are the foot soldiers of China's cities, its real flesh and blood, its blue- and white collar workers, so tolerant to this apparent and unjust stratification?
If Shanghai and Hong Kong are hyper modern post-colonial metropoles, where money equals power equals money, then Beijing is the city of Absolute Power. Ever since the city was planned and built as Dadu by Kublai Khan in the Yuan dynasty to serve as a the Chinese capital of his vast Mongolian empire has its inhabitants lived and worked to serve the emperor. As a planned entity with a rigid square shape and ethnic subdivision through layers and layers of walls, it was never really subject to market driven capitalism until the early 1980's. One thousand years of history are not abolished in 30 years and so now when Beijing is subject to the forces of free movement of capital and people, its
One of the most striking features of Beijing is its brutality. Yes, the old city and its hutongs are very charming but if you look closely, and open the city up to all your senses, you'd realise that some of the scenery are vaguely resembling medieval cities in Europe under the feudal era. The smell from open latrines (now called public toilets), the open kitchens with walls and equipment covered in years of accumulated grease, the piles of rubbish and construction material, the ubiquitous sheds and their ephemeral roof mendings using plastic sheet and bricks...I could go on for a while. The scenery is that of a place deprived of - no, not wealth, but the softer values - dignity and integrity.
In a simple comparison with Shanghai or Hong Kong, Beijing every time comes up as the fat privileged cousin from the country, who never had to do anything else than to decide for others. Because Beijing and its current emperor, the Communist Politburo, doesn't need to comply to the market (the current regime is notorious for manipulating the value of its currency, banning labour unions, subsidizing petrol and imposing high duties on imported goods, among other things), its inhabitants are not used to the real-world situation of equal competition and because of the lack of knowledge and understanding of refined products and services, the city exists almost in a vacuum, where we, the citizens of Beijing, become numb and silently accepting of the low-quality situation. The result is that people stop caring - about hygiene, about traffic, about other people. And I am no exception.
Is this why the government of Beijing consistently deprives its citizens of the comfort of a well-functioning public transport network? Even with the current planned subway lines, only a fraction of the city's population will fall within Shanghai's ambitious 10-30-60 goal (maximum 10 minutes to walk to the subway, 30 minutes to ride and a total maximum 60 minutes door to door commute). Why shouldn't Beijing be the most ambitious city for public transport - in the world? The city already has the world's biggest square and the worlds tallest looped double-skyscraper, why settle with this?
The answer is simple. The reason why the ring roads and expressways have been given top priority is because the city's VIP's, the government officials, travel by car. One car in particular: A black Audi A6 L with tinted windows. We see them everywhere since public transport is not considered safe and comfortable enough. Thus, the subway becomes the domain of the sub-pressed, the desperate white-collars and migrant workers. Conclusively, the reason why the city government has so little interest in the fate of the rest of the population is that they are without vote, and will stay so in the foreseeable future. And if people don't like it, they can move somewhere else, Beijing is anyway too big and new people are moving in every year. In the current situation, Beijing lives on its status as the city of Absolute Power, meaning, whatever works for the people in power and makes them feel good about themselves, the rest of us simply have to accept. End of story.
It is an unusually creamy sky this morning. Yesterday broke the streak of 43 consecutive days of clear blue skies and sunshine and today is even worse. A reading from the US Embassy's air pollution meter shows a return to a state of public hazard to the point that it is beyond the index of 500. At 4 am this morning, the PM2.5 (nano particles) reading was 595, the highest I've ever seen. In november, this reading was called "crazy bad", probably the most accurate description, but was soon modified to "beyond index". Between 400 and 500, the reading is "hazardous". Which means we are currently in a state "beyond hazardous". Below are photos from my window, roughly the same view eastwards. From today and December 12. Congratulations if you can identify any similarities.
Have you ever spent Chinese new year in Beijing you know what it is all about. Vast, empty streets devoid of the flocks of people, cars and that forced them take on that enormous scale to begin with. It's a bit of eerie town, nevertheless quite enjoyable, despite the relentless banging of fireworks. Today I took the bike out to Caochangdi, a trip I normally undertaken by taxi. But in the current strange state of things it was a very enjoyable journey indeed. I found another abandoned palace on the way, left concrete ruins similar to the one near Ikea (coming up).
