City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

I’m fascinated by China, particularly Shanghai, and have been keeping a running list of links around these subjects for a while. Given some recent activity elsewhere, I thought I’d better just post the lot as is, rather than attempt to make anything particularly coherent. As ever, this is somewhere between a ‘note-to-self’ and list of links and quotes others may find useful. So here goes …

Lightening Field on Shanghai
Things reports that David F. Gallagher is currently documenting Shanghai, and other Chinese cities, at the moment – see writhing crayfish, expressways and the symbiotic cycles of demolition and construction.

Return of the Shanghai Diary?
And news from Manchester is that Justin O’Connor is going back to Shanghai shortly and may be able to continue the Shanghai diary that I posting on his behalf last year. I really hope so, as I still think it’s some of the best writing about cities around right now – have a browse through the previous entries while we’re waiting to see if we can continue …

Bad Beijing Architecture?
CrazyJianZhu, with the somewhat perjorative URL – – covers architecture emerging in Beijing, including these amazing photos of the brave new city being promised.

The Economist on China
As I write, I feel that The Economist has about the best weekly coverage of China around – it’s clearly a real focal point for the magazine (registration required for all the following Economist links I’m afraid).

For instance, here’s a good densely-linked backgrounder on China’s economy, and their regularly updated country briefing on China. Includes stuff like this:

“China and Japan are increasingly inter-linked commercially. But their age-old political animus is reviving too … (But) only a fifth of China’s exports are in categories that compete with Japanese ones. That could change in coming years, as Chinese manufacturers gain in sophistication. But China’s ultra-cheap labour is likely for some time to tilt those firms towards labour-intensive processes and away from the more capital- and research-intensive ones favoured in higher-cost Japan. Meanwhile, rising demand in China, both from industry and consumers, is bringing huge benefits to Japanese firms, both in lower, metal-bashing trades and in higher-value businesses.”

The Economist: So hard to be friends

… as well as this recent in-depth survey on China and India compared. This piece – Sweatshops and technocoolies – compares the different approaches to industry in the two emerging superpowers. Fascinating stuff.

Rick Poyner Gets Chinese Design Louder
Get It Louder logo Get It Louder is “the first art/design exhibition and event of its kind held in mainland China” featuring the work of designers and artists “80% of (whom) are of Chinese background, and half are among the new generation of artists and designers in mainland China. The average age of all the artists are 25.” according to the Get It Louder website.

Rick Poyner covered it for Design Observer, noting:

“If not for the sticky heat, requiring steady use of the mouth-shaped “Get it Louder” fans supplied by the organisers, we could have been anywhere. The audience had the usual haircuts, shaven or spiky, and the same tastes in branded designer gear … Again, it was striking how many of these pieces spoke in the lingua franca of young international design … They showed the same concern with graffiti, T-shirt designs, doe-eyed cartoon figures, cute toys, robots and illustrations based on whimsical doodles.”

“More interesting was the work that seemed to have something to say about China today and where it stands in relation to its past. A set of skateboards was decorated with images of smiling workers and the slogan “The People’s Republic of Skateboarding”. A T-shirt by a designer based in Shanghai bore the legend “Worker, Peasant and Soldier” (in English) next to a drawing of the trio. The worker and the peasant appeared to be kissing, which would never have happened under Chairman Mao, while the soldier looked the other way.”

“(Organiser) Ou Ning argues that since China’s social and political reforms began in 1979, there have been three generations in Chinese design. Until the early 1990s, the first generation still created mainly handmade work as there were few computers in the country. The second embraced the Macintosh and began to absorb international design influences. The third, represented in ‘Get it Louder’, grew up in the age of the Internet with access to information not available to earlier Chinese designers. They have an international outlook, often completing their education abroad, and they share the ‘independent DIY spirit’ found in young designers the world over.”

“Photographs by Sze Tsung Leong, a New York artist and one of the editors of Great Leap Forward by Rem Koolhaas and his Harvard students, document the ‘maelstrom of modernization’ – as the book terms it – with a meticulously objective eye. Leong contrasts the few surviving older buildings with the new and shows the ravages of demolition alongside sleek emerging structures thrown up by the Chinese economic miracle. Shenzhen itself has grown from little more than a village to a wealthy modern city in 20 years.”

Poyner ends reporting Ou Ning’s hope that the internet, and other informational patterns like DVD piracy, will enable a more democratic order in China. The comments are interesting too, with Momus and others pitching in on how graphic design history, from Rodchenko to Tokion has been filtered through Chinese history.

Related possibly, visiting the US last year, there was much discussion amongst the various American companies we visited which can only be described as fear of outsourcing of design work to China and India in particular.

