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America Last

“Great” construction projects in America? Starchitects say: look elsewhere

A strange thing has been happening at some public architecture talks lately, perhaps you’ve noticed. Over the course of otherwise hopeful and positive discussions covering amazing new projects from around the globe, at some point, usually toward the end of a talk, conversation turns to the current state of American building and infrastructure. And, it's safe to say, people are not happy. Sometimes, the presenter will rip off the bandaid, as Thom Mayne of Morphosis did at a recent Facades+  talk in Los Angeles, when he said, “I hate to be negative, but there’s not much going on in this country architecturally,” before adding, “[But] if you look at architecture around the world, it’s startling…It’s unbelievable, the research [taking place]—I just came back from Shenzhen [China] and I’m looking around [at the skyline] there wondering ‘is there anything left for me to do?’” Other times, a perplexed-sounding audience member will ask what it seems many in attendance had been pondering privately: “Why can’t we build like this here?” 

 It’s a debilitating question that really only has one answer. And although, even when speaking bluntly, everyone tries their best to truth-tell without offending, but the writing is right on the projection screen—building big in America simply isn’t what it used to be, and we don’t know what to do about it.

 “The United States is falling behind,” architect Moshe Safdie explained to a packed room during a recent keynote talk at Palm Springs Modernism Week when asked why the inventive array of projects he had just presented are mostly located outside the United States. “Around the world, the competition [for bold infrastructure] doesn’t stop,” he said, half-jokingly, “until you land at Kennedy or LAX.” 

 To prove his point, Safdie pointed out further that although the Hudson Yards development in New York City is the largest privately-led construction project in the country by square footage, it is easily dwarfed in terms of vision by countless projects around the globe of a similar or larger size. 

 He’s right. Hudson Yards is a dime a dozen as far as global mega-projects are concerned. Safdie’s own Raffles City development in Chongqing, China, for example, might be roughly two-thirds the size of Hudson Yards, but it is going up in less than one-third the time and is almost entirely designed by a single architecture firm—Safdie Architects—with P&T Group International Ltd. serving as architect of record. Safdie’s own portfolio of recent work shows that while New York occasionally will build an elevated billionaire citadel, Chongqing, Singapore, and other cities have tasked his office with erecting bold new structures designed for working people and the public at large, all without sacrificing design quality. 

 Safdie explained that one possible reason why American projects no longer lead the world in terms of size or scale might be due to a “lack of urban initiative,” the type of sustained and calculated political and managerial energy necessary for bringing to life the types of large-scale and lasting projects that have transformed other countries around the world in recent decades. 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Rem Koolhaas, who, when recently asked about the prevalence of NIMBYism in America, explained, “I think you can divide the world into one part that is eager to change and doesn’t have hesitations about things changing, and another part that is totally nervous about change and actually aspires to a kind of stability.” Koolhaas added, “As an architect, every one of your efforts is impacted by this. In the end, however, architecture is always controversial because it proposes to make things different than they are.”

 Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the realm of high-speed rail (HSR), where American decision makers across all levels of government have persisted in remaining tethered to auto-centric planning, condemning the nation to antiquated transportation for at least another generation. A recent article in The New York Times covering the ongoing debacle with California’s tragic HSR project, for example, brings this condition into sharp relief with the following line: “California’s High-Speed Rail Authority…was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail.”

 America has built none. But America’s last-place finish doesn’t end with rail or with deteriorating airports; it includes city-building, too, as Safdie pointed out. Much of America is suffering from some form of housing crisis, whether it’s so-called Rust Belt cities struggling to retain residents or coastal cities that can’t figure out how and where to build new housing fast enough. While American cities have doubled-down on onerous building restrictions and lengthy bureaucratic reviews, politically polarized state and federal governments have worked at cross purposes, too, failing to enact bold plans and avoiding future-oriented thinking at almost all costs. The overarching legacy of redlining, racial segregation, and income inequality has placed a stranglehold over American cities, as well, contributing to intense gentrification when development does occur and debilitating displacement when it doesn’t. Over the last decade, it has become clear that America's public health, land-use, and transportation policies are all woefully out of whack, and the result is stifling the abilities of a generation of well-trained architects and engineers eager to build a better nation. Meanwhile, the world’s urbanizing areas have embraced building vertically, have expanded transit of all sorts, and have worked to enact bold planning initiatives that over a generation have remade the face of global urbanism in the name of interconnectedness, density, and place-making.

