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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 7:20 PM
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NYT | The New, New City


Sze Tsung Leong for The New York Times

The Frontier: Southwestern Shenzhen under construction.


The Architecture Issue

The New, New City

June 8, 2008
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF


“Don’t tell anyone,” Rem Koolhaas said to me several years ago as we headed down the F.D.R. Drive in New York, “but the 20th-century city is over. It has nothing new to teach us anymore. Our job is simply to maintain it.” Koolhaas’s viewpoint is widely shared by close observers of the evolution of cities. But not even Koolhaas, it seems, was completely prepared for what would come next.

In both China and the Persian Gulf, cities comparable in size to New York have sprouted up almost overnight. Only 30 years ago, Shenzhen was a small fishing village of a few thousand people, and Dubai had merely a quarter million people. Today Shenzhen has a population of eight million, and Dubai’s glittering towers, rising out of the desert in disorderly rows, have become playgrounds for wealthy expatriates from Riyadh and Moscow. Long-established cities like Beijing and Guangzhou have more than doubled in size in a few decades, their original outlines swallowed by rings of new development. Built at phenomenal speeds, these generic or instant cities, as they have been called, have no recognizable center, no single identity. It is sometimes hard to think of them as cities at all. Dubai, which lays claim to some of the world’s most expensive private islands, the tallest building and soon the largest theme park, has been derided as an urban tomb where the rich live walled off from the poor migrant workers who serve them. Shenzhen is often criticized as a product of unregulated development, better suited to the speculators that first spurred its growth than to the workers housed in huge complexes of factory-run barracks. Yet for architects these cities have also become vast fields of urban experimentation, on a scale that not even the early Modernists, who first envisioned the city as a field of gleaming towers, could have dreamed of.

“The old contextual model is not very relevant anymore,” Jesse Reiser, an American architect working in Dubai, told me recently. “What context are we talking about in a city that’s a few decades old? The problem is that we are only beginning to figure out where to go from here.”

The sheer number of projects under construction and the corresponding investment in civic infrastructure — entire networks of new subway systems, freeways and canals; gargantuan new airports and public parks — can give the impression that anything is possible in this new world. The scale of these undertakings recalls the early part of the last century in America, when the country was confidently pointed toward the future. But it would be unimaginable in an American city today, where, in the face of shrinking state and city budgets, expanding a single subway line can seem like a heroic act. “In America, I could never do work like I do here,” Steven Holl, a New York architect with several large projects in China, recently told me, referring to his latest complex in Beijing. “We’ve become too backward-looking. In China, they want to make everything look new. This is their moment in time. They want to make the 21st century their century. For some reason, our society wants to make everything old. I think we somehow lost our nerve.”

Holl has reason to be exhilarated. His Beijing project, “Linked Hybrid,” is one of the most innovative housing complexes anywhere in the world: eight asymmetrical towers joined by a network of enclosed bridges that create a pedestrian zone in the sky. Yet this exhilaration also comes at a price: only the wealthiest of Beijing’s residents can afford to live here. Climbing to the top of one of Holl’s towers, I looked out through a haze of smog at the acres of luxury-housing towers that surround his own, the kind of alienating subdivisions that are so often cited as a symptom of the city’s unbridled, dehumanizing development. Protected by armed guards, these residential high-rises stood on what was until quite recently a working-class neighborhood, even though the poor quality of their construction makes them seem decades old. Nearby, a new freeway cut through the neighborhood, further disfiguring an area that, however modest, was once bursting with life.

“If you take Venturi’s ideas about the city,” Holl said, referring to Robert Venturi’s groundbreaking work, “Learning From Las Vegas,” which called on architects to reconsider the importance of the everyday (strip malls, billboards, storefronts), “and put them in Beijing or Tokyo, they don’t hold any water at all. When you get into this scale, the rules have to be rewritten. The density is so incredible.” Because of this density, cities like Beijing have few of the features we associate with a traditional metropolis. They do not radiate from a historic center as Paris and New York do. Instead, their vast size means that they function primarily as a series of decentralized neighborhoods, something closer in spirit to Los Angeles. The breathtaking speed of their construction means that they usually lack the layers — the mix of architectural styles and intricately related social strata — that give a city its complexity and from which architects have typically drawn inspiration.

