Revisited Mutations

Zhuhai - A city in the Pearl River Delta with "air so clean that it could be bottled and sold to other countries"

This afternoon when rereading Rem Koolhaas' text on the Pearl River Delta I was taken aback by this impressionist statement of the late 20th century (Originally from 1997, the text was published in Mutations (Actar, 2001)). What always strikes me about Rem's texts is their frankness; ultimately his ability to address an urban situation with the clarity of an overseas correspondent condensing a complex domestic situation into a three-minute recorded monologue. Explicitly, it is about finding keywords; in the case of his PRD Project on The City research, seventy-five of them.

Below are some of my favourite extracts:

"As a city, it represents nothing more or less than the coexistence of a number of apparently unconnected buildings which, by the simple fact of sharing a certain proximity, form an urban condition and which is inhabited without apparent anxiety."

"In China, curtain wall is sometimes pronounced "curtain war", and this has become one of our copyrighted terms: "The competition between architectures using the maximum variety that the glass-panel allows".

"Between the design of Central Park and our image of it, at least a hundred years went by. In Shenzhen, it only took seven."

"What does it mean to become Singapore? Here, above all, it has meant clearing unbelievable sections of ground in an orgy of tabula rasa where it seems as if the act of clearing becomes an act of faith. There is an apparently sacred pleasure in creating void spaces where tabula rasa is no longer an anticipation, but almost an autonomous condition."

"If China is destined to become a market economy, today it is only speculative and addressed to the rich. It is unthinkable that in the foreseeable future it will adopt certain things that we traditionally associate with the market economy, the first of which is profit. Here it is only a matter of speculation in terms of a future condition, linked perhaps to the incredible speculative energy of a communist system that always explained and amnestied the present with regard to an ideal future condition."

I cannot help but wonder what conclusions would be made if Rem and his research team returned to PRD ten years after (at least) these clear-cut statements and readdressed the situation. What predictions were correct? My impression is that most of the observations still are spot-on, while leaving a few of his comments on the speculative nature of the Chinese economy without further comment.