Thursday, August 7, 2008

Relic of the Ancient Future

This is a collection of photos taken of the unfinished galleries forming part of the "China No. 22 Creative Art Circle" in the Pingod residential development in Beijing. It is unclear whether they will ever be finished--they have not been worked on for months as far as I can tell. Some of the spaces have even been appropriated by squatters.

The building is an example of the "gallery bubble" occurring in Beijing at the moment as the red-hot market for Chinese art has created over-speculation in the production of art spaces. My friend Shuo claims it is a result of the unnatural gentrification of the Beijing museum scene, and the building will lie fallow until the land values raise and the developer can get a better return. Shuo, who wrote an article entitled "Wild Be(ij)ing", is a big fan of the bottom-up approach to urbanism, and his therefore suspicious of these market driven trends. In his exact words, "The soup in Beijing need more “organic” or “natural” ingredient that it is almost non-copy-able."

Despite all this, I think it is a beautiful building--a "mat" building that can be seen as an contemporary version of the infamous Beijing "hutong"--the vernacular form of densely packed, carpet-like courtyard housing. It is scaled up a notch from the traditional hutong and therefore is more conducive to contemporary uses. Once can imagine a acupuncture approach to upgrading the hutongs--providing them with modern amenities and spaces for modern programs--through the precise insertion of this type of structure. I consider it to be part of a movement in China similar to the "Critical Regionalism" promoted by Kenneth Frampton, et al. in the 80's and 90's, due to its use of indigenous materials-the ubiquitous gray brick of Beijing, and its anti-spectacle form.

I'm sure that most of what I find beautiful is the feeling of desertion, the raw, industrial nature, and its appropriation, and I doubt it will retain it's current beauty upon completion.

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