Writings on China


Maximum Life in Minimum Space

Interior Design China, July, 2010

And it is that struggle for the minimum living space that in a strange way has led to the creation of minimal urban spaces. In that way a lot of the large-scale urban, and suburban, housing developments have made a crucial mistake; most of the minimal living spaces – based on economical and financial parameters, not on living standards – have been designed in environments that also offer minimal quality of urban and outdoor spaces. The relation between the indoors and outdoors living spaces has been disconnected, unbalanced and under investigated in our contemporary times.

full version Maximum Life in Minimum Space and 小空间,大生活


Crossing: Dialogues for Emergency Architecture

ArtForum, June, 2009

All in all, Crossing: Dialogues for Emergency Architecture was an excellent exhibition. Organized jointly by NAMOC, CAFA and curators Zhou Shu and Pan Qing, it presented diverse proposals – in terms of scale, aesthetics and functionality – from an inspiring group of emerging and established architectural practices. The organizers have been able to present these proposals, and guarantee the quality the architects desired, in a safe museum environment where art meets architecture. Strangely this did not weaken or obscure the emergency and urgency that the solutions provoke.

full version on ArtForum and images of the exhibition opening on MovingCities

OBRA at work in China

Perspective Magazine, February, 2009

There is a context here where, without being presumptuous, we, architects in general, can help to form many of the unfulfilled modernist projects in Europe and the US. With insight and experience these can perhaps be applicable to China. This deals with the notion that design can improve everybody‘s life, leading to an architecture based on a consideration that doesn‘t separate form and function or solely depends on the use of latest technology. This might propel architecture into a different position within the construction of a society. Everything seems to happen at the same time in China, all those opportunities, and that is part of the reason why we are interested.

full version here

Burn After Building

Abitare and ArtForum, February, 2009

Walking around the area, one is immersed in a strange architectural experience, one feels something is happening, but is wondering what. More fingers point to the façade. For a second one could think an audacious stuntman is climbing the façade of CCTV. Police troupes are walking the streets, sidewalks are closed, traffic diverted. For all its devastation, human loss and years spend in negotiations over the construction of the building, its interiors, its management, for all of its tragedy, there is a strange beauty to the building as it stands now. A burned out Olympic torch-like tower next to a glimmering ring.

full version on Abitare and on ArtForum

How Foreign Architects became International Architects

URBAN CHINA, January, 2009

Much has been published about the contribution, involvement and role of foreign architects in the development of the Chinese City during the past decade. Leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the international press focussed on the notorious Beijing’s Gang of Five Foreign Architects: Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Paul Andreu, Herzog & de Meuron and Norman Foster. In the past five years a major shift happened in terms of how these projects were analysed.

full version here, as part of Urban China#33 | Creative China


Making minced meat of memory

MUDOT May, 2008

The suffering of a society in rapid change, with the consequent psychological demand for people to endlessly adjust to an eternal present, is counteracted by a simple design objective and philosophy; in the eternal contemporary city happiness is essentially a thing of the past. Happiness can be built on demand. Training memory equals, as Nietzsche saw it, the beginning of a civilized morality. More and more one can witness a tendency, on a global scale, where memory becomes an active and destructive force, a remembrance of time gone, a contemplation of paradises that are lost.

full version here

Mediocrity and the Metropolis

JongArsitek, May, 2008

When in China, make sure to explain everything, even if it makes no sense at all. When doing so, remember the words of Fei Qing who stated from the point of view of Chan (the Chan Sect of Buddhism, known in the West by the Japanese name Zen, which emphasizes simplicity, spontaneity and self-expression), putting unrelated things together might produce something new. What one can see here is the denial of the ideal hierarchy of the crucial and the incidental.

full version here

Olympic Architecture

MARK MAGAZINE #14, June-July, 2008

Overall, the Olympic Architecture goes beyond the mediocrity of the capital’s architecture, embodying a certain identity while following the logic of the economic quantum leap China is making, turning a society of producers into a society of urban consumers, where there is room for spectacles that aren’t political mass movements. At the same time, the architecture expresses a search, successful or not, for forms that are recognizable, thereby mixing tradition with technology.