 In Europe, for example, France is currently enacting its “Le Grand Paris” plan, a vision that will stitch together the Paris city center with its inner and outer ring suburbs to bring together an urban region of 10 million inhabitants. The plan includes a €30 billion public transit expansion initiative that will create a network of regional transit routes connecting suburbs with one another as well as sizable new investments in social housing, parks, and other equity-minded initiatives.

 But it’s not just Europe. 

 Cairo, Egypt, is building a new $45 billion capital city that, when completed, will become the largest purpose-built capital city by population in the world.

 In India, the country’s largest infrastructure project, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, aims to connect the nation’s political and economic capitals with a 900-mile long conurbation made up of 24 urban “nodes.” The plan aims to urbanize 14 percent of India’s population—180 million people—over the next 30 years and will take $100 billion in investment to realize.

 In South America, Argentina’s so-called Belgrano Plan will bring $16 billion in rail expansion to 10 of the country’s neglected northern provinces and will create up to 250,000 new housing units and 1,100 childhood education centers. 

 Saudi Arabia is building new mega cities from scratch, as are China, Singapore, Nigeria, Mauritius, and countless others. 

 None of these projects are perfect socially or environmentally-speaking, to be sure, but one thing they do not lack is vision.

 If it feels like the most impressive work is taking place in other countries, that’s because in many ways, it is, and international architects know perhaps better than anyone else the truth of that reality. Even more, the hesitation, hedging, and hand-wringing that accompanies talk of the current state of American infrastructure and urban vision indicate that the problem runs deeper than a mere lack of funding or risk-averse clients. 

Whether it’s California’s flailing HSR project, the nation’s intractable housing crises, or even, the sad, dispirited political discourse surrounding the Green New Deal—a potentially transformative plan that is barely supported by the party that conceived it—it is clear that America has a crisis of vision, a failure of political will, and perhaps most alarmingly, no real interest in solving its own problems. Look at the Salesforce Transit Center debacle in San Francisco, Elon Musk’s substandard and retrograde transit ideas in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the steady stream of failing bridges and tunnels across the country for further proof. Even Amazon’s HQ2 extravaganza, a year-long publicity stunt by the world’s richest company that wrung billions in incentives from some of the most desperate cities around the country, rightfully withered on the vine. What’s going on here?

 As Safdie quipped, “We were promised infrastructure!” But the truth is that it’s just not happening in America anymore.
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Higher and Higher

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill designs tallest building in China
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill (AS + GG) has revealed renderings for what will be the tallest building in China and the third tallest in the world when complete. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong International Center in Shenzhen is slated to rise to about 2,300 feet in a new development that AS + GG is also master planning. The Shimao Shenzhen Longgang Master Plan will be a mixed-use district with residential, hospitality, office, and retail space along with public landscapes and entertainment facilities. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong International Center symmetrical, vaguely biomorphic, glass-covered design is relatively similar to the firm's other work. AS + GG has designed many of the world's tallest buildings, including what will be the tallest building in the world when complete, the over 3,000-foot-tall Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia. Adrian Smith, cofounder of the firm, also worked on the world's current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, while he was still at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Assuming the Shenzhen-Hong Kong International Center is completed before another taller tower can be announced, when the tower is finished Smith will have worked on the three tallest buildings in the world. The building is tall enough to exceed the supertall tower range (which ranges from 984 feet to 1,969 feet), and to make it into the elite megatall crew, of which the Burj Khalifa was the first member in 2010. The current tallest tower in China, Shanghai Tower, designed by Gensler, is just over 2,000 feet tall.
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Ratti's BB