Another beautifully strange phenomena was sighted as I passed by 798 on the way back. A monolithic ice sculpture with accompanying mini-volcano, both natural accumulations of water dripping from a pipeline carrying hot steam around the old factory grounds. The tall one looked strangely familiar, as if echoing the stainless steel sculpture I had just seen in the studio of this well-known Swiss artist. What a wonderful world indeed, where sculptures can be formed by the dripping of water, the most essential of worldly elements, surpassing the beauty of those man-made structures in which we invest so many of our efforts.
This was the name of the blog I kept during my first months in Beijing in 2008. For those who understand Swedish, it's a personal record of my experiences in MAD, the office of Ma Yansong. No further comments.
There is an air of spring in Beijing. The wind washing against my Northern skin as I rumble down the streets on my old noname bike has been reasonably temperate so far this week. Today, stopping at a red light by the northeast third ring road I saw the sun reflected in the green-tinted window of a large 90's midrise and thought: Ah! There's nothing like getting uplifted by a imposing piece of infrastructure like this. In a few months, I will join the crowds of men with exposed bellies and women with ditto heals. Ah! Spring will soon be here and I'll be able to wear my active-carbon-nano-particle-filter mask without my face getting all wet and gooey inside from the condensation. I so wished I had brought a camera to capture that moment. Instead I'll share a photo from the summer of 2008. Like most Beijing summers, it was a painstakingly sticky and humid one.
While my dirty laundry is getting new life at the Vascomat down the street here in Islands Brygge Copenhagen, I am taking this half hour (although I'm expecting it to be extended after the laundry is done) to review what I have produced in the past three weeks and sum up what the project is about. The fact that I haven't taken the time to reflect, instead carrying on like a streamlined bulldozer producing mostly drawings, diagrams and a few models in various scales, might be my most serious mistake. Evidence of this came up in the rather exhaustive crit session yesterday. My biggest challenge as an architect (and as a person?) is and has always been to locate a specific field of interest and to investigate its possibilities as far as possible without losing interest after one or two trials. Basically, I have an underlying fear to lose touch with the bigger picture if I indulge myself in something seemingly small an insignificant. That the big pictures, the grand gestures and utopian political statements are more compelling than the small steps and informal inventions that really move society forward, albeit inconspicuously. Which is about as far from true as could possibly be. The problem is, of course, that I am better at this retrospective self-evaluation than actually changing my way of thinking. It is inexplicably difficult to radically shift focus as a designer, from abstract concepts of axes, points, slabs and junctions to non-architectural elements like blood cells, 1967 Cadillacs and Emmental cheese. How do I know that my specific point of interest has the potential to tell a bigger story? How does a park pavilion change the world? The last question is very close to what my project should be. The problem is, I did not formulate that question until now. The question so far has been: How do I turn a steelworks and dried-out river in Beijing into a productive and recreational space and dwellings using an axis? Needless to say, the answer to that question is probably not a doorknob or even Emmental cheese. But perhaps this juxtaposition is my best bid for finding the key to this project. So far, I've been trying to solve all the problems (cleaning of polluted soil, laying out of agricultural plots, legitimization and transformation of existing industrial structures, finding strategic principles for the development of the village, finding suitable plants for the almost dry riverbed etc) individually through a sort of composition, each problem relying on the other but without strong conceptual guidelines. The result is a heavy pile of drawings that compose without being specific and speculate without being consequential. In short, I am lost inside my project.
Until now, perhaps. As I am writing this, I am getting inspired to sketch down the outlines of my project in a different way. Using familiar concepts and excluding my seemingly unnecessary investigations of 'site-specific morphology', I am kind of back to square one. Everything that I wrote in my programme is still extremely valid and surprisingly solid as a framework. The problem is that the most logic approach should have been to use parametric tools, not by building an explicitly analogue drawing table that produces compelling photo prints. Especially since I'm not really using it according to my original intent.
So, again by breaking my programme down into two categories; Bottom-up and Top-down, I can start to understand where I can get the most juice out of my expertise as a designer and planner respectively. Basically, Bottom-up is a generic framework within which things can take place, informally and without the involvement of the designer. In the case of building matrixes, a general FAR and height is specified. Top-down is the layout and design of the specific functions that support and stimulate occupation of the generic.
My first reaction to the text above was the conclusion that I had to go back to square one and build a Chinese version of Parc de la Villette; Tschumi's proposal, which was built and works by distributing programme in the follies, liberating the surfaces to be more generic, essentially an updated version of the classical French Garden. The buildings are the main carrier of meaning while the fields produce the “event space” in between where anything can happen. Koolhaas' proposal was more radical and urban. By being much more specific in the treatment of the fields, he wanted to create a condensed social environment. Moving through the park across the 'strips' would be like taking the elevator through a skyscraper. Moving along the strips would thus be equivalent to staying on one floor. It's rather a shame that Tschumi won with his rather classical distribution strategy. Instead, we missed the chance to see how Koolhaas would perform as landscape architect.