Sze Tsung Leong
Those astonishing aforementioned Sze Tsung Leong photos in full, both the History Images series and accompanying text and the Cities series. And here a text on the traditions of Chinese cities:

“One of the most important historical characteristics of cities in China is continuity with the past—an aspect reflected in the urban patterns and layouts that have remained, in their many incarnations over the centuries, relatively unchanging. Despite the common view that present-day Chinese cities constitute a break with the past, they are still consistent with three historical patterns that have defined urban change in China: large-scale destruction and replacement of urban fabrics to inaugurate changes of emperors or dynasties; massive relocations of populations; and highly planned urban configurations enabled by centralized and unchallenged forms of authority. These traditions underly the shape and nature of the contemporary Chinese city.”

“The persistence of these traditions is possible only in a nation and society that has historically been steered by absolute forms of power. Only by acting as vehicles of these forms of power can urban and architectural development undergo processes that are by now commonplace – demolishing, relocating, wiping clean, and starting anew – all on a magnitude that affects not just individuals, but populations. Concentrated authority gave shape to cities such as traditional Beijing. It also wiped them clean, accommodating a new society in the form of luxury apartment complexes, office towers, and shopping centers. Power today may not exist in the singular form of an Emperor or a Chairman, but it is managed and exercised with enough strength to channel the possibilities for urban experience, and to choose which urban traditions to preserve.”

Sze Tsung Leong photo

Koolhaas on the Chinese city
See more Rem Koolhaas later, but intrigued by Abe’s recent link to the awesome-looking Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews book, I’ve dug out a section of the Koolhaas interview from that, which was helpfully posted here. Includes this excellent quote (in the context of a discussion on Berlin):

“The Chinese city is for me a city that has built up a lot of volume in a very short time, which therefore doesn’t have the slowness that is a condition for a traditional sedimentation of a city, which for us is still the model for authenticity. Beyond a certain speed of construction that kind of authenticity is inevitably sacrificed, even if you build everything out of stone and authentic materials, and that’s a kind of irony. For instance, if you look at the color of the stone of the new Berlin, it’s the color of all the worst plastics that were produced in East Germany in the 1960s. It’s kind of a weird color of pink, a weird color of light yellow …, they’re artificial. There is no escaping the artificial in the new architecture, and certainly not in large amounts of architecture being generated at the same time.”

There’s more in the full interview on South Korea, possibly to follow later (I’ve just stood in Foyle’s for 20 minutes reading it – the Hans Ulrich Obrist book is a pricey though weighty tome.)

Shanghai South Station
The Shanghai South Station project, by the (confusingly named for a construction engineering firm) French architect/engineers AREP, looks fascinating.


“The design of Shanghaï South station was the object of an international competition won by AREP and ECADI in three stages from May to September 2001. The new Shanghai-South intermodal terminal has been designed to symbolize the city’s dynamism, and its economic, financial and cultural leadership together with its creativity and avant-garde vision”

On the AREP site, they’ve posted a panorama of the actual building emerging and there’s a brief bit of content at Wallpaper on same. Also on the AREP site, there’s news of an exhibition about architecture in China by French companies – Visions françaises, just finished in China but on in France in the autumn.

China and WIPO
John Naughton on China and WIPO, who links to J. Bradford DeLong’s Outline notes for his talk ‘Peering into the Future of China’ (interesting comments, tho they get a bit bonkers).

Beijing Biennale
Some interesting perspectives on the collision between Chinese and ‘Western’ architecture emerge in a Domus sketch from the Beijing Biennale [reg. reqd. – free]

“The A2 section (which is where we are, called Architecture / Non Architecture) is housed in a giant building site. An area on the outskirts of the city, supermodern, attractive, marvellous. But not quite finished. Hundreds of builders work like ants to construct walls, foundations, stairs, lift wells. An impressive sight. With buildings that literally grow before your very eyes. You go and get something to eat and when you come back that building on the left has grown a floor and in the meantime a lorry has arrived with an acre of real lawn rolled up in strips.”

“These Chinese are very good and very quick. We are witnessing epochal transformations and there are many moments when we remain open mouthed.”

“It’s a bit like when the European immigrants described New York as a city where the streets were paved with gold. That (obviously) wasn’t true at all, just a linguistic metaphor (apart from anything else, very poetic) to attempt to explain phenomena that were conceptually thousands of years away from the world they had left behind.”

“Trying to describe the construction sites of the UHN village is just the same.
All the international architects (at least most of them) in the end complained about the problems, the fact that nothing was finished or ready, the pavilion where you couldn’t go in because the entrance stairway wasn’t finished and the places where you could get in but there was no electric light. Which is a sad, miserly, small minded way to think.”

