seaworld: reclaimed coastline

I walked the park area and new residential area behind the Nuwa statue in Seaworld. This entire area has been reclaimed. It is startling how the loss of physical landmarks makes it difficult to remember where I’ve been because this isn’t that place.

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a new year, a renovated seaworld

January 1, 2014. Shekou is preparing for the 30th anniversary of Deng’s 1984 visit to Shenzhen and Zhuhai, January 24-29. At the time, the tour was also an explicit celebration of Shekou, a different model of reforming and opening the Maoist apparatus. Images below are of renovations as of December 31, 2013. Yes, there is a light show. Yes, the transformers flash and when you ride the stationary bikes they blast a Beyond song that was popular in the mid-1980s. And yes, the Ming Wah is now in the water even as the coastline extends beyond Nuwa. Impressions of the upgrade, below:

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WoWorldly desires

Window of the World opened in 1984, on the auspicious day of 6.18 (June 18). Yesterday, I visited WoW with Constant Dullaart, one of the residents in this years OCT Art Residency. The featured image for this post is a snap of us in front of Niagara Falls.

This is the first time I’ve visited WoW since 1997, and was impressed by two of the new installations — a plane ride trip through the United States (installed 2004) and a toy train ride through mountainous Europe (June this year). The plane ride uses IMAX technology and moving seats to give the impression of flying coast to coast on a double wing plane. At each landmark, white Americans wave to visitors, yelling, “Welcome to the United States”; in watery areas, visitors are lightly spritzed with water. The toy train is less high-tech, but more popular with young children. According to one of the friendly staff members, these rides are part of plans to shift WoW entertainment from viewing miniature landscapes to interactive rides and activities; I’m thinking WoW goes Epcott.

I was struck not only by the yearning for elsewhere manifest in the WoW installations, but also by the continuing nostalgia for a particular kind of elite life. Tourism as an activity of early 20th century elites continues to shape built forms of this yearning. (Or perhaps we experience nostalgia in search of an object?) This neo-liberal appropriation of colonial forms of pleasure was also been reproduced at Shekou’s Seaworld, circa 1984, where the plaza houses western consumption in quaint buildings and the landlocked Shining Pearl.

Seaworld was one of the first efforts to materialize Chinese yearnings for the better (relentlessly global) life. Nevertheless, by the early 1990s, when WoW was built and developers put up European style estates (with appropriate tributes to Versailles excess), Shenzhen grappled to implement neo-liberal economic policies without neo-liberal political changes. The political-economy of both early Shekou and 1990s Shenzhen were reminiscent of early 20th century capitalism, when all sorts of material wealth began to appear, but only a few people were positioned to enjoy it. Or more to the point, perhaps, only a few elites had both the leisure and resources to enjoy it, including romantic alpine train rides and virtual plane rides on double wing planes a la the Wright brothers.

The fantasy life infusing representations of the early 20th century high life — the fashionable world — were a fixture of 1990s Shenzhen architecture. Seaworld and WoW, for example, were conceived and built in the post Tian’anmen era, when “European-style” housing estates were also popular, including OCTs upscale Portofino. In fact, throughout Shenzhen, but especially along Shennan Center Road, the mini-fascades that wrap WoW and Seaworld dreams have been enlarged in themed real estate developments, where many of Shenzhen’s solidly middling middle class still live and to which many migrants aspire.

Yesterday morning while waiting for Constant, I stood at the subway exit that is located beneath the Jiang Zemin inscribed glass pyramid and watched ticket scalpers approach tourists. The tourists spoke accented Mandarin, and had organized themselves into small groups of carefully dressed visitors. They examined the pamphlets, considered their options, and then opened their umbrellas to embark a rainy day of exploration. Those I later saw again within the park seemed to be enjoying themselves; I certainly enjoyed the toy train and virtual plane rides.

