Chinese cities I (Modernity begins again.)
'Modernity begins again'. In China (and increasingly throughout Asia) it is not just the international showpieces like Shanghai and Beijing that show themselves to be at the cutting edge of the promotion of the best in new building; many other cities are becoming prosperous and rebuilding on a large, even monumental scale. Provincial cities are also being transformed. Public buildings, shopping centres, housing estates, all appear in the latest architectural styles, making Chinese cities appear the most modern in the world; and not only buildings - parks, gardens, riverside landscaping, all falls under the urban planner’s untiring eye.
This reconstruction often involves the sweeping away of the architectural forms which dominated the building of the previous generation, most especially that of the 1950s and 1960s, effectively the period of Stalinist modernism – a modernism ironically similar to coeval developments in the West from which it is often indistinguishable. City centres once re-built in the 1960s (together with new housing estates constructed in this period) are yet again being remodelled (where they are not being torn down) - but this time with an eye to the mistakes made. Indeed, little from this period deserves to be preserved (much of the urban fabric of previous history had already been lost, victim to war and fanaticism). What remains: some modernised Hutongs, some colonial districts and a few old towns and gardens. A survival often fuelled more by internal than external tourism, and as much by tourist considerations as by aesthetic or historical concerns. Perhaps the best way of preserving history is by helping it become a focal point, a social centre, a place to eat, drink and unwind; the old survives as a market for pleasure and relaxation, ancient grounds become a new area of play for today’s population. Meanwhile, all around these few fortunate survivors, the new new arises, modernity taking a fresh breath, making a fresh start, starting again after nearly two centuries of collapse and destruction. Modernity begins again.
Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk