‘second-tier city’ culture

Chongqing recently expanded its boundaries to become the largest municipality in the world with a population of some 20 million people. At the entrance to the Three Gorges it’s also the city competing with Chengdu for the title of western China’s cultural capital. In China, culture means edifices, administration and big art for the emerging middle-classes so the budgets are huge and the usefulness for local artists is miniscule. The Straits Times had this piece on the new focus on art and culture to court investors.

According to an official at the city’s cultural bureau, 10 large-scale cultural projects are set to rise out of the Yangtze mud. According to an official at the city’s cultural bureau, 10 large-scale cultural projects are set to rise out of the Yangtze mud.

They include a US$97 million theatre, a US$36 million library and a US$12 million Chinese modern art gallery – a cultural medium the authorities at times have trouble accepting.

‘Chinese cities these days are beginning to pay attention to the cultural needs of their citizens,’ said Mr Wei Dong of the Chongqing Federation of Literary and Art Circles.

Chongqing is not alone in this regard.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, government officials are now embarking on a five-year, US$1.3 billion investment in some 26 projects including libraries, concert halls, art galleries and museums.

And in the eastern city of Hangzhou, complaints by local citizens that they have to travel to neighbouring Shanghai for a concert have prompted the government to take action. Plans are being drawn up for local cultural venues.

guangzhou’s tallest building

In Yuexiu Park there is an old drum tower which is most of what remains of the once city-encircling walls. Inside is a brief pictorial history dating back as far as the great opium-trading days and European concessions, and then further back into the past of what is an almost 2000 year old trade centre. Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, or even more archaeologically fashionable suburbs like the three gorges, it’s pretty hard to find much written on the most important southern city in China.

The ground floor of the tower is devoted to a monolithic diorama of the city, remarkably detailed in it’s minor roads and topography. What was always the joke of the entire place though was Tian He. The new city is dominated in the real world by the 90 storey 中国电信, China Telecom building, affectionately known by local Star Trek fans as the Borg Cube. The diorama though, rigorously accurate in all other areas, did not feature the Borg Cube as the tallest building, instead further south near the river was a laughably monstrous black tower, a Jeff Stryker dildo planted splat in the middle of downtown.

Except now the joke is on us. News of the day is that Guangzhou plans to build a 600 meter skyscraper right on this site, and while the news is ricocheting around the internet with all usual breathless haste, every Guangzhou local it seems, who goes to Yuexiu Park has known about it for years. China Daily makes background noise out of what is a essentially a vanity project in a city littered with derelict and unfinished 30+ storey buildings, emblematic of the rampant corruption, short-sightedness, and vacuous lack of town planning.

Construction of a television tower that is claimed to be the world’s tallest TV tower is due to start in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province next month.

This landmark tower, which could be up to 600 metres high, is expected to be a new tourist attraction, competing with the 320-metre-high Eiffel Tower in Paris and the 468-metre-high Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower in Shanghai.

The Guangzhou municipal government is currently busy selecting a design from three foreign companies that have entered the final round of competition, according to Huang Jiatian, deputy director of the General Office under the Headquarters for the Construction of Guangzhou New TV Tower.

A total of 13 domestic and overseas companies have participated in the public bidding for the design of this massive project, said Huang.

The final three companies come from Germany, Britain and France.

All three designs for the new TV tower require the project to reach between 580 metres and 600 metres, becoming the world’s tallest TV tower.

Located on the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou’s Tianhe District, the new TV tower will reach a construction floor space of 100,800 square metres. And it will occupy a ground area of 84,880 square metres in Guangzhou’s premier business district.

About 200 families will have to move away from the site, Huang said.

The Guangzhou municipal government has agreed to pay compensation to most people living in the area and relocation work have already started.

taikang art street

With the demolition or threatened demolition of artist’s villages and communities in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai as the glacial mental processes of developers see ripe opportunities to make money, now and again the bribes don’t work, and the opportunity to make money out of culture rules. Taikang Rd in Shanghai might be one of these times, getting a reprieve from demolition, h what the wreckers balls achieve in half a day, the commodification of art by bureaucrats can have the same effect over years.

“We expect to preserve most art-related buildings and to create a better cultural atmosphere for the street,” Wu Jiang, deputy director of the Shanghai Urban Planning Administrative Bureau, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

He also explained the government will save all of the successful artists’ buildings on Taikang Road – such as painting studios – but it is also necessary for the government to renovate some old houses that are not in harmony with their artistic surroundings.

Wu meisen, curator of the Shanghai Taikang Road Art Street Management Committee, said the legal protection to retain the old buildings and warehouses on Taikang Road gives residents confidence to develop the road, the city’s first “artistic street,” in the future.

“We are finally relieved by the result,” Wu said. “All our foreign tenants are excited because they don’t need to worry about finding another location for their studios or boutiques.”

中国国际建筑艺术双年展 1st Architecture Biennale – Beijing

As Beijing is swathed in a landscape of construction and demolition, the 中国国际建筑艺术双年展 1st Architecture Biennale – Beijing opens today, under the aegis of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. With some of the most avante-garde of local and international architects currently involved in the redevelopment of the city, the biennale brings them all together over the next couple of weeks with in the exhibitions and forums.

In ancient times , in the eastern world, “Zhong Guo” (China) meant “the country at the centre”. With its vast area of over 9.6 million square kilometers and over 5,000 years of recorded history, China has generated a vast treasure of architecture and art, such as the Great Wall spanning thousand of miles, the grand and splendid Forbidden City, the traditional courtyard houses inspired by China’s philosophies, towers and pagodas reflecting the spirit of traditional concepts and human relations, hundreds upon thousands of exquisite pavilions, picturesque landscaped gardens and beautifully-constructed bridges, and finally the renowned Silk Road linking China with other parts of the world.

At the beginning of this new Millennium, as mankind steps into the 21st century, China is like the morning sun rising in the east, with its burgeoning economic development, especially in the field of construction, now the driving engine of an economy which has been developing at an increasing speed in the past 20 years. The western media noted with awe, “China is like a huge construction site!… new buildings sprout like spring bamboo shoots while the rest of the world’s construction market is at a standstill.”

Hundreds of Chinese cities have been transfigured with high-rise complexes and new buildings of all sorts of different forms and styles in line with pluralism of architectural creation. Over 20,000 kilometers of highways and many stunning highway bridges have been built in the past decade. As host country to the World Conference on Heritage in 2004, World Expo of Leisure in 2006 and the World Olympic Games in 2008, China will see another high tide in the construction boom. China has become the world’s showcase for new concepts, new ideas and new technology in architecture.

Throughout next Autumn’s golden days in September 2004, Beijing will open its doors to welcome architecture and building and construction industry colleagues from every part of the world, to join in China’s very first ABB2004.

2030 pearl river mega-city

By 2030, in a study reported on in the HK Standard, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong will have merged into one Pearl River Delta spanning mega-city, home to some 50 million people. Anyone travelleing on the KCR will have the disturbing feeling this has already happened. From Guangzhou Railway Station, all the way to Dongguan, halfway to Hong Kong is an unbroken artery of industrial cities and manufacturing belts that wouldn’t be out of place as Saruman’s orc mines in Lord of the Rings. From there to Hong Kong, besides some scant pieces of rapidly vanishing remnants of tropical forest, mostly on the Hong Kong side of the border, it’s exactly the same.

Even before the borders between Hong Kong and the mainland are scrapped, Shenzhen’s existing downtown would have moved west to Baoan district, an area currently outside the “second border” that separates Shenzhen from the rest of Guangdong.

This new area, which would be bordered by extensive land reclamation, would have begun to attract leading Hong Kong commercial institutions as tenants. The existing central business district in Luohu and Futian districts would become, in effect, Shenzhen’s suburbs.

華山 huashan – when art becomes industry

What’s in a name? When it comes to art, there’s a big world between an arts and cultural centre, and a Creative Industry Centre. 華山創意文化園區 Huashan arts centre as it used to be known in Taipei became a Creative Industry Center a while ago, which in my thinking on using interpretation of words as a blunt weapon is double-speak for replacing experimental artists with commercial administrators and edifices.

Taipei Times and POTS both wrote about the changes at Huashan and what it means for the kind of vibrant avant-garde that has grown across asia in the last decade.

Susan Kendzulak at POTS saw it from the perspective of an artist who had lost the community every artist desperately needs:

Huashan, the arts complex on Pateh Rd, was a place for artists to experiment, grow, learn, and make mistakes. When the artists first established Huashan six years ago, they pushed out commercial developers and even government designs to build a new legislature there, saving a defunct brewery complex for use by artists and the public. It was these artists’ intention that Huashan be an art lab, not a boring commercial space. During those six years, I experienced some wonderful art epiphanies, saw provocative work, and even exhibited there.

Well those days are certainly over, which is a loss to contemporary art in Taiwan. Under the new management of L’orangerie International Art Consultant Co. (橘園國際藝術策展公司橘園) since January, the space is now named “Huashan Cultural and Creative Industry Center”. An oxymoron if there ever was one!

Taipei Times preferred to see it from what every mediocre suburban tourist want to believe art is all about:

Controversy surrounded the transformation of the old Taipei Winery Building into an arts center from the word “go.”

When artist Tang Huang-chen (湯皇珍) and members of the Golden Bow Theater (金枝演社) decided the abandoned site was a perfect venue for the alternative art scene in 1997, it didn’t take long for the authorities to intervene. The first performance, a play called Trojans, was cut short after the local police precinct decided to raid to the center.

Outraged by these actions, large numbers of Taiwan’s non-mainstream artists joined forces in an effort to turn the abandoned buildings into a public art space. Two years of demonstrations and petitions finally paid off in 1999 when the government allowed the Association of Culture and Environmental Reform in Taiwan (藝術文化環境改造協會) to manage the site.

After four years the curtain finally came crashing down on the artists’ association. In June 2002, local media ran banner headlines about a drug-fueled drum party that had been held at the arts center. And in November last year The Sun Son Theater (身聲演繹社) courted controversy when it staged a play entitled Circle of Love, which included nudity.

beautiful new horizon

Asia Art Archive’s September newsletter has a travelogue from Taipei researcher Mio Iwakiri, who travelled to Tainan in August for the one-year outdoor installation Beautiful New Horizon – Art Involved Planning Hai-An Road, Another Imagery, Another Possibility. Her report is a great read on the art community in Tainan, which has grown up in the shadow of short-sighted urban development, and she writes about many artists and galleries that make up this vibrant scene.

The residents around Hai-an Road, one of the oldest cultural streets in the city, have suffered from rampant urban development, begun ten years ago by the then mayor. Oddly enough, in this spacious city, the plan to build an underground shopping mall was passed by the city assembly. But building stopped, due to budget problems, leaving a big concrete ditch and walls of the demolished houses. With the mall in limbo the Bureau of Urban Development started exploring how to landscape the road and pavements. After several trials and errors, this project Beautiful New Horizon seems to be gaining residents’ supports.


I visited 4 alternative spaces in Tainan, guided by Jui-chung and Howard: ‘Taiwan New Arts Union’, ‘Prototype Art’, ‘136 Art Space’ and ‘Paint House’. The remains of a recent temporary public art project, also curated by Du Chao-hsien, were visible on the same street as TNAU. TNAU was started by nine local artists in 2003, to explore the subjectivity of Taiwan contemporary art.


Tainan has more projects happening, including a cultural complex on Anping Road recently built in a huge abandoned house covered by big trees with aerial roots. Designed by Liou Kuo-chan, the architect who did the attractive installation for Hai An Road, it is as if our childhood dream tree house has come true. It will be an absolutely great space for art and culture events, although the mosquitoes must be driven off, otherwise people may find they need to scratch all evening while events take place.

xu yong at 798 space

Xu Yong, who runs 798 Space in the Dashanzi arts district in Beijing, where the recent 大山子艺术节 Dashanzi International Arts Festival was held is the subject of an interview today in the New York Times, and talks about the threat of demolition hanging over the factories – like similar artist spaces in Shanghai and Guangzhou – has temporarily abated.

For Mr. Xu, 50, part of the factory’s value is intrinsic. The compound was active in the 1960’s and 70’s and many Maoist slogans (like “Chairman Mao is the red sun in our hearts”) painted on the walls during the Cultural Revolution remain visible. Such propaganda, once ubiquitous, is now rare, and the building is a powerful reminder. “The Cultural Revolution was terrible, so most people would rather simply forget it,” Mr. Xu said in an interview, “but we need to take stock of the past.”


For now, the scales seem tipped in favor of the art. When the developer moved to shut down the Dashanzi International Art Festival in late April, citing violations of parking and fire regulations, the government rejected the complaints and sent word that the show should proceed. “Even a year ago that would not have happened,” Mr. Xu said, adding that he was told by “a reliable source” that the government planned to protect the area so it could establish an art district similar to SoHo in New York in time for the 2008 Olympics.

Architecture in Beijing

The future of Beijing architecture is roads, motorways, expressways, and making more and bigger urban streets. Xinhuanet wrote about the future of Beijing architecture, which – like all major Chinese cities – is wallowing in an orgy of poured concrete, and carpet-bombing every surface with salmon-pink tiles. All this building is part preparation of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, with trophy architecture dominating, and part coping with the massive migration into urban areas, and one thing is clear, public transport in a poor second child to private cars.

Consider that by 2008, the following are some of the ambitious projects that will be completed in the capital: More than ten million square metres of construction in the CBD (the area around the China World complex); 148.5 kilometres of new light rail and subway tracks, giving the city a total of 202 kilometres; the Fifth Ring Road, the Sixth Ring Road and the Beijing-Miyun Expressway, giving Beijing 718 kilometres of expressways and thousands of kilometres of motorways; the construction and expansion of 318 kilometres of downtown urban streets.

But there are some beautiful buildings getting thrown up, especially the new (and behind schedule) National Theatre across the road from Zhongnanhai, designed by Paul Andreu.