Architecture update: Letter from China
If buildings could talk, China’s would be heard round the world. From gleaming culture halls and multinational hotels to cities like Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, where futuristic masterpieces rise from the desert like modern phoenixes, the sheer number of new constructions is mind-blowing. Consider places like Chongqing, Ningbo and Dalian, minor outposts just a decade ago – today they defy cartographers with skylines that can transform in an instant.
Clearly China is the place to be if you have aspirations in architecture. The arrival of titans like SOM and Gensler is old news these days, and even boutique firms are stepping over one another to set up shop in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, even second-tier outposts like Hangzhou.
Yet this is no mere Western invasion. Many of China’s most exciting contemporary structures come from its new class of home-grown architects, taught internationally or at nascent design departments across the country. The American-led supertowers – and there are dozens of them – tend to monopolise the attention, but China’s new creatives are starting small, building desperately needed schools, libraries and community centres.
What they all have in common is a passion for sustainable practices and a drive to somehow foil the country’s current appetite for vast, wasteful projects by big developers. To be sure, the developers are eating up a lot of land, but the grass will be greener on the other side.