Carlo Ratti among lead curators of the 2019 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture
Shenzhen’s Urbanism\Architecture Bi-City Biennale (UABB) has selected its curators for its next iteration, which will open in the Chinese city in December of 2019. Italian architect Carlo Ratti, Meng Jianmin of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), and art critic Fabio Cavallucci will be the show's chief curators. A panoply of other names will hold curator titles, including Sun Yimin and Michele Bonino of the South China-Torino Lab, the Science and Human Imagination Center of Southern University of Science and Technology led by Wu Yan, the Politecnico di Milano led by Adalberto del Bo, along with Daniele Belleri, Edoardo Bruno, Chen Qiufan, Manuela Lietti, Wang Kuan, Xu Haohao, and Zhang Li. The show will focus on smart city and urban surveillance technology, a topic especially relevant in China, where government officials are quickly embracing new technologies for social control. Ratti's goal is "to foster a discussion on this new urban condition," as the architect said in a statement, "so that through examples, visions, and irony we can reflect on what kind of city we really want to build tomorrow." The topic is very close to Ratti's previous work with his firm and with MIT's SENSEable City Lab, of which he is the director. While the curators will invite several participants to exhibit their work, Ratti's office also invited proposals from the public, saying that those interested can submit ideas to uabb2019@carloratti.com.
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School for the City

Dutch activists launch new school for urbanism and migration
A new school in Rotterdam will teach students to think critically about the links between urbanism and migration. Announced last month, the Independent School for the City will offer post-graduate students the chance to "celebrate complexity and contradiction in cities, and defend it against the forces that are making everything the same," according to Michelle Provoost, co-founder of Crimson Architectural Historians which is spearheading the new educational outlet. The school is a joint-venture between Crimson Architectural Historians, Dutch-based activist-architects Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS), and DeDependance, a platform for city culture and debate in Rotterdam. Its pedagogy draws from Crimson’s and ZUS’s critical, activist approach to the city that seeks to effect real change by blurring the lines between critique and practice, as well as research and policy, and by initiating incremental change rather than large-scale city planning projects. The school builds on the belief that architectural, economic, spatial, and social strategies for the city should be based on real, first-hand empirical research into the city. Research methods will include filmmaking, journalism, history, art, graphic design, gaming, fieldwork, traveling, planning, finance, and architecture. The school will be located in Rotterdam but will be connected to an international network of cities, schools, offices, and companies. Initial course offerings include a series of masterclasses with professionals from various fields such as architect and exhibition designers Herman Kossman, urban sociologist Arnold Reijndorp, as well as designers Edith Gruson, and Gerard Hadders. Students will also learn from architect-filmmaker Jord Den Hollander and leaders from DeDependance. The first year’s topic of investigation will be migration, a subject that builds on the ongoing Crimson project City of Comings and Goings. After an initial three-month period of skill-development, the students will spend a semester abroad, expanding their research and testing their strategies in Shenzhen, Ghana, or Kiev. On their return, they will present their research in designs, strategies, or stories. The school will collaborate with CANactions in Ukraine, the Strelka Institute in Moscow, as well as ZUS and Syracuse University in New York. Special lecturers include Olly WainrightUrban Think Tank's Alfredo BrillembourgAssemble's Maria LisogorskayaPeter Barber, and Ghanaian architect/novelist Lesley Lokko.
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Flying High