full version here

Babel for Billionaires

MARK MAGAZINE #15, August-September, 2008

As soon as the architects from phase two arrive at the meeting in April, the Babel-like confusion is complete. Some want to critically review the assignment and the master plan, others just want to give an answer to the brief. Turkish architect Han Tumertekin (Mimarlar) is an exponent of the latter. ‘When I am confronted with such a big organization I presume the assignment is well-considered,’ he says. ‘Architects have become much more interested in issues outside architecture over the past few years, but some of them have forgotten how to carry out a brief well.

full version here

Old is the New New

URBANE August, 2008

The transformation of Beijing during the past few years has given rise to a new type of psychological disease: hutong hypochondria. People with this disease suffer from an excessive preoccupation with the city’s history, usually becoming obsessed with little alleyways, and with stones that are strangely mixed with cardboard and wood structure. They organize themselves through self-help groups, find their way through the city on maps of at least half a century old and, most likely, roam through the hutongs at night to slash holes in the tires of hutong tour rickshaws. Because, after all, tourism kills tradition.

full version here

Mongolian Private Meadow Club

MARK MAGAZINE #16, October-November, 2008

When you build, especially in China,’ Ma Yansong tells me, ‘the good workers all go to the big construction sites. So when some farmers help you to build a small project like this, you have to communicate with them and put a lot of time and energy into designing details. We designed this curtain wall facing south. It has a dark colour so it can absorb some heat. We did all the detail drawings, but the local workers decided to build it in another material that was more easily available. So when it was finished, we went there and we talked to the client. He fired the team and replaced the whole wall.

full version here

ORDOS100: avant-garde architecture in the desert

ARTFORUM CHINA | April 22, 2008

At the edge of the site, the bus stopped and the architects flew out, all running in different directions, touching the sand, taking pictures of dunes, all the while dreaming about the direction this desert could take. Some planted flags (or did someone put them there before?) explaining this act with the same intensity one had when conquering the moon. In the end this wandering came to seem like an act of desert dérive or sand situationism.

read the review here

SOHO China’s New Futurism

ARTFORUM CHINA | June 10, 2008

Although architecture critics do not generally review sales-catalogues, The SOHO NewTown Files offers a glimpse into the strange universe where real-estate developer psychology meets architectural analysis. On the first page, one can read, “We bring the masters back down to earth. We ask them to design for the stylish middle class. Here they are constrained by budget and functionality. There are no more masters. There are no more idols. Art marries business.” There is no more future, I think, further exploring possible forms of market-led anarchistic architectural developments.

read the review here


A Letter from Beijing

MARK MAGAZINE #09, July-August, 2007

A friend of mine rented six apartments in the span of one year – all with a luxurious view of the same construction site. Every day we had lunch on his balcony, overlooking the thing. I saw time and space collide, shape come into being. After each visit, I collected the metal dust from my skin and built a model of the building with it, on a scale of 1:100. I followed a floating migrant for one week, tracking and mapping his life between the site and his dormitory, a distance of roughly 100 metres. I sat in a cab for a whole day, circling the third ring road until I got dizzy.

full version here

Xin Tian Di, An interview with Benjamin Wood


I was relatively ruthless; I am not a preservationist, so it was easy for me to alter buildings. Had I been a preservationist this project would have turned into a museum. So whenever I thought something should be new, I tore down some buildings to make room, and put a lot of windows in where there weren’t any. We actually tried to save some of the buildings but couldn’t, so we had to rebuild them and altered them a bit.

full version in english

The Rise and Fall of Beijing’s Creative Business District


Now, Hang Rui, 798’s leading artist, has teamed up with Cai Ming to develop their dream of a Chinese artist community near Beijing’s Central Business District called the Gaobeidian Art District, while plans for 798 during the last year have swung between demolition, the creation of China’s Silicon Valley and recently, with government support, to preserve it a ‘cultural zone’.