In Dubai, for instance, what might once have been the product of 100 years of urban growth has been compressed into a decade or so. Given such seismic shifts, even the most talented architects can seem to flounder for new models. No one wants to return to the deadly homogeneity associated with Modernism’s tabula rasa planning strategies. The image of Le Corbusier hovering godlike above Paris ready to wipe aside entire districts and replace them with glass towers remains an emblem of Modernism’s attack on the city’s historical fabric. Yet the notion of finding “authenticity” in a sprawling metropolitan area that is barely 30 years old also seems absurd. How do you breathe life into a project at such a scale? How do you instill the fine-grained texture of a healthy community into one that rose overnight?

Cities like these, built on a colossal scale, seem to absorb any urban model, no matter how unique, virtually unnoticed. A project that could have a significant impact on the character of, say, New York — like the development plans for ground zero — can seem a mere blip in Beijing, which has embarked on dozens of similarly sized endeavors in the last decade alone. “The irony is that we still don’t know if postmodernism was the end of Modernism or just an interruption,” Koolhaas told me recently. “Was it a brief hiatus, and now we are returning to something that has been going on for a long time, or is it something radically different? We are in a condition we don’t understand yet.”

For architects faced with building these large urban developments, the difficulty is to create something where there was nothing. If much of contemporary architecture depends on sifting through the cultural and historical layers that a site accumulates over time — whether neo-Classical monuments or Socialist-era housing — what can be done if there is nothing to sift through but sand?

In a recent design for a six-and-a-half-square-mile development in Dubai called Waterfront City, Koolhaas proposed creating an urban island inspired by a section of Midtown Manhattan. The design linked a dense grid of conventional towers to the mainland by a system of bridges. A series of stunning “iconic” buildings — a gigantic, hollowed-out Piranesian sphere at the island’s edge; a spiraling tower that winds around an airy public atrium — were intended to give the city a distinct flavor. Koolhaas said he hoped, in this way, to infuse this entirely new development with something of the feeling of an older city. But while the outlines are intriguing, he is still coming to terms with how to create an organic whole. In the early stages of the design, Koolhaas experimented with somewhat conventional models of public space: a boardwalk along the island’s perimeter, a narrow park cutting through its center, classical arcades lining the downtown streets. But the majority of Dubai’s inhabitants are foreign-born, and the arcaded streets could easily suggest a theme-park version of a traditional Arab city. Koolhaas is painfully aware of how hard it is to escape the generic.

“A city like Dubai is literally built on a desert,” Koolhaas conceded when I asked him about the project. “There is a weird alternation between density and emptiness. You rarely feel that you are designing for people who are actually there but for communities that have yet to be assembled. The vernacular is too faint, too precarious to become something on which you can base an architecture.”

Koolhaas says he hopes that the plan will gain in complexity as the buildings’ functions are worked out; he says he was thrilled to learn that the government wanted both a courthouse and a mosque on the island. “Another option that I personally find very interesting,” Koolhaas told me, “is the modernist vernacular of the 1970s — buildings that once you put them in Singapore or Dubai take on totally different meanings. Some of the modern typologies work in Asia even though they are totally dysfunctional in America. Typologies we’ve rejected turn out to be viable in other contexts.”

The challenges of building what amounts to a small-scale city from scratch are compounded by the realities of working in a global marketplace. An architect of Koolhaas’s stature may be grappling simultaneously with the design of a television headquarters complex in Beijing, a stock exchange in Shenzhen and a 20-block neighborhood in Dubai, as well as a dozen buildings in Europe. The intense competition for these commissions means that architects are often forced to churn out seductive designs in weeks or months, tweaking their models to fit local conditions.

Several years ago, the London-based, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid received a phone call from a Chinese developer asking if she might be interested in designing a 500-acre urban development on the outskirts of Singapore. Hadid had never met the developer before. She was soon working on the master plan for “One North,” a mixed-use development with a projected population of about 140,000. Located on what was once a military site, Hadid’s design conjured a high-tech mountainous terrain. Dubbed the “urban carpet,” it was intended to blend office and residential towers and highways and public parks into a seamless whole. Against the rigid lines of the traditional street grid, the sinuous curves of the freeways suggested a more fluid, mobile society. The rooftops, whose heights were subject to stringent regulations, looked as if they were cut from a single piece of crumpled fabric, giving the composition a haunting unity. “We wanted to create a complex order rather than either the monotony of Modernism or the chaos you find in contemporary cities,” Hadid said.

Yet once construction began, the design of the buildings was left to local architects hired by the developer. As the towers rose in clusters scattered across the site, it was difficult to read the formal intent. With more than 20 blocks now complete, parts of the city look surprisingly conventional.

