During the final hours of my last flight back to Shanghai, the view seemed familiar. Not like my memory, but like Chicago, where I’ve stayed for just more than one year. It was at night; numerous street lights wind out on highways from exploding downtowns outward. Toy cars ran around in the narrow streets defined by skyscrapers of glass and steel.
Globolization in architecture and urban design has bothered me from time to time. I’m undefeated yet depressed trying to find out why traditional Chinese architecture simply cannot survive in the contemporary society. Why so many places have lost their identities and starting to look like each other? Is there a way to revitalize the old?
After many months contemplating on the first two questions, I finally threw my hands up in the air. This IS our city, now. Like no others. Architectural design alone is not the whole story behind the urban image; how people use it weighs heavily. In the future when people (or myself) challenge me with cities blurring, there is my answer: cities and cultures grow, and that’s it.
This of course, is the trouble-free way to go. I know I was troubled because I could sense sth diminishing whenever I look at my home-city. I was reading Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness today, and a few lines indeed struck me. He touched on the issue of urban identity, and stated that cities do not have an actual preset architectural scene, but the qualities of the urban space is deeply associated with the characters of the people.
The most outstanding new traditional architecture is free from pastiche of any sort. Not to mention a blown-up giant dou-gong for the world exposition. The quality of the space and materials echoes with local people. Tado Ando immediately jumped into my head. This extra-brilliant Japanese architect does not have much public architecture in America, but if you got a chance, be sure to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Louis. All the Japanese Budahism, Zenism seems to float still in the garden (which Ando designed). There’s not a trace of traditional materials or proportions left. Rough yet delicate concrete surface, intricate plays of light and shadow all convey a sense of tranquility and inner reflection that is essential to traditional Japanese people (and thus architecture). This, I always believe, is the best approach toward renewed spirits in local architecture.
[Pictures of the museum to be uploaded later.]
So maybe complaining about the similarities between major cities around the world boils down to ourselves. People have become less confined by races, languages, locations. Ideas fly around by just one click. And so do buildings. I might blame globalization for slowly killing local architecture, but that is all subject to the economic trends. Apparently SOM can build some impressive commercial buildings in Chinese cities without even stepping onto the site once. And how do we expect localization in this context?
Willing or not, we gotta admit that our minds and lifestyles are practically determined by the buildings and streets around us, contrary to the other way around. And what about the contemporary Chinese people? That is something way too complex for me.