“We are before a nation that is entering high-handedly into modernity, no, that is leaping over modernity in one bound to land on the most extreme fringes of post-modernity, a billion superhuman efforts that will probably reduce the whole world to bended knee… and the fine European intellect can’t get beyond the fact that the third projector for their installation has arrived yet. Oh come on…”

Koolhaas and CCTV HQ
Fnally, last year Wired published Rem Koolhaas’s/OMA’s ‘Beijing Manifesto’, perhaps in some way seeing in China a warped version of the market-driven techno-boosterism they so covet, and ignoring the very different non-market-driven reality which Koolhaas actually describes. This is based around OMA’s/Arup’s work on the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing, and though the frustratingly gnomic OMA site has a bit more on the CCTV building, the Wired piece is a decent intro to the project. There’s also a glitzy bit of cgi visulisation by Crystal CG available as a Windows Media file – well worth watching for the full on sell. But here’s the text:

“In early 2002, my office received two invitations: one to propose a design for Ground Zero, the other to propose a design for the headquarters of China Central Television in Beijing. We discussed the choice over Chinese food. The life of the architect is so fraught with uncertainty and dilemmas that any clarification of the future, including astrology, is disproportionately welcome. My fortune cookie that night read: STUNNINGLY OMNIPRESENT MASTERS MAKE MINCED MEAT OF MEMORY.

“We chose China.”

CCTV building

The rest of the article was tucked away in PDF format, which I’ve extracted for you below. It’s an edit of a piece available in Koolhaas’s book Content:

“The Chinese love the monumental ambition. They hate the monumental price tag – and the ‘foreign’ design. A portfolio of the grand ideas and grim realities behind the contentious new vision for China Central Television. For more than a decade, the number of high-rise buildings in Asia has surpassed that in North America. On October 17, 2003, the final spireon the Taipei 101 building was raised into place, making it the world’s tallest building by more than 50 meters over the former number one, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In the West, pundits continue to debate the viability of the skyscraper post-9/11, apparently unaware that in most of the world the high-rise has become a prerequisite. The China Central Television headquarters will be located in the northern part of Beijing’s new Central Business District, near the intersection of Chang’an Avenue and the Third Ring Road. We aim to break ground later this year and to complete the project in time for the 2008 Olympics. The site covers about four blocks, with a total area of 180,000 square meters. There are two major buildings – CCTV, which hosts TV-production facilities, and TVCC, a hospitality center with a hotel. On the southeast block, the Media Park will be open to the public for events and entertainment, as well as available for outdoor filming. In the free market, architecture = real estate. Any complex corporation is dismantled, each unit sequestered in place. All media companies suffer a subsequent paranoia: Each department – the creative department, the finance department, administration, et cetera – talks about the others as ‘them’; distrust is rife, motives are questioned. But in China, money does not yet have the last word.

“CCTV is envisioned as shared conceptual space in which all parts are housed permanently, aware of one another’s presence – a collective. Communication increases; paranoia decreases [I must dig out my notes from a talk Richard Maccormac gave on the new BBC Broadcasting House project to compare and contrast approaches to building for large media organisations – DH]. After our design was accepted, it created two kinds of apprehension, if not disappointment. First, was it merely a landmark, one more alien proposal of meaningless boldness? Was its structural complexity simply irresponsible? On August 5, 2003, an afternoon event at Tsinghua University allowed all parties to vent criticism. It was not easy, I realized, for the assembled intelligentsia to see the difference between CCTV and any of the other foreign extravaganzas still in the pipeline. There was surprise at my description of the building as a collective, a word with complex associations. There was relief when the building, which had been considered in isolation, was presented in conjunction with our larger proposals for historical preservation in Beijing and a low-rise business district, revealing an interlocking hypothesis for Beijing’s future land use … the beginnings of a Beijing Manifesto. Still, the younger audience members questioned allocating resources to “prestige,” even while western China is ravaged by poverty; and the older generation of engineers was shocked to see the objective purity of their profession at the service of the unusual. A pact between the two sides – a coalition of the unwilling – could easily close a possibility that had just been opened. A refusal of the Promethean in the name of correctness and good sense could foreclose China’s architectural potential. CCTV headquarters is an ambitious building. It was conceived at the same time that the design competition for Ground Zero took place – not in the backward-looking US, but in the parallel universe of China.In communism, engineering has a high status, its laws resonating with Marxian wheels of history. To prove the stability of a structure that violates some of the most sincerely held convictions about logic and beauty, the engineering firm Arup had to dissect every detail of our design. The effort to reassure only reveals the scary aliveness of every structure – elasticity, creep, shrinkage, sagging, bending, buckling. Serving as a hypnotic window, the computer analyzes and exposes the shocking vividness of the mineral world with the tenacity of a pervert. I heard one of Cecil Balmond’s engineers at Arup describe, without irony or noticeable wavering, how two sloping steel structures in our design could be connected only at dawn. They would be exposed to different solar heat gain due to the irrelative positions on the ground and would be most likely to share the same temperature after cooling off overnight. I was elated and horrified by the sheer outrageousness of the problem we had set before them. Why do they never say no?”