Top design firms are vying for Chicago O’Hare expansion project
Twelve firms are in the running to design a massive expansion to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Last week, teams from Santiago Calatrava, SOM, Bjarke Ingels Group, and more submitted their qualifications ahead of the city’s Thursday deadline to secure a bid, according to The Chicago Tribune. The $8.7-billion addition, known at O’Hare 21, will replace Terminal 2 with a global terminal and concourse that will cater to domestic and international flights from United and American Airlines. Two additional satellite concourses will be built out during construction as well. The top two firms chosen after an extensive review process by the Department of Aviation will be awarded design contracts for the new global terminal and satellite concourses respectively. O’Hare 21 is the airport’s first major architectural undertaking in 25 years and will expand its total terminal area from 5.5 million to 8.9 million square feet. The chance to design a gateway project for an airport of this size is a huge win for any firm. Many of the studios that submitted proposals already have both large-scale and small-scale airport projects on their resume: Calatrava (Bilbao), Fentress Architects (Denver), Studio Fuksas (Shenzhen), and SOM (Mumbai, Singapore). O’Hare’s own Terminal 1 was designed in 1986 by Jahn, which has also entered the race. Other high-wattage firms are forming joint ventures with local architects to win the competition. Foster + Partners is working with JGMA and Epstein, while Rafael Viñoly Architects is teaming up with Goettsch Partners. Studio Gang has an even larger team under its belt that includes STL Architects and Solomon Cordwell Buenz. Global firms HOK and Gensler are also in the mix, running on their own. According to the Tribune, securing the architects to design the O’Hare expansion is a critical job Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to have done before leaving office in May. The city expects to finish the multi-phase project by 2026.
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(Not Actually a Mansion)

BIG’s Shenzhen International Energy Mansion looks better than the renderings
Long after the golden era of corporate modernist skyscrapers (think Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, SOM’s Lever House, and so on), many contemporary office skyscrapers are still designed with traditional glass curtain walls that have low insulation and cause overheating from unnecessary direct sunlight. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) conjured an otherworldly alternative for Shenzhen International Energy Mansion: a sawtooth, zigzagging curtain wall comprising glass panels and powder-coated aluminum that blocks direct sunlight, thereby reducing solar gain by up to 30 percent. The 1-million-square-foot structure is composed of two towers and a nine-story connecting block complete with a shared cafeteria, conference rooms, and various retail shops: The uppermost 13 floors of the 42-story north tower houses the Shenzhen Energy Mansion headquarters. As a starting point, BIG considered the subtropical climate in Shenzhen, gauging how they could create comfortable working spaces in hot and humid conditions while at the same time reducing energy consumption. The solution? A passive facade. “Our proposal for Shenzhen Energy Mansion enhances the sustainable performance of the building drastically by only focusing on its envelope, the facade,” said Andreas Klok Pedersen, partner and design director at BIG. Collaborating with Transsolar, the design studio dedicated to addressing climate change, the firm employed various solutions to reduce solar-derived heat and glare without relying on machines or heavy glass coating (which would make views out seem gray and bleak). The building has achieved two out of three stars with the Chinese Green Building Evaluation Label and a LEED Gold rating. BIG and Transsolar developed a multifaceted passive program with a facade folded in an origami-like shape consisting of closed and open subsections. The closed sections provide high insulation values by blocking direct sunlight. “With solid facade panels on the southeast and southwest side for shading, the glazed facade facing northwest and northeast is able to achieve high sustainability requirements with more clarity and less coating,” said Pedersen. All in all, the effect enhances the environmentally sustainable performance of the building and creates an office mise-en-scène bathed in soft light reflected from the direct sunlight diffused between interior panels. Meanwhile, the double glazing applied to the low-e tempered Super Energy-Saving Insulated Glass Units (IGU) by Shanghai Yaohua Pilkington Glass on the folded facade provides open views through the clear glass in one direction via a series of simple deformations in the geometry that allows for larger openings. These interjecting pockets of glass create cavernous folds that interrupt the smooth facade in various interior areas, including lobbies, recreational areas, and meeting areas. This seemingly precarious arrangement of views is made possible by the aluminum cladding's comprising full-height extruded panels that form a meandering profile. The setup enables the panel system to interlock smoothly, creating a uniform surface with almost seamless joints. A profile of twists and turns accentuates the reflections of light. In effect, these solid facade panels located on the southeast and southwest sides directly obstruct solar penetration. “The amount of insulation used in the curtain wall is a result of optimization between visibility and sustainability,” said Pedersen. Location: Shenzhen, China Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group Consulting Architect: SADI Shenzhen Architecture and Design Institute Contractor: CSCEC Engineer: ARUP Facade Consultants: Front, Inc. and Aurecon Facade Contractor: Fangda Group Sustainability Consultant: Transsolar Glass Manufacturer, Supplier, Glazing: Shanghai Yaohua Pilkington Glass Group Co., Ltd Windows: Aumüller Exterior Cladding Panels: Xingfa Aluminum
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Rem Speaks

Rem Koolhaas calls L.A. a “prototype” for the future of cities
In a recent interview with Nathan Gardels of The Washington Post, theorist-architect Rem Koolhaas spells out his updated vision for the future of global urbanism, describing a type of multi-nodal and highly-resilient conurbation that, at least according to Koolhaas, might look a lot like Los Angeles does today.  The wide-ranging interview covers a variety of topics, including the creeping threat of the "digital city" and whether the architect would be able to build his iconic CCTV tower in China today given tightened formal controls on new development—he says not in Beijing, but perhaps in Shenzhen—among other provocative issues.  But what stands out most is what Koolhaas sees as the future of global urbanization, as the “generic” postmodern city he detailed in works like S,M,L,XL undergoes existential change in the age of Donald Trump and global nationalism. According to Koolhaas, the various urban manifestations of generic international development have started to diverge into highly localized and diffuse variants. Koolhaas complains that despite the prolific growth of urban areas over the last thirty years, societies are currently doing a poor job preparing for an uncertain future. Koolhaas blames a reliance on the market economy and its attendant excesses as a prime driver for this type of impotence, saying, “For me, the issue is not about the inefficiency of democracies versus efficient autocracies but how and where a society wants to allocate its resources. It is really a matter of ideology, of whether the interests of the market or the society as a whole are the priority." Decrying the demise of “strong state capacity” to get massive works of infrastructure and urbanization built, Koolhaas takes aim at the inability of the contemporary city to deliver necessary and vital transformative projects and services just as the localizing forces of globalization take root. Koolhaas says, “It is ironic that just as people want to see a built environment that reflects who they are, what we are seeing in much of the world is that urban planning is scarcely possible because market economies are not generating the necessary funds for it. Any major project of public interest, including even precautions against hurricanes in coastal regions of America, can’t get done.” The Dutch architect is unclear about whether or how cities will persevere through this crisis, but nevertheless has recast the generic, profuse city that sprawls into and out of the countryside as an apt model for absorbing future instabilities. Koolhaas points directly to the Dutch courbation known as Randstad, where he resides, and to Los Angeles as sources for potential solutions:
WorldPost: You’ve traveled the world many times over and built all over. In your view, what cities are most prepared to face the future? Koolhaas: I have lived for 30 years in either New York and London, but now I’m living in Randstad [a metropolis consisting of the four largest Dutch cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht]. It is a bit bizarre for me. There are no dominant cities but together the whole area is connected in a kind of metropolitan field. All the facilities and amenities you’d find in a city are here but decentralized across the whole zone. It is kind of an extended city not dependent on coherence or adjustment of each of the parts to each other. Yet it is able to sustain itself as a connected entity — kind of like a collage. So I would say cities like this that are more open and not so complex to operate are best prepared for whatever the future throws at them. Los Angeles is the prototype of this kind of habitat for the future.
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Such Great Heights

