Wang Shu Discusses Urbanization in China

Last year, in a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Wang Shu ofAmateur Architecture Studio confronted the effects of globalization, urbanization and rapid development on cities in China. Can design resolve tensions between global and local cultures? How should architects mediate the pressures of history and innovation? In Wang Shu, we find the value of the Amateur.

In the past twenty five years, [China] did an incredible thing … One country with three to five thousand years of history, with such rich cultural and traditional things … made a big decision to demolish it. Ninety percent, just in the past twenty-five years. They do this and then build some new things; they copy from all over the world … It is the professional urban planner and architect who did this disaster. They do this with the government together. And so I think maybe we need another kind of architect.”

Wang Shu, 2012 Pritzker Prize Laureate, from his lecture on “Geometry and Narrative of Natural Form” at Harvard GSD on November 4, 2011


Ceramic House in Jinhua, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong


Ningbo History Museum in Ningbo, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong
“Amateur Architecture Studio was founded in 1998 by Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu in Hangzhou, China. Their approach is based around a critique of the architectural profession which they view as complicit in the demolition of entire urban areas and the transformation of rural areas through excessive building. The practice first came to wider attention in Europe with their pavilion for the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006; a comment on the on-going demolitions, their installation ‘Tiled Garden’ was made from 66,000 recycled tiles salvaged from demolition sites.

“Rather than looking towards the West for inspiration, as many of their contemporaries do, the practice’s work is embedded in the history and traditions of Chinese culture. In particular they reference everyday building tactics of ordinary people and the strong vernacular tradition of building in China. The name of their practice signals this commitment to learning from the ‘amateur builder’, focusing on craft skills and applying this to contemporary architecture. Wang Shu spent a number of years working on building sites with traditional craftsmen in order to learn from them. Combining this traditional knowledge with experimental building techniques and intensive research Amateur Architecture Studio respond to the ongoing challenges of the rapidly urbanising context of China. They do so with a site-specific architecture that valorises crafts and skill over professional knowledge and expertise.” This text and more can be found here

Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis’: A Recorded Presentation by Erik Swyngedouw

From [polis} a  dissertation on alternatives to top-down design with the limited purpose of serving vested financial and political influences for the benefit of its population – this is particularly relevant to our situation here in Cape Town with the current emphasis on Central Improvement Districts, IRT systems which serve more affluent suburbs rather than the urban poor stuck in ghettos on the periphery and Soccer World Cup stadiums that are now white elephants and a financial noose around the cities neck while the profits accrue in the hands of vested international interests – is there a way to resist this is the focus of a recorded presentation by Eric Swyngedouw on “Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis.” Swyngedouw is a professor of geography at the University of Manchester School of Environment and Development.
 

Swyngedouw points to a climate of global consensus that has become pervasive over the past twenty years, effectively suppressing dissent and excluding most people from governance. He explains this consensus as limited to a select group (e.g., elite politicians, business leaders, NGOs, experts from a variety of fields) and perpetuated through “empty signifiers” like the sustainable/creative/world-class city. He argues that this consensus serves a “post-political” neoliberal order in which governments fail to address citizens’ most basic needs in order to subsidize the financial sector and take on grandiose projects designed to attract global capital. He adds that the flipside of management through limited consensus is rebellion on the part of the excluded, which he views as insurgent architecture and planning that claims a place in the order of things. Swyngedouw calls for open institutional channels for enacting dissent, fostering a democratic politics based on equal opportunity for all in shaping the decisions that affect our lives. He envisions the city as “insurgent polis” — a new agora where democratic politics can take place, where anyone can make a case for changing the existing framework

Listen to the presentation and read more on [polis]