full version in english

Take-Away China

URBAN CHINA #23 | ChinaTown, 2007

As such the Chinese presence has become an interesting play of global iconography, the ultimate empire of signs, each restaurant a recombination of similar signs and themes. Where in the congested presence of Chinatowns difference is the key to stand out, in the thinned out presence in sprawl condition similarity and recognition is the driving force. As such they present all variations on the same theme. It is the isolation that makes them stand out.

full version in english

Archiprix International Beijing

ARCHINED | May 7, 2007

The lecture only became intersting when Scheeren explained the single element he still controlled: the CCTV façade. That can withstand all sorts of weather conditions. The Beijing air pollution is legendary, a thick blanket of cloud usually hovers over the city and the foggy air is full of tiny dust particles. It makes architecture look ugly, according to Scheeren.

read the review here

Jinhua Architecture Park Opening

FIVE FOOT WAY | November 5, 2007

During the symposium on Saturday afternoon a couple of reality-checks and paradoxes emerged, hinting at the time it took, almost three years, to build this park, Ai Weiwei pointed at the limitations of China. It seems that the bigger the building is and the less time is spend on design, the faster one can build and occupy the space. Some of the architects hinted at the paradoxical state that for such a small project it was almost for them impossible to control the building process.

read the review here

Aspects of (Chinese) Overpopulation

BURB.TV | January 2007

If one were to analyze the twentieth century in a thousand years, a crucial point will be this one: the total world population grew from 1,6 billion (1900) till 6,1 billion (2000). The first part of this paper explores the rise of the Chinese population data, as can be seen by those provided by the United Nation (UNWP2300 and UNWU2003, see www.unpopulation.org), explains visually its impact and brings it in relation to the different levels of urbanization and urban hierarchy in China. After setting this stage, it is obvious that architects and planners are facing, while building, new design challenges for the period to come after the so-called boom of the Chinese urban landscape. How to think about design strategies for the future after the future?

read the full text on my burb.tv page


Chinese avant-garde

DOMUS #894 July/August, 2006

CHINA CONTEMPORARY exhibits the works of architects, artists and curators who in the last decade have spent all their time and energy using their own minds and in doing so have been studying and exploring ways to solve the problem of a Chinese (architectural and artistic) identity.

full version in english and italian


#13 | Hidden Pearl River Delta, 2006

It seems that the people, and thus the village, and to a larger extent also the Delta, is transforming its identity; the peasant becomes a new type of farm employee. This identity swap happened in less than ten years, and during my travels, I was wondering if in the next decades, or maybe during the next century, a new swap can happen; will the farm become a fabric? Will the farmer become an entrepreneur; will the former landlords, now seemingly disappeared from the village life, become the new businessmen? Will this be the land of opportunities?

full version in english

Creative China, Cutting and Pasting?

MY-CI Newspaper | November, 2006

The question is what does “substantially” similar mean? To resolve the issue, the court homes have a checklist, they focus on the unique and creative elements of the designs, disregarding commonplace stock elements, since only original elements receive protection under copyright law, the legal experts say. The legal standard for architectural copyright are in this cases normally based on the impressions of an ordinary observer rather than an architecture expert.

full version in english


ARCHINED | October 16, 2006

The question remains, of course, whether one or both of these exhibitions can stimulate discussion within Chinese architecture. If that is the case, then the exhibition at the National Museum will generate debate about ways to exhibit architecture, while the exhibition at the China Millennium Monument will probably spawn discussion about how the schemes presented in the proposed experimental projects can be built as quickly as possible. Both could lead to surprising results in the future.

read the review here


“This is the end of the world as we know it”

ARCHIS #5, 2004

Koolhaas’s intervention in China is CCTV, a formalist–functionalist architecture, not phallic but vaginal, one that contributes both to the modernization of communist culture and to the definition of architecture. ‘An explicit ambition of the building (CCTV) was to try to hasten the end of the skyscraper as a typology, to explode its increasingly vacuous nature, loss of program, and refuse the futile competition for height. Instead of the two separate towers of the WTC, there was now a single, integrated loop, where two towers merge.’

full version in english