A proposed 1,100-foot tower in L.A. could become the tallest in the west
The Los Angeles skyline continues its upward climb as developers Shenzhen New World Group and Dimarzio | Kato Architecture (DKA) forge ahead with plans for a new 77-story tower that could cement L.A.’s claim as the home of the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  A recently submitted project proposal aims to bring a 1,108-foot-tall mixed-use tower complex to 333 South Figueroa Street, the site of the existing L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown in Downtown Los Angeles. The site is just a few blocks north of the current tallest-in-the-west title holder, the AC Martin-designed Wilshire Grand Hotel. The proposal would convert the existing 13-story, 1980s-era hotel tower into 224 apartments while adding the new 77-floor tower at the northeastern corner of the site. As proposed, the segmented, glass-wrapped tower would contain 599 hotel rooms, 242 condominiums, and 28,705 square feet of commercial space, among other features. The hotel section will be complimented by 36,674 square feet of amenities that include a rooftop swimming pool and a two-level bar that would occupy the uppermost stories of the complex.  Renderings included in a submittal to the Los Angeles Department of City Planning depict a sheer tower that steps back slightly at the top to provide space for a swimming terrace. The tower touches down on the site where a three-story podium containing seven subterranean parking levels and 552 parking stalls is also planned.  If completed as currently designed, the glass and steel tower would become the fourth tower in the city that rises above 1,000 feet in height. It is the second 1,000-foot-plus tower announced in recent months, with the forthcoming Angels Landing development by Handel Architects slated to rise 1,020 feet in height just around the corner. The U.S. Bank tower—designed by Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners in 1989–rises 1,018 feet. While the Wilshire Grand’s spire rises to a heady 1,100 feet, the building’s roof only hits 993 feet, a fact that has caused some to doubt the tower’s claim to the tallest building title. The 333 Figueroa tower would quell that conversation, however, as the spire-less tower would top-out roughly eight feet above the top of the Wilshire Grand’s spire.  A timeline for 333 Figueroa has not been announced. 
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Valley XL

Large-scale arts district and eco-city to be built outside of Beijing
A plan to develop a major arts district and “eco-city” outside Beijing was announced by Guangdong Yuegang Investment Development on Thursday at the 16th Venice Biennale. Located in the Xinglong Valley, just 20 minutes from the city by high speed rail, Valley XL, as the project is being called, will feature a museum, an art park, arts education centers, and artists’ studios, as well as residential and commercial developments. The nearly 1,000 acre development is being overseen by Arquitectonica and the first building to open in 2019, the 8,500-square-foot Valley XL Art Center, a performance space, will be designed by Wang Zhenfei. Along with a center for modern and contemporary art, the Valley XL Museum, the Art Center will be a focal point of the development. The Art Newspaper reports that curator Li Zhenhua will be the advisor to Valley XL and the artist and filmmaker Ju Anqi will be the project video director. Valley XL is a partner of China’s 2018 pavilion, this year themed Building a Future Countryside, curated by Li Xiangxing. The pavilion is focused on the tensions—and innovations—present in the rapid modernization of the once or still rural areas of China. The pavilion presents projects that are being built or have taken place in the countryside over the last several years through installations organized by Dong Yugan, Zhang Lei, Liu Yuyang, Hua Li, Rural Urban Framework, and Philip F. Yuan. Construction on the $2.8 billion planned city, developed by Guangdong Yuegang Investment Development in partnership with Shenzhen XL Culture Development, is expected to begin the second half of this year.  
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New Old Town