Hadid revived the concept several years later, when she won a competition to create a 1,360-acre business district in a former industrial zone on the outskirts of Istanbul. This time, the context was more promising: a hilly landscape at the edge of the sea flanked by older working-class neighborhoods on either side. To allow the development to grow in a more natural way than at One North, it would be built in phases that would begin at the waterfront and spread inland, eventually connecting to the street grid of the older neighborhoods. In an effort to preserve the texture of her original concept, Hadid developed a series of building prototypes, including a star-shaped tower and a housing block organized around a central court, and staggered the heights of the buildings to reflect the existing terrain.

If Hadid’s plan is formally inventive, it is still unclear whether it has escaped the homogeneity that was a hallmark of Modernist urban-renewal projects. Its sheer size coupled with the fact that the shapes of the buildings were conceived by a single architect means the result may well be more uniform, and ultimately more rigid, than Hadid intended.

Indeed, contemporary architects’ urban plans may be less tied to location than they would like to admit. When a Chinese developer approached the New York-based Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto to design a 1,235-acre development in Foshan, on the Pearl River Delta, they (with a Chinese partner) came up with a system of urban “mats”: a multilayered network of roads and low-rise commercial spaces, topped by a park surrounded by residential and commercial buildings. The park followed the contours of the roadways below; sunken courtyards allowed light to spill down into the underground spaces. Last year, the Chinese project fell through, and Reiser and Umemoto reworked the idea for a developer in Dubai. The layout was reconfigured to fit the new waterfront site; souks were added as a nod to local traditions. The result is a remarkably nuanced view of how to knit together the various elements of urban life, but it also seems as if it could exist anywhere.

The walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods celebrated by Jane Jacobs may seem impossibly remote, but encouraging signs of a more textured urban reality can still be found. Take Holl’s Linked Hybrid in Beijing, for example, which has a surprisingly open, communal spirit. A series of massive portals lead from the street to an elaborate internal courtyard garden, a restaurant, a theater and a kindergarten, integrating the complex into the surrounding neighborhood. Bridges connect the towers 12 to 19 stories above ground and are conceived as a continuous string of public zones, with bars and nightclubs overlooking a glittering view of the city and a suspended swimming pool. “The developer’s openness to ideas was amazing,” Holl says. “When they first asked me to do the project, it was just housing. I suggested adding the cinematheque, the kindergarten. I added an 80-room hotel and the swimming pool as well. Anywhere else, they’d build it in phases over several years. It’s too big. After our meeting, they said we’re building the whole thing all at once. I couldn’t believe it. We haven’t had to compromise anything.

“But what makes it possible is the density. The Modernist idea of the street in the air that became a place of social interaction never worked in Europe. Beijing is so dense that I can keep all of the shops functioning on the street, and there’s still enough energy to activate the bridges as well.”

Holl is continuing to explore these ideas in another megaproject, this time on the outskirts of Shenzhen: a zigzag-shaped office complex propped up on big steel columns that make room for a dreamy public garden. The density in much of Shenzhen can make Beijing look spacious. The imposing skyline of glass-and-steel towers, plastered with electronic billboards, was built mostly within the last decade, part of the boom that followed foreign investment in the area, when it was declared a special economic zone in the early ’80s. The Chinese government initially allowed many of the small villages that lined the delta to hold on to their land. As land values rose around them, the villagers remained in their increasingly populated districts, where they built cheap, and often instantly decrepit, towers that were so close together they were dubbed “handshake buildings”: you could literally reach out your window and shake hands with your neighbor across the street. The villages are poignant testimonies to the hardships that young workers, recently transplanted from the countryside, face in the new China. Many live packed a half dozen or more in one-bedroom apartments. But if Shenzhen is an emblem of what can happen when free-market capitalism is allowed to run amok, it is also an example of the spontaneous creativity that occurs when people are left to fend for themselves. On a recent visit, the alleyways, dark and claustrophobic, were thick with shops. Elderly people played mah-jongg on card tables in the street; two young children sat at a small desk doing their homework in a tiny storefront that doubled as their bedroom.

