‘the condition of chinese architecture’ by pier alessio rizzardi
all images courtesy of pier alessio rizzardi
italian-born, internationally experienced young architect pier alessio rizzardi illustrates a comprehensive picture of the current state of architecture
with respect to the chinese platform.
the face of the chinese city is characterized by demolition. ‘only 10% of the historical buildings in china have survived to this day,’ explains recent
pritzker prize winner wang shu. with the almost total destruction of historical quarters of cities, the asian society must constantly face the concept
of a tabula rasa. architects must be much more efficient than their western counterparts in order to work. the volume of reinforced concrete used in
china is 33% of the world’s total amount; the number of chinese architects is 1/100 of the total number. the turnover on the other hand is a contrasting
1/10 of the world average. in other words, one percent of architects has to design 33% of the world’s buildings for one-tenth of the profit.
this creates the theoretical condition of the chinese architect, imposing the reduction of both design and construction time. the project is with limitless
possibilities, it becomes a mechanical or industrial process of production and no time is taken to think about the soulful aspects that define architecture.
the speed of execution and the will to characterize the site generate examples such as the one city-nine ghost towns or all the satellite towns built in
the european style. everything that comes from abroad is considered innovation and freedom, a goal to aim for. china wants to experience life in the
western way, regardless of it being a copy of the european model. importing western styles creates a hybrid of both cultures.
current condition of chinese architecture
architecture in china is a business. real estate is built, used, and when the investment is returned to its maximum extent, it is demolished to make
way for a new investment. ‘tou fu buildings’ are those in which materials and technologies are sacrificed to lower production costs and speed up
construction time. no one escaped from this trap, including international ‘starchitect’ zaha hadid’s guangzhou opera house, which experienced the
consequences of such philosophies. the cultural upheaval of recent generations has resulted in a hybrid architecture directed by profit.
the architectural trends in china can be grouped into: international architects and large-scale iconic architecture; background architects with
architecture of such an extensive proliferation as to constitute a phenomenon influential on the national scale; local architects, or the new chinese
generation, and their vernacular small-scale architecture.
starting from scratch
the ‘starchitect’ entered into the chinese scene, supported and desired by the government. as manhattan was nearly a century ago, china now turns
into a pertinent stage in the global spectrum. skyscrapers have a strong iconic impact on the country, the city remains a ‘shopping window’ for the
modernization of the country, as reformist leader deng xiaoping wanted the country’s financial hub, pudong, located in shanghai, considered the
‘manhattan of china.’ china wants respect and visibility; the tendency of the government is toward recognizable, massive and iconic architectures
seeking a world-wide recognition.
‘tou-fu’ building detail issues
“nostalgic architects” pursue the ‘chineseness’ in architecture through the idea of rebuilding portions of the city in the traditional style. the old motto of
mao was ‘the new against the old,’ now reversed as the old against the new, because the ‘new’ becomes old too fast.
‘traditional iconic architects’ magnify the scale culturally traditional symbols. they exploit the architectural image by immediately inserting an icon into the city.
architects use traditional symbols like lanterns, dragons and coins to instill history and identity into their buildings, the icon of ‘chineseness.’
the ‘architects of the new generation’ consist in those who have studied abroad. these architects are open to experimentation contaminated by
western notions. they reject the current architectural situation, creating a choice based on the purity of the tectonics, radical shapes, vernacular
materials and simplified building technologies.
high-rise building in jingmao
if we compare the timelines of the chinese and western architectures, we see the existing time gap. in analyzing the current way of designing
architecture in the new generation of architects, you will notice many features in common with the architectural period of post-war europe and
the west: from the new imperialism in sweden and english and brazilian brutalism, to italian neorealism. after 50 years, the themes of the
‘post-modern movement’ in europe come up for discussion in china today.
instant icons in cities
time line comparison between the western and eastern worlds
‘learning from the east,’ by robert venturi, denise scott brown, steven izenour
fast and furious construction
the chinese scale, illustrated