[Charlie Koolhaas on curating the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. December 2007.]
Shenzhen has a particular attitude to time which is unique
it was built in an instant
it was a political symbol and invention and has influenced the economy of the world in a very short time period
it’s expiring because the reasons for its creation are no longer as relevant to its continued existence - they are building new shenzhens everywhere.
Shenzhen has very little emotional significance - most people who live there see the city as a temporary but neccessary step on the road to a better life.
This is unlike London or Paris that survive on sentiment and nostalgia.
I watched the film blow up for the first time recently and realised that so much of london and so many londoners are trying to recapture that creative energy that London had in the sixties and seventies - they dress the same, create the same art, have the same conversations at parties.
London is constantly reliving things - i myself go to ‘back to 95’ raves - i’m nostalgic for 12 years ago.
Shenzhen on the other hand is unique as a city because it is not repeating itself. In fact it is currently searching for new models and activities.
This is the reason for the biennale in Shenzhen in the first place – it’s a source of information - commissioned by the government for the citizens of the city. It’s about alternatives and possibilities.
Shenzhen (and China more generally) is not fixed and as it changes certain trends and activities inevitably disappear so people are more open to this idea of ‘expiration’.
You could trace this different attitude to change back to the origins of ancient eastern philosophy.
LaoTzu said people ‘move towards the place of death...because they want to create an increase of their lives’. His philosophy and of course much of eastern philosophy is all about accepting life cycles. Using these life-cycles for self-improvement.
In the UK and the US the governments like to keep us in fear. But in China it’s in the government’s interest to keep its people feeling positive, to keep people flowing and fluid.
it has very little infrastructure so could potentially be dismantled in a couple of months and rebuilt somewhere else
thats the whole idea behind the CoER
it kind of envisions a light temporary city like Shenzhen
that measures its own necessity and then adapts perfectly to changing needs
therefore eliminating waste
and accepting death
OK, there seems to be two models, or two possibilities, of a city that embraces expiration: a wasteful, exploitative one, and a more organic, ecological one
no one in Europe wants to admit that a city will only last 30 years
therefore they build heavy buildings in order to create value and real estate
but in china people buy houses knowing they will fall apart in 5 years
but you are always seeing things as opposites
i dont see that at all
we are suggesting different models of reinvention
that fit different places
of course it would be ridiculous to be ‘against’ masterplanning - because it has created incredible cities that have gone on to contain incredibly inventive human activity
it’s not about a dualistic spilt between organic or planned
it’s about both happening at the same time - inevitably
ma said in his manifesto that living in a city was like being a curator
because you have to take care of and making a living from these cultural monuments that we live with yet we never have ownership over them or really create them