In recent years, of course, Shenzhen’s vision of the world has gone SciFi glassy — steeled if you will — against the imaginary onslaught of encounters with alien lives. However, that kind of elite consumption does not resonate with the same visceral pleasure of early 20th century elites enjoying both their traditional privileges and the mass produced delights of a new era. I’m trying to figure out why. Guess du jour: we want elite agency, but we want it as pleasure,in the play of tourism and leisurely meals, for example, rather than as the high stress, overwhelmed and overwhelming agency that seems to characterize elite life on the ninety-first story of a 21st century glass tower.

Postcards from my Alpine excursion, below:

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maillen hotel and apartments

The Architectural Review has published my review of the Maillen Hotel and Apartments by Urbanus. In the published review, I look at China Merchants’ recent push to gentrify Shekou in terms of gated communities for Shenzhen’s expatriate community. As designed by Urbanus, the Maillen Hotel and Apartments suggest the role of traditional Chinese gardens in the ideological transformation of Maoism into neoliberalism. A synopsis of the review, below; full article, here (with pictures by Sarah Cain).

Urbanus’ stated intention was to design the Maillen Hotel and Apartment with respect to both extant geographic conditions and the traditional Chinese ideas about landscape and garden design, incorporating Nan Shan Mountain into its design with an eye to realizing the aesthetic ideal of “bu yi jing yi”, a four-character expression which literally translates as “step moves landscape moves” and refers to the experience of enjoying new garden scenes with each step taken.

By incorporating the hill into its design, Urbanus took advantage of the section of Nan Shan that remains standing. Historically mountains and hills defined the South China landscape, and Shekou was no exception. However, during the first two decades of development in Shenzhen, urban planning and design prioritized speed and price over any other value, including environmental impact. The Chinese expression for land reclamation, “yi shan tian hai” or “move mountains and fill the sea” literally describes the step-by-step transformation of the Shenzhen Bay coastline. First, raze a mountain – and many Shenzhen hills no longer exist except as place names – and, second, reclaim coastal land, creating flat, relatively inexpensive building sites. The point, of course, is that as the city has prospered and natural features such as Nan Shan have been restructured, their market value has increased exponentially.

The Maillen design also invokes traditional garden design through landscape. Elegant courtyards, perennial bamboo clusters, and delicate plum blossoms evoke literati lives in Suzhou, which during the Song dynasty codified the defining features of a traditional garden. In a classical Chinese garden, stylized elements – ponds, a rock garden, trees and flowers, as well as built structures, for example – symbolized the larger world. The key point, of course, is that the garden allowed members of the Emperor’s court, classical scholars and wealthy merchants to experience themselves as being one with nature without actually having to go into a forest or sail on the ocean.

It is at the moment of exclusivity, or rather the potential to market and sell privatized pleasure that we see the appeal of classical Chinese gardens to contemporary real estate developers. Classical gardens were restricted spaces of elite pleasure, where scholarly achievement and social rank determined who was or was not permited to enjoy the elegant topiary and tranquil spaces. Today, money and status rather than scholarly achievement or social rank might determine who crosses the threshhold, but the effect is the same, the creation of a fashionable space for a select minority. With the Maillen Hotel and Apartment, Urbanus has designed a witty, elegant, and self-enclosed space of privileged consumption.

Indeed, when we architecturally cite China’s classical past, it is important to remember that we are also invoking the feudal hierarchy that the Revolution aimed to overcome.

shekou upgrades continue

Walking Shekou today, I remembered that not only are urban villages subject to Shenzhen’s cultural industry inspired renovations. Older areas of Shenzhen, especially factories and housing estates are also being razed and/or remodeled to conform to different aesthetics and economic plans. Views on the process near Seaworld and the e-cool area, which used to be Sanyo factories (pictures of area, 2008).

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universiade facelifts

All the universiade mandated upgrades have us walking through and between construction sites. Today’s pictures from Coastal City and Seaworld.

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seaworld trashed

Went to Seaworld today. The transformation of Shekou continues – open metro, raze everything in the sunken mall in front of De Galle’s ship, insert newer, taller, bigger, more expensive stuff. Images of wreckage du jour below.

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