Wenyi Wu, a young architect working for a Chinese firm called Urbanus, led me around the area. The firm has been studying how people carve a living space out of seemingly inhospitable environments, hoping to develop an urbanist model more deeply rooted in the spontaneity of everyday life. He took me to a small museum Urbanus designed on the outskirts of the city. A series of stepped galleries stand at the base of a hill between an urban village and some banal housing complexes above. A series of long ramps pierce the building, joining the two worlds. More ramps encircle the exterior, so that you have the impression of moving through a system of loosely connected alleyways. The idea was to transform the unregulated character of the urban village into something more formal and humane — to extract the essence of its character without romanticizing the squalor. The circuitous paths of the ramps echo the surrounding alleyways; the layout of the galleries suggests the footprint of the migrant workers’ housing but on a more intimate scale.

Other architects, hoping to build in ways that reflect an emerging vernacular, are taking a similar approach, looking at more modest and more informally constructed urban neighborhoods for inspiration. Shumon Basar, a London-based critic and independent curator, recently described a number of small, unplanned settlements in and around Dubai. The dense and gritty neighborhood of Deira, for instance, has little in common with Sheikh Zayed Road and its fortified glass towers. Built mainly in the 1970s, Deira’s low concrete structures and labyrinthine alleyways are home to a lively population of Southeast Asian workers. Similarly, the thriving, traditionally Muslim middle-class neighborhoods of Sharjah, the third-largest city in the United Arab Emirates, were built without the flashiness of more recent developments. Basar wonders if, despite their modesty, these areas could form the basis for a fresh urban strategy based neither on imported Western models nor on clichés about local souks.

As Holl told me recently in his New York office, working on a large scale doesn’t mean that the particulars of place no longer matter. “I don’t think of any of my buildings as a model for something, the way the Modernists did,” Holl said. “If it works, it works in its specific context. You can’t just move it somewhere else.”

But is site specificity enough? “The amount of building becomes obscene without a blueprint,” Koolhaas said. “Each time you ask yourself, Do you have the right to do this much work on this scale if you don’t have an opinion about what the world should be like? We really feel that. But is there time for a manifesto? I don’t know.”

Nicolai Ouroussoff is the architecture critic of The New York Times.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 7:34 PM
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Some of the projects mentioned in the article

"Linked Hybrid" - Steven Holl

Courtesy of inhabitat.com

"Waterfront City" - Rem Koolhaas

Courtesy of AgentsofUrbanism

"One North" - Zaha Hadid

Courtesy of the New York Times
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 8:31 PM
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Shenzhen looks like a nightmare.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 8:53 PM
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overall, it's a good article. but the article (and most other architectural articles in the mainstream press) doesn't fully explain the differences between development in oft-cited but usually misunderstood developing nations, and the development here.

when places like dubai and shenzhen are cited, we get forumers (hint hint the guy above me) throwing out condescending remarks about the questionable aesthetics and the human cost. yet many critics often fail to see that these developments aren't so different from how american cities like new york and chicago came about a bit over a century ago. rapid urbanization allows for developers to obtain windfall profits, labor to be exploited, and new ideas to be implemented. along with all of the second tier stuff, we end up with some gems.

another thing is, people should take what rem koolhaas, zaha hadid, and all the myriad starchitects with a grain of salt. they're less about 'architecture', than about furthering their own brands and getting commissions.

it's not that others are developing whereas we're stagnating. it's because others are developing at much higher densities than we are. i'd love to see the NYT write similarly critical stories about contemporary urban development here. yet somehow i doubt the NYT would ever write about sprawl in dutchess county, suburban atlanta, riverside county, etc. eh, on second thought, the real estate barons who possess media clout would quickly squelch anything remotely controversial.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 9:50 PM
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Originally Posted by slide_rule View Post
when places like dubai and shenzhen are cited, we get forumers (hint hint the guy above me) throwing out condescending remarks about the questionable aesthetics and the human cost.
I said Shenzhen looks like a nightmare; meaning to me it looks extremely ugly. How does that fit the definition of condescending?

I made no reference to human cost.

And yeah, rapidly developing cities likely do go through awkward stages of growth, but it isn't clear that one can then conclude that Shenzhen will one day be a Paris.

And Dubai is something else entirely. Unlike Shenzhen, all the growth appears pointless and unsustainable. While I think Shenzhen will be massive, I think Dubai's future is more like that of Detroit.