In my first analysis of these two proposals, I concluded that Tschumi's generic element was the follies, while Koolhaas' was the strips. In fact, I am now beginning to realize that it is the other way around. The follies are, at least in practice, rather rigid in their programmatic content. Today, almost all the follies have a fixed specific function, disabling their ability to change over time. The same goes for the theme gardens. The surfaces remain generic, being open green lawns, pretty much as we know them from your typical 19th century urban park.
In the proposal that OMA submitted to the second competition phase, the strips were clearly specified, creating a compact barcode of different vegetations and social functions. As Koolhaas describes in his book: “In the first submission we explained how it works. Now we will show how it looks”. And the pictures of the giant model that filled up a whole room in the office, leaves no doubt that there was a high level of specificity in their final proposal.
Returning to my own trials and tribulations, I can conclude that I have spent a lot of time designing the fields, how they work and develop over time. They are thus not any more generic than my buildings, which remain rather undeveloped. So maybe this project will be better off following Koolhaas' Villette strategy; By being extremely specific about the landscape, I can let the buildings remain as supporters of that landscape. This is essentially much more interesting as a critique of Chinese planning and architecture. The experience of moving through the urban landscape is far more interesting than the individual buildings that make up it.
As expected, I haven't had time nor energy to write during the first phase of this project. Despite being a great way to clear your mind and sum up the workday, I simply don't find the time to write without it affecting my sleeping or leisure hours. Today, though, apart from being the first day of Easter and April fool's, is our half-time rest, giving my the chance to summarize the first 50 days of my diploma project. In brief, I am working on a hybrid park, a new kind of urban typology, in Beijing. Essentially a synthesis of recreational space (park), productive landscape (agriculture) and habitation (housing), the project rethinks an industrial zone and dried-out river in the west part of Beijing, and its junction with one of the city's main axes: Chang'an avenue. It all started in December last year when I was introduced to the area by my teachers at Tsinghua University, Ron Henderson and Brian Chang. Ron being a landscape architect, we were given in-depth knowledge about the region and its history, the Yongding river and Shougang steelworks. My pilot project in the urban design studio was a strategy based on the observations of the Chinese use of the axis as a way to organize buildings and complexes. By extending the Chang'an axis as a series of buildings instead of just extending the road, a new kind of identity could be given to the area, highlighting its environmentally abused surroundings by contrast.
In January, after returning to Copenhagen, I developed the strategy in my programme, written as a series of small essays on the history of Chinese planning, landscape architecture and public space, as well as analyses of precedents such as Parc de la Villette in Paris. The intention of the programme is to implement a developed strategy comprising two major layers: Fields and Locales. The locales is the string of new public functions along the axis and the fields make out the horizontal layer of recreational and agricultural space. The real challenge is to design the planning and development of these layers over time, essentially a kind of choreographed architecture that assumes its position halfway between top-down and bottom-up design strategies.
I started by documenting surrounding sites which describe some of the the programme of the new park; agriculture plots, the riverbed, hills, gravel pits, villages, industrial sites and housing communities. As I could get aerials from every year between 2002 and 2009, I could see how the sites have evolved over time and what forces are at play in the landscape (in a general sense). These registrations will be essential to the formal and conceptual development of the project. The first attempts to formalize these became very attractive, collapsing the layers into a complex weave of lines and solids. I used a custom-made table to superimpose the layers onto a sheet of paper or eventually photo sensitive paper, which I developed in the lab.
Finally I attempted the same approach in the virtual environment, superimposing the drawings onto my own site and making collage-like drawings that could give the same kind of suggestive complexity as the photo prints. Despite creating very compelling images, it didn't really work in line with my design strategy and I am now back at square one, struggling to find a method to draw and build my project in different stages of its transformation.
Concluding this first half, I am taking small steps only to go back to my original ideas. In general I am slowly understanding how NOT to work, that is, by producing beautiful images from research and using them in a formal way. Instead, I should focus on the genetics and behaviour of my "prototype sites". Which is, needn't be said, quite abstract.
Hopefully I will be able to contribute with some slightly more elaborated thoughts on the process further on.