The Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture 2013 rethinks China’s industrial past

The Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture 2013 rethinks China’s industrial past

The Shekou Industrial Zone in Shenzhen may not seem the most likely place to house a biennale devoted to design. But given the event’s ’Urban Border’ theme, this industrial port is in fact perfectly positioned - literally and figuratively - to host a fascinating debate on global urban issues at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB). The urban design biennale’s fifth edition is presented at two separate venues: an old warehouse at the city’s industrial port and the former Guangdong Float Glass Factory, a short bus trip away.

UABB curator and creative director Ole Bouman enlisted a team of local and international designers to transform a four-hectare derelict industrial site into the biennale’s main venue, the former glass factory. ’We didn’t have much to do,’ he says. ’It was all about cherishing its existing beauty and qualities.’ Central to the revitalisation is a dramatic Guggenheim-esque spiral staircase and an ’urban farm’, that echoes the Hong Kong vernacular.

On exhibit are works from the Ministry of Finnish Architecture, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, OMA, the Shenzhen Design Centre and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Must-sees include a display by Droog and TD, which imagines a Shenzhen-Hong Kong ’Special Material Zone’, where companies would develop products with material scarcity in mind - using ’boundless’ materials like sand and human hair. 

The warehouse exhibitions, meanwhile, are dedicated to ’crossing urban boundaries’. Curators Li Xiangning and Jeffrey Johnson have balanced an eclectic but coherent mix of multidimensional perspectives by international and local architects, urbanists, sociologists and artists. Notable highlights include Atelier Bow-Wow’s film ’Made in Tokyo’, on creating and using coherent urban environments. Artist Liu Qinguan of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts presents ’Blueprint’, a shimmering wall of ceramic tiles depicting auspicious Chinese patterns and symbols of modern production tools.

A team from Central Saint Martins are exhibiting a series of four films called ’Liquid Boundaries’, which question rigid boundaries in the traditional production of space. The ’Cricklewood Town Square’ film - based on a concept by utopian regeneration agency Spacemakers - stands out for its revolutionary attitude, which proposes giving town residents temporary planning power over their own public spaces.

The installation ’Made by Us’, by the Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Sander Veenhof, uses augmented-reality technology to help connect viewers with their architectural heritage. Cloud Factory, by information-visualisation specialist Mark van der Net, shows how data research can help people make informed decisions based on real-time digital information.

The highlight of the opening weekend was undoubtedly POP-UP, Studio-X Shenzhen’s lively presentation on inspiring urban projects from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro to China. The interactive space, orchestrated by Hong Kong-based architect Marisa Yiu, comprised a sea of tables suspended from a ceiling grid by moveable steel rods, allowing visitors to transform the space ’to create an architecture for a real-time exchange of ideas’.

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