As for the article, I don't get Hadid. Koolhaas and Holl I can follow, but she's a mystery. Everything looks like a flopping fish, and the mercurial, chain-smoking Hadid usually speaks in cryptic one-liners.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 9:55 PM
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dude crawford, your arguments would be helped if you actually KNEW something about urban planning and sustainability. don't base your pronouncements on how you expect things to look. disneyworld's main st. USA and many of its aesthetic offspring look quaint, yet they're not sustainable.

shenzhen and other developing world cities look a certain way because they were built in the era of prefab industrialized housing. there's no faster nor more efficient way to house a growing population with our current technology. it may not appeal to you. but it makes sense for its residents. what's more, the high density allows for actual urbanity. amenities like groceries CAN be within walking distance, and public transit can be efficient. paris looks a certain way because those facades and the mansard roofs made sense at the time. if paris were to be developed now, it sure wouldn't have the same aesthetics.

shenzhen was built quickly and many of its developments were done on the cheap. but the NYT and posters like you dismiss and ignore the fact that shenzhen, and a bunch of other developing cities have high densities and are in the process of building mass transit networks. their bad aesthetics are emphasized, yet these "unattractive" places are at least making an attempt to avoid the car dependent low density sprawl which has enveloped postwar north america.

i don't know how you get off comparing dubai to detroit. you should state that dubai will flourish as long as our greedy north american fatasses gorge on excessive amounts of oil. thus if dubai ends up in the toilet, you should realize that our never-ending sprawlburbs will be in deep trouble too.

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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by slide_rule View Post
overall, it's a good article. but the article (and most other architectural articles in the mainstream press) doesn't fully explain the differences between development in oft-cited but usually misunderstood developing nations, and the development here.
Of course it doesn't. It's already quite long for a news article, and the number of explanations could fill entire books. This was more, to me, a quick exposé on what is going on in Asia with regards to urban development.

Quote:
when places like dubai and shenzhen are cited, we get forumers (hint hint the guy above me) throwing out condescending remarks about the questionable aesthetics and the human cost. yet many critics often fail to see that these developments aren't so different from how american cities like new york and chicago came about a bit over a century ago. rapid urbanization allows for developers to obtain windfall profits, labor to be exploited, and new ideas to be implemented. along with all of the second tier stuff, we end up with some gems.

another thing is, people should take what rem koolhaas, zaha hadid, and all the myriad starchitects with a grain of salt. they're less about 'architecture', than about furthering their own brands and getting commissions.
A bit of a pessimistic view I think. The works of many architects and planners in Asia have given millions of people places to live and work, creating entire cities where they weren't before. Of course architects want to increase their commissions, that will always have to be taken into account. But I think that some of them genuinely care about and put serious thought into their projects.

Totally agree about the remarks regarding aesthetics and such. I mean, they have a valid point, but there's a reason to opt for brutalism.

Quote:
it's not that others are developing whereas we're stagnating. it's because others are developing at much higher densities than we are. i'd love to see the NYT write similarly critical stories about contemporary urban development here. yet somehow i doubt the NYT would ever write about sprawl in dutchess county, suburban atlanta, riverside county, etc. eh, on second thought, the real estate barons who possess media clout would quickly squelch anything remotely controversial.
I didn't the same message you did from this article. What it seems to say to me is that our urban models are obsolete, not that we are stagnating. The focus is on "the next big thing" and for that purpose the article turns to the fascinating styles and rapid pace of development overseas. Personally, I think that writing about North American sprawl and conventional development would reveal anything that we haven't gained over the last 50 years through simple observation.

I suspect that this concentration on Asia, and China, will continue for years... possibly decades.

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shenzhen was built quickly and many of its developments were done on the cheap. but the NYT and posters like you dismiss and ignore the fact that shenzhen, and a bunch of other developing cities have high densities and are in the process of building mass transit networks. their bad aesthetics are emphasized, yet these "unattractive" places are at least making an attempt to avoid the car dependent low density sprawl which has enveloped postwar north america.
Just a note here: I'd say that mass transit development in Asian cities is more due to mass congestion and pollution than sprawl, given that North American style development has only been built very recently in China.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 10:34 PM
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the NYT could have just as easily written about the benefits of their much higher densities and their attempts to build public transit. granted, it wouldn't catch the attention of the typical reader as easily, but it would highlight some of the benefits of others' ideas.

the importance of stephen holl, zaha hadid, etc. pale in comparison to the urgent needs of urban and rapidly urbanizing populations. as for these starchitects themselves, they just... don't capture my imagination. they're akin to putting a horse on a polo shirt, and charging the consumer extra for that privilege.

Quote:
Personally, I think that writing about North American sprawl and conventional development would reveal anything that we haven't gained over the last 50 years through simple observation
i don't agree with you there. most architects and urban planners should know about this, and many aficionados should pick up some of these concepts. but the vast majority of people still associate density with the dystopian nightmares of cabrini green. thus our 'sustainable' high density infill developments in north america either appeal to the edgy avant garde crowd, or are pitched toward the very wealthy. 'regular' people still overwhelmingly aspire to own their little domain of a single family home and a redundant and traditional patch of green green grass. developers derive fat and quick profits from these developments, and banks and realtors reap financial rewards as well.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 10:46 PM
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eh.. it's friday afternoon and ssp is my opportunity to vent against the system of development. people like stephen holl and zaha hadid get outsized kudos for what they do. but their contributions are overwhelmingly in terms of fashion and aesthetics, not an actual improvement in the lives of the everyday person. and even then, they are the people on top, yet most of the work is done by hordes of anonymous and marginally paid designers.

i do wish a high profile starchitect would speak out about the nefarious impact of our present-day land usage. these people command media attention. it'd be more beneficial than trying to explain the latest blob 'n shard creation via flimsy analogies to baudrillard and derrida.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:01 PM
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the NYT could have just as easily written about the benefits of their much higher densities and their attempts to build public transit. granted, it wouldn't catch the attention of the typical reader as easily, but it would highlight some of the benefits of others' ideas.
True. In fact they touched upon some of the benefits of higher density in this article but didn't really expand on it.

Quote:
the importance of stephen holl, zaha hadid, etc. pale in comparison to the urgent needs of urban and rapidly urbanizing populations. as for these starchitects themselves, they just... don't capture my imagination. they're akin to putting a horse on a polo shirt, and charging the consumer extra for that privilege.
Whoever said they were more important?

Quote:
i don't agree with you there. most architects and urban planners should know about this, and many aficionados should pick up some of these concepts. but the vast majority of people still associate density with the dystopian nightmares of cabrini green. thus our 'sustainable' high density infill developments in north america either appeal to the edgy avant garde crowd, or are pitched toward the very wealthy. 'regular' people still overwhelmingly aspire to own their little domain of a single family home and a redundant and traditional patch of green green grass. developers derive fat and quick profits from these developments, and banks and realtors reap financial rewards as well.
True that we look at this through a slightly different perspective. Your observations regarding "regular" people are more or less correct, except that I think the part I bolded is off the mark. Maybe when they look at a picture of Shenzhen or Hong Kong, but you would be hard-presed to get that kind of reaction from a picture of Vancouver or Toronto.

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eh.. it's friday afternoon and ssp is my opportunity to vent against the system of development. people like stephen holl and zaha hadid get outsized kudos for what they do. but their contributions are overwhelmingly in terms of fashion and aesthetics, not an actual improvement in the lives of the everyday person. and even then, they are the people on top, yet most of the work is done by hordes of anonymous and marginally paid designers.

i do wish a high profile starchitect would speak out about the nefarious impact of our present-day land usage. these people command media attention. it'd be more beneficial than trying to explain the latest blob 'n shard creation via flimsy analogies to baudrillard and derrida.
Ha, don't disagree here. But for every other flimsy starchitect there is a genuine one in there. I'm sure you can also think of a few.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:08 PM
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Shenzhen actually has a population of 14 million now. IN the 1990s even among Chinese it had a reputation for being a bit of a frontier town, rife with urban growing problems and tacky buildings. However in true Shenzhen accelerated style the city's had a big makeover as it steps up nearer to true global city status (its the richest city in China but still has a big inferiority complex with neighbouring Hong Kong). Basically it went from a town of 30,000 to a city of 3 million in less than 10 years - then added another 10 million people in the ten years after that (making it double the size of neighbouring Hong Kong), with the infrastructure to go with it:





Shenzhen Stock Exchange


Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art:



Shenzhen CTS Towers:



Kingkey Tower park:


Century Center:


Shenzhen International Airport:




Shenzhen International Finance (ESB for scale, photo taken from the hoarding):


Dafen Art Museum:


Shenzhen University:


Shenzhen Library




Shenzhen Stadium for 2011 Universidade:




Avic Plaza:


Huaqiang Plaza:


Shenzhen Metro HQ:


Bluetooth Crystal



"Unknown"


Shenzhen East Plaza



Shenzhen Metro expansion






Last edited by muppet; Jun 9, 2008 at 5:52 AM.
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  #12  
Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:11 PM
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eh, hadid and holl and koolhaas do generate a lot of press. not simply because of their projects, but because their names wield a lot of heft. i shouldn't disparage them, as there's a teeny tiny chance i may one day actually garner some semblance of fame and have my wild sketches transformed into architectural icons. i figure the odds are about 1,000,000 to 1. as for their actual work, a lot of it is based on 'marketing', as it simply isn't physically possible for one architect to create and refine these designs.

