new village origin stories: Caiwuwei redux

What to make of the following quote by Terry Farrell, architect behind the KK 100?

The site of KK100, [Farrell] says, used to be Caiwuwei village, a poor and rundown area. Kingkey had to build seven towers to rehouse local people and a further seven for other locals to own and rent out, so that they might share in the boom. It’s an extraordinary idea: even as China hurtles into capitalism, it does still show remnants of old socialist ideals.

It echoes a quote from archello, a website dedicated to world architecture. Although archello has erased the reference to socialism:

The 3.6-hectare site [for the KK 100] was previously occupied by a dense residential quarter, Caiwuwei Village. The developer had the creative vision to form a company with the villagers, initiating an entirely new approach to the art of place-making in Shenzhen. This serves as a model for 21st century for urban change all over the world. Existing buildings were run down and living conditions were poor. As part of initiating this transformation, a Joint Development Initiative was formed in which villagers became stakeholders. Each owner was offered a new property as well as a second home which serves as an income generating asset. This meant the preservation of community links that are built over generations.

Origin stories for Shenzhen and its various buildings continue to use “poor backward Baoan villages” as a foil for their own achievements. In Mandarin, stories about the KK 100 are more detailed (深圳城中村专题-罗湖蔡屋围蔡屋围:梦想的真实围绕, for example), but in essence no different: the KK100 symbolizes urban proress.

What’s more these stories share an enthusiasm for height, illustrating how phallic aesthetics not only bridge the social distance between England and China, but also between the Shenzhen Municipal Government, KK 100 developers, and Caiwuwei Villagers. Indeed, Farrell has received acclaim both for his design and the fact that it is the tallest building ever realized by a British architect, a neat illustration of the link between competitive masculinity and nationalism.

Importantly, the idea of the KK 100’s height is established through explicit comparison to low (level, quality, income) Caiwuwei. Continue reading

Thinking conservation: whose lives matter?

Thursday last (Feb 16), the Hong Kong version of the bi-city biennale opened and then on Friday afternoon, Shenzhen began its closing events with a series of roundtable panels. Along with moderator Juan DU, architect Ben Wood, and urban planner Michael Gallagher, I participated in panel #2, contemporary perspectives on preservation.

We agreed that history should serve living people and thus conservation was not a question of saving old buildings for their own sake. Rather, what is conserved are patterns of human relation and environments that support those relationships. In this sense, any act of conservation entails a value judgment; whose lives do we wish to strengthen and deepen by creating sites that reference the past?

Not unexpectedly, it was at this moment of making value judgements that our differences became clear precisely because history serves different purposes in different social groups. Continue reading