New Architects of China
by Jo Baker
As China's share of the global limelight grows brighter, it's little surprise that architecture has become one of the country's greatest public relations tools. Signature buildings thrust up all over the place, brash new developments blanket the countryside, and developers' appetites for innovation are hitting extremes. China has always been very much about "face," and with both the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai 2010 World Expo on the way, that face is getting a lot of attention.
But while firms from around the world are delightedly helping China push its design boundaries, the country's own young architects may be the most interesting to watch. On the Edge: Ten Architects from China, edited by Ian Luna with Thomas Tsang, is the first English-language anthology to place them firmly in the spotlight.
The learning curve for these young, hip studios has been a steep one. Though the nation can boast a rich aesthetic heritage, Mao's Cultural Revolution put pay to any form of modern exploration in the field. It also left most of the older architectural masterpieces in tatters. Design students in the 1980s and '90s had no creative role models and little contemporary Chinese design to draw from, leaving them with something akin to a blank canvas.
A number of searing questions came with it. Should architects continue to draw from the West, from Russia, and from the past, or could a new language of their own be created? What exactly is "Chineseness"? What does modernity mean, and what role should preservation play in the way forward?
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On the Edge: Ten Architects from China. Ian Luna, editor, with Thomas Tsang. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2007. 256 pages.