That last image is quite, quite beautiful …

Finally, to experience an aspect of contemporary China first hand (if you’re an English-speaker) watch streaming video of CCTV’s English-speaking offering, Channel 9 – it’s in Windows Media format and blessed with an implausible interface, but at this distance, offers a compelling view of modern Chinese media at work.


5 responses to “Shanghai, crayfish, the Chinese media, recent architecture, graphic designers, Chairmen, Emperors, and making minced meat of memory amidst the maelstrom of modernisation”

  1. Rob Avatar

    Did you catch my notes on the OMA lecture I attended?
    3 parts – more on CCTV
    p.s – glad you enjoyed the guitarchitecture


  2. Dan Avatar

    Cheers Rob. Top stuff. Will post more links derived from your comment shortly.
    BBC NEWS: Chinese Blogs face restriction

    “The Chinese government has announced plans to police web forums, chat rooms and blogs alongside other websites. Websites in China have long been required to be officially registered. The authorities are now determined that blogs should also be brought under state control.


  3. International Competition-Ciscu2005 Avatar

    Title : International Competition-Ciscu2005
    Contents : CiSCu2005(international competition)
    -Revitalization of Gwangbok Street & PIFF Plaza.-
    This competition is organized by the Gwangbok Street Revitalization Committee , hosted by Jung-gu District Office and promoted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Korea and Busan Metropolitan City with the objective of revitalizing Gwangbok Street and the PIFF Plaza in Jung-gu, Busan.
    Although Gwangbok Street and the PIFF Plaza had long flourished as the central commercial districts of Busan, the largest port city in Korea, and as the birthplace of the internationally renowned PIFF (Pusan International Film Festival), the fame of these places has been declining recently with the center of Busan moving eastwards and new sub-centers appearing as the city expands rapidly.
    Around Gwangbok Street and the PIFF Plaza there are various historical and cultural places, and the urban fabric of the modern era since the opening of Busan Port in 1876 is well preserved. Various local development plans for Jung-gu have been announced and are in progress, including the modernization of the Jagalchi Fish Market and the construction of the 2nd Lotte World, which is a 107-storied mega complex consisting of a department store, a hotel, and offices. This competition is intended to produce new ideas on how to use the potential of Jung-gu to revitalize this area in a creative way considering its existing historical and cultural assets. The design scope of the competition may, if necessary to revitalize Gwangbok Street, include reconfiguration of streets, squares, and traffic and pedestrian flows; creation of street furniture and public art; and facelifts for existing building facades and store signs.

    The objective of the Revitalization of Gwangbok Street & PIFF Plaza competition project is to re-create this area as an attractive urban core to catalyze the revitalization of the center of Jung-gu, where the population has been diminishing and the function as a city center has been weakened.
    Utilizing the existing historical/cultural resources and the opportunities from the development plans in this area, the addition of cultural and artistic aspects on to the potential of Gwangbok Street as an attractive commercial street will place this area into the center of culture and tourism. The re-creation of attractive urban environment will help the promotion of the local economy and will provide an open and friendly public space for the citizens. Innovative design, revitalization plan of street and creation of space for cultural activity will result in the new aesthetic urban area for the public.

    registration deadline : 31 August 05
    submission deadline : 7 September 05

    open to : This Open International Idea Competition is the first stage of a two-stage competition.
    This competition is open to professionals and students of urban design, architecture, landscape design, art and visual/industrial design, and teams made up of professionals or students of these fields.
    entry fee : $80.00 for professionals; $50.00 for students
    awards :
    1st Prize(one) USD $30,000
    2nd Prize(one) USD $10,000
    3rd Prize(up to five) USD $5,000
    20 Honorable mentions
    – Top three prize winning projects in the first-stage competition will be given a chance to compete in the second-stage of the competition.

    organization : Gwangbok Street Revitalization Committee
    information : Gwangbok Street Revitalization Committee
    9, Sinchang-dong 1ga, Jung-gu, Busan, 600-061, Republic of Korea
    E-mail :
    Internet site :


  4. EDIFIK Avatar

    Hello !
    Your blog is very interesting and i’ll keep on watching it.
    If you’re interested in 3D for architecture you might have a look at mine !
    it’s in french, but you can easely translate it !
    you can also visit


  5. Ken Avatar

    Check my colleague’s review of Rem Koolhaas’s video study of Lagos, Nigeria:


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