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Old March 20th, 2006, 07:05 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Shenzhen Biennale - Urbanism & Architecture Exhibition

Report from the Shenzhen Biennale
One of the world's fastest growing cities holds its first urbanism and architecture exhibition.

By Liane Lefaivre
http://www.architecturemag.com/

MARCH 13, 2006 -- Paddy fields, rustling bamboo reeds, and low buildings: This was Shenzhen under Chairman Mao, an unassuming fishing village on the South China Sea across the border from a high-powered, opulent Hong Kong.

Then along came Deng Xiaoping. In 1978, the Chinese Premier selected this sleepy backwater to be one of the country's new so-called Special Economic Zones. Transformed into the first testing bed for reform on the road to capitalism, Shenzhen is today the most dynamic economic and industrial powerhouse in China and its fastest growing new city. In the past 25 years, the population has soared from 30,000 inhabitants to over 10 million and is still expanding full tilt.

Like everything else about Shenzhen, the scale of City: Open Door, curated by the head of MIT's Department of Architecture, Yung Ho Chang, and running from December 10, 2005, to March 10, 2006, was simply gigantic. To the multidisciplinary scope of the 82 works of architecture and urbanism—incorporating art, graphic design, fashion, cultural magazine publishing, photography, film, and industrial design innovations—were also added the contributions of multimedia and game designers. The number of countries represented was also impressive: besides China, there was the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, Germany, Austria, and Japan.

The first Biennale in the region is an historical turning point that marks the coming of age of a new, very different generation of Chinese architects. Gary Chang, whose Edge Design was for a long time the only practice among those of his contemporaries to break away from designing the mega-offices that dominated Chinese architectural practice in the 1980s, has projected himself as an individual with a personal vision. It was only fitting, therefore, that he be given pride of place in this exhibition. His installation is located in the first of the four industrial buildings hosting the Biennale: a movie house, with alternating mirrors and screens along the enclosing circular wall, in which the cinematic world is juxtaposed to the real in a performance art spirit.

This new generation of Chinese architects is characterized by a common sensitivity, and their exhibits fall into two groups. On one hand are the regionalists, concerned either with preserving existing historical architecture, urban tissue, and lifestyles, or with incorporating a traditional aesthetic and other values into modern, global architecture. Shanghai-based MADA s.p.a.m., for example, in its plan for the Shangduli development, breaks with heretofore standard practice by proposing to protect the old city center of a town rather than razing it. Wang Shu's Chinese Institute of Fine Arts in Hangzhou applies spatial concepts taken from Chinese painting to the layout of its buildings on campus in order to integrate a large modern complex into the area's legendarily beautiful mountain landscape.

As for Li Xiaodong's design for a school in Lijiang, it bears a striking resemblance to projects by Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio. It stands out both in terms of its formal qualities and also its grass roots social agenda and community participation, and the association with Mockbee's design/build program is not coincidental. Yung Ho Chang made sure the first exhibit one encounters when entering the Biennale, in Gary Chang's cinema, is a documentary film by American architect/filmmaker Chuck Shultz of the Rural Studio.

The search to integrate modern architecture with traditional community and aesthetics is not confined to the work of Mockbee's students or Chinese practitioners. Arata Isozaki, for example, is the first big-name architect to have been given a commission in the city. His Shenzhen Cultural Center, now under construction, foregoes monumentality in favor of keeping the scale of the surrounding low-rises and creating public space both inside and outside the building. Mónica Ponce de León and Nader Tehrani, of Boston's Office dA, incorporated local rough, mottled blue-gray bricks to great sculptural effect in their design for an artist's studio in Beijing.

The second group of works presented at the Biennale is concerned with a set of social and environmental issues that are linked to massive urbanization, a new condition where Chinese traditions offer little to fall back on. It examines the unpleasantness left in the wake of the country's phenomenal urban boom: the wastelands, life on the periphery, inner city overcrowding, and the lack of basic urban planning of public space. Not one of the art exhibitions fails to confront these issues. Adrian Blackwell, a Canadian artist, uses handmade cameras to photograph derelict urban spaces in the areas surrounding Shenzhen, where migrant workers live in decrepitude. The young Austrian artist Aglaia Konrad's dramatic black-and-white aerial photographs capture the tattered, gritty neighborhoods of the city itself.

The Chinese artists included were, if anything, more critical of current trends of the alienation created by urbanization in China than their foreign counterparts. Li Juchan's Building Measure, How High is the 24th floor?, a series of photographs of the concrete walls seen from the 24th floor of a new apartment house, expresses the bleak social isolation typically resulting from the loss of community.

This kind of critical sensibility provides the background for the more urban part of the Biennale, and these projects put forth a set of what might be termed "dirty realist" design strategies: Chinese-Canadian architect Grace Fan's movie about the remarkably successful urban policies that have made Vancouver one of the most community-friendly cities in the world deserves to be singled out. The Shenzhen Planning Office's project, entitled Street Street proposed to liven up the overly broad streets of the city (akin to those of Le Corbusier's megalomaniacal Plan Voisin) by dividing it into vehicular traffic, pedestrian zones, and public transport.

Urbanus is a young Beijing- and Shenzhen-based firm founded by three Miami University graduates, Xiadu Liu, Yan Meng, and Hui Wang. They won the competition to design Digital Beijing, which will serve as a command facility for the 2008 Olympic Games, alongside the stadium designed by Herzog & de Meuron.

