Wednesday, March 12, 2008

bird's nest of iniquity

“Literally everybody in the Western world trades with China. This is a fact. So why should an architect not?”

So Jacques Herzog said at the Tate Modern yesterday, reported by Tom Dyckhoff for the Times Online. The Times has has always been reliably pro-behemoth and pro-superstar (see the sidebars: "world's ten most ambitious new buildings, from CCTV to the Freedom Tower," "View a stunning slideshow of buildings designed by architect Frank Gehry,") even if they are also reliably critical of the blandness of common development. Thus H&dM justifying their choice to build for the Olympics was given a quick gloss rather than a more in-depth editorial. "Whew!" Dyckhoff seems to say, "glad we got that out of the way!"

I really wish I was there to hear the rest of the lecture. Here is a longer snippet from the same article:

“It's very cheap and easy for architects and artists and film-makers to pull out or to make this kind of criticism,” Herzog says. “Everybody knows what happens in China. All work conditions in China are not what you'd desire. But you wear a pullover made in China. It's easy to criticise, being far away. I'm tempted almost to say the opposite...How great it was to work in China and how much I believe that doing the stadium [and] the process of opening will change radically, transform, the society. Engagement is the best way of moving in the right direction.”

“It would be arrogant not to engage,” de Meuron adds. “Otherwise no politicians could go there, no athletes. You would just close the borders.”

I appreciate the forthrightness above, even if I'd like to see more concrete examples of how the "bird's nest" is transforming political and social realities in China. The closest the article gets to quantifying anything is to mention the broken-down scale and lack of hierarchy in the structural system, followed by Herzog claiming “The Chinese love to hang out in public spaces. The main idea was to offer them a playground.”

So this means that this project won't be under the kind of permanent security lockdown that characterizes ever other major area I can think of? Using attached public space as a justification for buildng sports arenas is rarely taken seriously in the U.S., so why should it in a country with less personal freedom?

I am in total agreement with H&dM in their insistence that creative and artistic engagement with countries like China is an important way to keep a dialog open and (perhaps) enact some sort of latent transformation. But it takes deliberate action to tie the built environment to a progressive social agenda. If they had some awesome plan for this arena to be converted into, say, some awesome Chinese philosophical agora, a "special information zone," if you will, now that would be something. You could mount TV cameras to the roof with direct satellite linkage to CSPAN2. Anyone could run to the middle and declaim or support or propose anything they wished, as long as they checked their opinions going back out of the gate. If it makes sense to the Chinese to run their economy that way, why not their society? Why not open dissent recorded for posterity, visible to the entire world, instead of quiet rumors of oppression and human rights abuse?

Hell, I might want one of those in LA.

No comments: