For a generation, #China has been the site of some of the most ambitious architectural projects in the world: from Zaha Hadid’s Soho complexes, to OMA’s iconic CCTV tower, to the work of home-grown radicals like Ma Yansong or Yu Kongjian. These #urban interventions are more than just impressive works of #architecture: they represent a comprehensive effort to forge a new type of #urbanism, one greater in scale and complexity than ever seen before.
More recently, however, a shift in the nature of the projects undertaken has started to register: while China is still building the hard infrastructure of airport and metro stations, the demand for it is decreasing. The focus now is on the construction of the soft infrastructure of society, and for these new public spaces to succeed, some sense of a ‘public’ must be constructed as well.
In the indeterminate social sphere of China – still a site of contestations between state and market, collective forms of life and work and individual ones – it is not enough to just create blank agoras. Rather, these spaces must designate a culturally legitimate form of public gathering. The new museums in China are not only architecturally impressive interventions, but also urban interventions in the truest sense: they are intended to reconfigure social space. From banks (some state owned, some private) to private individuals and real-estate developers, a wide variety of players are involved with the construction of these new museums.
Arguably, each of these parties has their own agenda, their own vision, and their own version of what the social should be, and #art is mobilised as the language by which these aspirations articulate themselves. For Phil Tinari, chief curator of Beijing’s Ullens Center, ‘the end of completely corrupt land-use politics means that art and #culture become differentiators in the competition for the choicest plots’. Today, #contemporary art spaces are more connected to the development of new urban practices in China than ever before.
‘The West Bund is a conscious and concerted effort on the part of local government and a collection of philanthropists to create a sophisticated and dense urban district’