I am inspired by books like Wade Graham's “Dream Cities” and Rem Koolhaas's “Delirious New York” to write about the spatial experiences of contemporary cities. What make cities behave a certain way? How can architects react and adapt to ever-changing cultural, political, and economic forces? What is the back story to these places, and how did they come to be? During my trip to China and Japan last year, I started mapping out a series of essays I wanted to write about each place I traveled to. I want to turn feelings into words, and then ultimately from words to drawings and projects.
Part 3: Empire
Location: Beijing, China
Time Period: 2000's to 2010's
Title: Imperial City
SUPERBLOCKS IN THE IMPERIAL CITY
Also acceptable: Something between LA and Shanghai.
The gridded, ringed sprawl of Beijing is meant to project, awe, and intimidate. The ancient and current capital of China, Beijing is the seat of power, much like L'Enfant's Washington or Hausmann's Paris, but much, much bigger. In plan, it retains a physical center and formal axis, culminating at the Forbidden City / Tiananmen Square. Megascale is the rule and not the exception; when you have the Great Wall 70 kilometers away from the city center, every urban intervention feels small in comparison.
The modern, televised renaissance of Beijing started with the preparation for the 2008 Olympics. When the bid was announced in 2000, city planners got to work, building new airports, train stations, parks, subway lines and stadia. Likewise, private developers followed suit, creating massive housing projects, condos, and shopping malls to boot. This massive influx of construction in the millennium attracted famous architects around the world, from Europe, Japan, and the United States.
While singular “monument” projects like the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and the CCTV steal the spotlight, there's another class of architecture: megablocks.
Tower and Podium – The common denominator is not the form, but scale.
- Steven Holl, Linked Hybrid
- Zaha Hadid, Galaxy SOHO
- Riken Yamamoto, Jian Wai
- China World Trade Center, Various Architects
Projects here are comparable to the Great Pyramids, or the great Silicon Valley headquarters of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Nothing is too big here, if you have a population of over 1 billion.
What really makes sense here in the future?
Opportunity: How do you celebrate smallness and individuality, without compromising the scale and state?