Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chinese architecture & Development

Awesome commentary on Chinese architecture and urbanization from Ma Xiaowei, founder of AGER Shanghai, a landscape and architectural design firm. From an interview in the Global Times.

One phrase I liked, where he comments on the China Pavilion at the 2010 World expo in Shanghai, which uses "China Red" and the "official cap" to represent imperial authority, "the essence of power in ancient times."
But in traditional Chinese culture, humanity and nature are essential, too. Little things like green grass, small bridges, dark blue bricks and painted white walls are what ordinary people relate to a harmonious life, and they are more than just simple symbols.

China could learn from the 1970 Expo, which was held in the Osaka Castle, on how to mix culture into the actual exhibitions. The location was in a rural area, surrounded by bamboo forest, where people enjoy a peaceful life. This concept is what harmony is all about, and it used the famous cherry blossom to represent Japan without it seeming like a forced cultural symbol.
Here's his response to the question: "Traditional Chinese landscape architecture, such as private gardens and small bridges, offers a good example of living in a harmonious environment. But does it work in today's fast-paced urban lifestyle?"
I think there is a misunderstanding about traditional Chinese landscape architecture. It does not equal a small bridge over a flowing stream, nor an elegant pavilion with a pagoda far away. What traditional landscape architecture really offers us is a way of thinking, a philosophy that modern people should adopt. People should live in a natural environment and live in harmony with nature. This is the essence of it.

But now, we tend to only look for big things such as wide roads, fancy skyscrapers and forced city planning... What we really need to pay attention to is: Will people live comfortably here? Is it convenient to cross an eight-lane road to enter the park? Do we really need a man-made mushroom in the park?

Time changes, and so do people's aesthetic values. But the essence of what makes a happy life will never change. A harmonious living environment and a reasonable view on development is what we really need to remember from traditional Chinese landscape architecture.
On green cities in China:
As a matter of fact, Chinese people traditionally live a low-carbon life. People used to live in hutong and build their houses around small alleys. It saves energy on transportation. This is a green lifestyle.

Compare this to some Western cities, such as Pittsburgh. The environment was polluted by heavy industry first, then people realized how important it is to have a healthy low-carbon lifestyle. It is a green city now because people learned from the mistakes they made in the past.

So for China, we can see the mistakes other cities made before and should learn from them. As long as we do not abandon what our ancestors had and were proud of, it won't be very difficult to maintain.


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