Their exhibit at the Biennale formed part of a section of the overall exhibition conceived by Yung Ho Chang, and entitled "Urban Villages." Here students from Princeton, MIT, and Chinese universities submitted proposals for rehabilitating islands leftover from a 1970s urbanization effort rather than razing them, in order to avoid relocation and maintain low-cost housing for their tightly bound communities. Urbanus's solution for two such villages, based on extensive research, was so detailed in its strategies that according to Yan Meng it managed to attract both the mayor of Shenzhen and developers during the opening and is likely to be incorporated into the city's planning policy.

By contrast with their contemporaries in the West, where architecture tends to be not only shut off from real-world issues of sustainability and community but also from other arts, this generation of Chinese architects displays a remarkable range of concerns and responses, and intuits a seamless integration of constructive thinking and expertise.

Website : http://www.shenzhenbiennale.cn/

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Old March 21st, 2006, 05:49 AM   #2
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i went to this exhibition a few months back. Its unfortunate its not at a more central location ... i didn't see all of it ... i think the massive destruction has caused this reaction to be more sensitive to its cultural context in china ...
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Old December 22nd, 2007, 06:06 PM   #3
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2007 Edition
Web : http://www.shenzhenbiennale.cn/







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Old January 17th, 2008, 11:33 AM   #4
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Soft cell Hong Kong's ambitious first architecture biennale is a prisoner of its low profile
8 January 2008
South China Morning Post

Hong Kong is to host its first architecture biennale this week - but typical of the many overly ambitious yet badly executed events for which the city is notorious, not many people have actually heard about it. And among the few who do know, not all are happy with the way things are being run.

Opening on Thursday, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture is grand in both size and scope. To be held in the historic Central Police Station compound, which used to house a police headquarters, magistracy and prison, the 21/2-month jamboree will showcase works by 60 local, mainland and international architects, and include a series of lectures and forums and a parallel Biennale Festival.

Exhibitors range from overseas firms such as Tod Williams Billie Tsien, Steven Holl Architects, Atelier Bow-Wow and Herzog & de Meuron to local lobbyist H15 Concern Group. The lineup of architects and designers/artists is equally illustrious, with William Lim, Rocco Yim, Anothermountainman (Stanley Wong Ping-pui) and Ellen Pao among the big local names, and the Biennale Festival event will also feature veteran artists such as Chan Yuk-keung, Tim Li Man-wai and Ho Siu-kee, and independent art space Para/Site.

The scope of the festival is such that its organisers, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, Hong Kong Institute of Planners and Hong Kong Designers Association, have already touted it as a blueprint for major local arts biennales in the future. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will be attending the opening ceremony to endorse the event. Yet there has been practically zero promotion of the biennale.

"The Institute of Architects has previously organised smaller exhibitions but none of us has any prior experience of running something as big as this," says biennale co-curator Martin Fung King-hang, admitting the organisers may have overlooked the importance of drumming up noise for the event. "We are on a very steep learning curve here."

Working on a tight schedule and budget has made it even harder.

Originally scheduled to open last month, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture was to coincide with its parent event, the second Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, focusing on the different urban development and redevelopment experiences in the two neighbouring cities.

But the biennial didn't secure its HK$7 million budget (from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Home Affairs Bureau and a private donor) until mid-September, leaving its five curators with just two months to get the event up and running. So the official opening was postponed until this week. At least half the funds raised for the event have already been spent on renovating the heritage venue.

With so little time and so few resources, one might be forgiven for wondering why the event's organisers insist on going ahead with it.

It's too big an opportunity to pass on, says Fung. "And the event is made more meaningful because it is being held at a heritage site at a time when there is public discourse over the values and usage of these historical venues. We are putting theories into practice," he says.

He adds that one of the biennale's objectives is to foster cross-discipline dialogue between architects, designers and artists both locally and from abroad. The Biennale Festival is not just an exhibition but an event the whole city can get involved in. Yet last week two artists - Leung Chi-wo and Hung Keung - pulled out of it because, unlike participants in the main event, artists in the festival are not financially supported by the organisers. They interpreted that as a sign of disrespect.

"As professional art practitioners, we all know resources are limited {hellip} but at the same time we make sure all parties involved in any event are well respected. No one's passion in his/her work should be exploited for others' ambition," Leung wrote in an open e-mail.

Fung quickly responded to Leung's complaint and after allocating some funds for artists involved in the parallel events, both artists have since rejoined. But Leung stresses that while he appreciates the individual efforts put into making things happen, "I restate my protest against the biennale institution for creating a hierarchy of exhibitors, separating the main exhibitors from the parallel exhibitors, who are still left out of the official catalogue."

He says that although there is more public money and private sponsorship of high-profile arts events, artists are shown little respect in Hong Kong. "That is unexceptionally and unfortunately reflected in this biennale," Leung says.

Yet despite the teething problems, the event's champions say it's important not to lose sight of the big picture.

Executive director/curator of Para/Site Tobias Berger, who is always on the lookout for opportunities to take art outside his gallery, says the site of the biennale is a perfect location. His show, with a budget of up to HK$100,000, will feature works by Cao Fei, Oliver Husain, Otto Li, Chen Shaoxiong, Eric Sui, Samson Young and Magdalen Wong.

"This is also the city's first attempt to have [a curated] art biennale, so let's support it. As I've always said, Hong Kong should have an art biennale," Berger says.

"This site is a great space and location and this is a good chance to prove that Hong Kong people are interested in the arts."

Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, Jan 10 to Mar 15 (closed Feb 6 to 8), 10am to 6pm daily, Central Police Station Compound, 10 Hollywood Road, Central. Free admission
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