as for the high density developments; vancouver and toronto are already anomalies in north america. their disproportionate (yet still relatively small in terms of total population) numbers of high rise residentials were either built before the modern backlash against density, or are chic, trendy, and generally out of range for most buyers. hong kong and singapore get a lot of criticism amongst the aesthetes here, but every social class of these cities can live in an urban setting.
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  #13  
Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:23 PM
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isn't the proposed stock exchange building designed by koolhaas? it's... weird in a dorky post-post-modern kinda way. kinda like mies van der rowe with a cantilever fixation. i wonder if a no-name architect could ever get away with such a design?
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  #14  
Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:25 PM
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dude crawford, your arguments would be helped if you actually KNEW something about urban planning and sustainability
Dude, I have a Masters in Urban Planning and have taken architecture classes at GSD. I have worked for a developer.

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don't base your pronouncements on how you expect things to look. disneyworld's main st. USA and many of its aesthetic offspring look quaint, yet they're not sustainable..
Where did I say I wanted Dubai to resemble Disney World? It seems that, if anything, Dubai needs to cut the Disney in the Desert aesthetic and planning model.

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Originally Posted by slide_rule View Post
shenzhen and other developing world cities look a certain way because they were built in the era of prefab industrialized housing. there's no faster nor more efficient way to house a growing population with our current technology.
My comment wasn't directed towards prefab housing, but towards a photo of a shockingly ugly scene. Here in Mexico City, housing for the expanding working and middle classes is (to my senses) 1000x better looking.

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what's more, the high density allows for actual urbanity. amenities like groceries CAN be within walking distance, and public transit can be efficient.
Nothing in that picture supports that contention. Of course higher density is generally friendlier to walkable communities and transit, but I see a superhighway and massive, isolated superblocks.

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paris looks a certain way because those facades and the mansard roofs made sense at the time. if paris were to be developed now, it sure wouldn't have the same aesthetics.
I didn't mean to imply that Shenzhen would or would not look like Paris, but rather that it would likely not turn out similarly "successful" within the context of its age.

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their bad aesthetics are emphasized, yet these "unattractive" places are at least making an attempt to avoid the car dependent low density sprawl which has enveloped postwar north america.
The bad aesthetics do not remedy car density or low density sprawl. They are separate issues. And nothing in that pic seems to illustrate an attempt to avoid car dependency or sprawl.

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i don't know how you get off comparing dubai to detroit. you should state that dubai will flourish as long as our greedy north american fatasses gorge on excessive amounts of oil. thus if dubai ends up in the toilet, you should realize that our never-ending sprawlburbs will be in deep trouble too.
I don't get the logical connection. Dubai does not produce oil. It's a success because there's massive repression in neighboring oil-rich states, and the money has to be invested in a friendlier environment. Dubai's presumptive fall likely comes in tandem with the rise of a democratic Middle East.
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  #15  
Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:36 PM
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Quote:
Nothing in that picture supports that contention. Of course higher density is generally friendlier to walkable communities and transit, but I see a superhighway and massive, isolated superblocks
if you actually possessed your credentials, you'd know better than to base your conclusions on one photo. you see a superhighway, but that doesn't mean the city revolves around the car. conversely you can see a picture of a nice street scene in dallas or atlanta (no offense, just two car dependent cities off the top of my head), and conclude that these places are functioning urban areas.

Quote:
The bad aesthetics do not remedy car density or low density sprawl. They are separate issues. And nothing in that pic seems to illustrate an attempt to avoid car dependency or sprawl.
oh man, where do we begin with you? car based sprawl is averted via
1. density
2. mass transit/restrictions on car ownership
3. building typology (mixed uses)

now, based upon the obviously high densities, and the fact that shenzhen has an existing and quickly expanding mass transit system and low car penetration, how the hell do you figure the city will sprawl like anything seen over here?

