constructing the semi-public sphere – ocat renovations

i have noticed that many of the shenzhen spaces that i enjoy might be defined as semi-public. small scale spaces designed with particular publics in mind, these spaces repurpose the clunky mass architecture of most of shenzhen into interesting nooks for conversation and debate, without falling into the normative excesses of so many private homes. indeed, recently, ocat loft has extended its conversion of industrial manufacturing zones into creative cultural spaces.  the newer area will be the site of the 2011 shenzhen-hong kong biannale.

importantly, cultural consumption and the gentrification of working class spaces have predicated the creation of this semi-public sphere, where individualized desires blunt the the progressive edge of public debate. and yet, if no one shops in these stores, hangs in the coffee houses, and attends gallery openings, the area will collapse and conversations displaced. such are the paradoxes of contemporary urbanization, images below.

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2 thoughts on “constructing the semi-public sphere – ocat renovations

  1. In Shenzhen over the past few days Venus and I were discussing the characterization of public space in China as specific to certain cities or (perhaps) regional cultures. In Shanghai, for example, you have the individual/ personal assumption of personal space on a semi-permanent basis: I hang my laundry here, and I do so every day, so do not touch it or I will find a way to fend you off/ punish you. In Beijing these uses are always more temporary and contingent: I use my mobile phone as a boombox to create a bubble, or leave my electric bike in a certain spot, but I remove it when necessary and move on in due time. In Shenzhen, on the other hand, the private use of public space maintains the public quality of the space: my stool is next to your chair, but this does not necessarily make the sidewalk either yours or mine, and no one acts put out if someone else sits down next door.

  2. Hi Robin,

    Thank you for sharing y’all’s experience of difference between Chinese cities. Have you noticed the private use of public space in Guangzhou or Hong Kong? I’m curious: do you and Venus think that Shenzhen’s semi-public spheres are unique to the SEZ as such? Or possibly more a feature of Cantonese public culture in general?

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