Two Roads to Building China

Event: Made By China Symposium
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.01.08
Introductions: Wei Wei Shannon — Curator, Shi Jian — Co-Curator, Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories exhibition
Speakers: Building China Panel: Zang Lei — Owner, AZL Atelier Zanglei (Nanjing); Yan Meng — Partner, Urbanus Architecture & Design (Shenzhen); Wang Shu — Partner, Amateur Architecture Studio (Hangzhou)
Moderator: Clifford Pearson — Architectural Record
Co-Evolution Panel: Ambassador Richard Swett, FAIA — Managing Principal, Leo A Daly, Washington DC office, & former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark; Kent Martinussen — CEO, Danish Architecture Centre; Dan Stubbergaard — Principal, COBE (Copenhagen)
Moderator: Søren Sønderstrup — Communications Consultant, Danish Architecture Centre
Organizers: AIANY; The Center for Architecture Foundation; People’s Architecture; Danish Architecture Centre; UiD; AIANY International Committee
Sponsors: Patron: Digital Plus; Supporters: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; EDAW; Jerome & Kenneth Lipper Foundation; Friend: Bartco Lighting; Häfele; Ibex Construction; Let There Be Neon; Tsao & McKown Architects

Dafen Cultural Center

The Dafen Cultural Center by Urbanus Architecture responds to its urban context.

Courtesy AIANY

Both exhibitions at the Center for Architecture — Building China: Five Projects, Five Stories, and Co-Evolution: Danish/Chinese Collaboration on Sustainable Urban Development in China, take up China’s building boom. The greatest challenge facing Chinese architects today is to “be local within a global context,” says Shi Jian, co-curator of the Building China exhibition. Conversely, the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), seeing China’s growth as part of an international struggle to “co-evolve” toward a more sustainable world, is pressing China’s universities and municipalities to share development knowledge and experience with the rest of the world.

A new generation of Chinese architects, including AZL Atelier Zanglei, Urbanus Architecture & Design, and Amateur Architecture Studio, is responding to issues of globalization and urban growth by embracing both international modernity and the specifics of local context. For example, AZL Atelier Zhanglei used local brick and farmer/craftsmen labor in the Brick House to create modern surface patterns that are abstract yet grounded in local culture. In the Dafen Cultural Center, Urbanus Architecture employed multi-use programming to deal with its urban context. The integration of retail shops, classrooms, and exhibition spaces within the center, and reserving its exterior for murals by local artists, reflects the identity of the thriving artist community.

Wang Shu, partner of Amateur Architecture Studio, approaches context as a poetic, rather than a material or programmatic, challenge. Referring to the harmonious relation of man and nature in Chinese landscape paintings, Shu seeks an architecture that integrates “seamlessly into nature.” Incorporating materials and forms of Chinese villages, the firm’s campus design for the Chinese Academy of Arts is intended to evoke a “2,000-year-old village trapped in a bottle.”

To Kent Martinussen, DAC’s CEO, China’s urbanization highlights environmental problems worldwide, which he believes require international collaboration. Pairing several Danish architects with teams from Chinese universities, the Co-evolution project explores sustainable solutions for environmental remediation, infrastructure planning, and site development. In the Magic Mountain proposal, for instance, COBE combined transit-oriented garden city planning with clustered high-rise development. Pointing to China’s immense development capacity, Martinussen emphasized harnessing this power and discerning “how it might be done better, through new alliances and new understandings.”