you should also note that the high density cities of the developing world were 'urban' by default. simply because they had high densities, and until recently, poor transit options. people had no choice but to get their groceries, schooling, dentists, etc. in their own immediate area.
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Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:43 PM
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My comment wasn't directed towards prefab housing, but towards a photo of a shockingly ugly scene. Here in Mexico City, housing for the expanding working and middle classes is (to my senses) 1000x better looking
again, what's with your emphasis on beauty? if you were a resident of a developing world city, would you choose aesthetic appeal over a roof over your head? mexico city's 'beautiful' areas were for the most part built slowly, and most importantly, built long ago. unless mexico city magically possesses alternative building technology, its contemporary housing for the poor and middle classes would either not house as much of its population, or be similarly hewn from efficient yet aesthetically rough construction methods. i've been to mexico city as well as shenzhen. mexico city has lower densities, which allows for more customization in its residences. shenzhen residences are built off prefab materials, but it does allow for higher densities.

again, stop with the critiques based on aesthetics. with the exception of the park avenue set, residentials aren't built around beauty. you're not madame bovary.
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  #17  
Old Posted Jun 6, 2008, 11:58 PM
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if you actually possessed your credentials, you'd know better than to base your conclusions on one photo.
Slide rule, of course no city can be judged by a single photo.

My comment was obviously based on the scene in the photo and nothing else.

Are you arguing that the photo is a poor representation of recent Shenzhen development?

I doubt it was selected to deceive. It's probably a fair illustration of large-scale planning, design and development in Shenzhen. Whether it's relatively efficient for top-down planning has no bearing on whether or not I perceive it to be hellish for living.
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  #18  
Old Posted Jun 7, 2008, 12:03 AM
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eh, every city can be photographed in myriad ways. you can just as easily photograph the east side expressway in manhattan and see that as a symbol of its automobile dependency. hell, you can photograph a freeway and hong kong and say that the city is as car dependent as los angeles. with your logic, you probably could justify that assertion.

if you are as educated as you claim, you should have never used one photo to make an obviously incorrect conclusion like that.

i argued that the original NYT article wasn't completely representative of the development occurring in these far away cities. unless you've actually been to the cities, or have worked with their development plans, the NYT article allows its readers to come to false conclusions about koolhaas and hadid and a zillion other starchitects and their influence on these cities. in reality, the work of these high profile architects ISN'T nearly as important to these cities' development as much more mundane things like the development of transit and the building of housing.
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Old Posted Jun 7, 2008, 12:14 AM
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Slide rule, your premises are all wrong. I never claimed Shenzhen was auto-dependent or sprawling or any of these "talking points" you are covering.

Any moron knows Shenzhen is unusually dense and transit dependent by global standards.

You seem to be claiming that Shenzhen has high density and low car ownership because of sound and efficient recent planning.

In fact, it has high density and low ownership in spite of recent planning. The Chinese don't have cars because they are poor, not because the govt. is building soulless monstrosities.

All I am claiming is that the picture shows horrible, ugly planning and its probably a decent proxy for the overall state planning apparatus.

Beauty is not reserved for Park Avenue or the suburbs. It can be achieved within the context of urbanization and rapid development.
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  #20  
Old Posted Jun 7, 2008, 12:24 AM
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*coughs* just what else do you know about urban planning?

you're contradicting yourself

Quote:
I never claimed Shenzhen was auto-dependent or sprawling or any of these "talking points" you are covering
Quote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by slide_rule
what's more, the high density allows for actual urbanity. amenities like groceries CAN be within walking distance, and public transit can be efficient.

Nothing in that picture supports that contention. Of course higher density is generally friendlier to walkable communities and transit, but I see a superhighway and massive, isolated superblocks.
so you never said the place was sprawling, yet from one picture, you concluded that the place absolutely didn't look like anything capable of urban functionality? get over it. re-read your old textbooks on urbanism and realize that it's the way a place functions, not the way it looks. celebration sure looks cute, but its residents hop in their SUVs for walmart.



Quote:
You seem to be claiming that Shenzhen has high density and low car ownership because of sound recent planning. In fact, it has high density and low ownership in spite of recent planning. The Chinese don't have cars because they are poor, not because the govt. is building soulless monstrosities
you don't realize that the supposedly 'bad' planning does help to alleviate sprawl. there's no lack of land in shenzhen. yet development is restricted to a small area of the municipality. remember that it was mostly rice paddies a few decades ago. if shenzhen were allowed to be developed in a piecemeal way, lower densities would have resulted.

again, if you had an idea of its urban planning, you would not have made these claims. the initial costs for high density albeit aesthetically questionable superblocks is higher than the costs for more typical low rise development. but the density does allow for myriad advantages for its occupants. yet you have continually overlooked this and restated your subjective dislike.
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