In Shenzhen-Hong Kong biennale, the urban village is the main attraction
In mid-December, during the opening weekend of the 7th Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB), the three former factory buildings hosting the main exhibitions are bursting at the seams. Outside, in pockets of the Nantou Old Town, which the biennale has effectively colonized for its duration, architectural installations occupy empty lots and ground-floor shopfronts. Visitors inspect installations such as WEGO, by The Why Factory and MVRDV, a 9-meter-high architectural folly transplanted from an Eindhoven square where it debuted during last year’s Dutch Design Week, or Pingheng, Understanding Chinese Reality, a mural by Spanish collective Boa Mistura that adorns the wall of one of the main exhibition venues. The 7th UABB is curated by Meng Yan and Lu Xiaodu, both partners at architecture and urbanism office URBANUS, with offices in Shenzhen and Beijing, and by curator and critic Hou Hanru, based in San Francisco, Rome and Paris, who self-identifies as the “outsider” on the team. The biennale is divided into three main exhibitions: Global South, an exploration of countries in the global south and their “informal” urban strategies; Art Making City, a trove of contemporary art exhibits prominently featuring urban environments; and Urban Village, which puts the urban typology of the same name center stage. But, as Yan says to a packed auditorium, “The real exhibition is the vibrant city life.” Much in sync with the biennale’s theme, “Cities Grow in Difference,” the auditorium where Yan is speaking is filled with an audience that ranges from architectural experts to local inhabitants of Nantou Old Town, the majority of whom are Chinese migrant workers. For the curatorial team, the urban village is a model for the future. Against what Yan calls the “globalized, standardized, capitalized city” that has expanded to the global scale, the urban village is a hybrid, a wetland, a “breeding ground for a new city.” The biennale seeks to learn from it, and to emulate it in its search for possibilities. The location of the biennale is a case in point. One of the oldest parts of Shenzhen, Nantou is an urban village, a specific Chinese typology of low-rise housing in the center or outskirts of the city, serving mostly migrant workers and temporary dwellers. Nantou is lively, crowded, and seems to be a place where everything is possible. This central focus on the urban village generates an exhibition that, according to Yan, seeks to have a “rhythm like an old Chinese novel or opera.” In practice, this rhythm materializes in a disorienting sequence of exhibition spaces, where art installations merge with urban studies and architectural drawings and models. Sometimes, components of the urban village find their way inside the exhibition, in the display of windows or wall segments; in others, performance takes over, mimicking the rhythms of urban public space, with an extensive array of video projections and performances by dance and music groups, who during the opening days performed everything from classical ballet to contemporary dance. This overwhelming ensemble proves challenging to digest, and the visitor is left with no clear takeaway. To a certain extent, this is caused by the abundance of artworks present, which are a refreshing if disorienting addition to a biennial of architecture and urbanism. Some of the artworks are fascinating, such as Cao Fei’s video work Rumba II: Nomad, where several vacuuming robots are released in an urban fringe of Beijing in an absurd invasion and impossible task; others feel out of place, such as Lin Rui’s An Anniversary Present: For the Love of Sailor Moon & Eiffel Tower, which cryptically combines a model of the Eiffel Tower with a skeleton dressed in a Sailor Moon costume and pictures of the artist’s friends. On the other side of the spectrum are installations by young design studios that actively engage with the dynamics of Shenzhen, like the ethereal Notch, by Berlin-based alt ctrl and SOLUTION, built on site exclusively with components sourced from Huaqiangbei electronics market, or the whimsical Urban Village Furniture Exchange Program, by Huang Heshan and Jiang Fan, where Chinese copy tropes meet several vernacular examples of stools and chairs found everywhere in Nantou, and used by street sellers and inhabitants alike. All are named after famous architects and architecture studios. Architectural luminaries are also present, such as Atelier Bow-Wow, with the The Fire Foodies Club installation, and Yona Friedman, who presents two instances of his Street Museum in Nantou and Shekou. Additionally, the UABB features a strong presence by architecture schools, whose installations occupy a whole floor of the main venue, even if they do dissect the urban village typology to exhaustion. Overall, despite its convoluted nature, the biennale is surprising and fascinating, much of it is due to its location and the overwhelming participation of the local inhabitants. Walking through the crowds of local residents and international participants, one is unsure where the exhibition ends and life begins. And yet, the unique ambiance of Nantou itself might be as temporary as the biennial. In a rapidly changing context like Shenzhen, which grew from a fishing village to a megacity in under half a century, the UABB is at the center of large-scale transformation. This is true for Nantou Old Town itself, where the biennale is the first step in a regeneration plan for the whole area–a process in which URBANUS is a consultant and will undoubtedly play a part. Here’s to hoping that the urban village inspires the planned regeneration, so that Nantou can be preserved and continue to be an inspiration and testing ground for the future of the city.
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Emerging Voices 2018

AGENCY uses deep research to push architectural boundaries
The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN originally profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. AGENCY founders Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller will deliver their lecture on March 8, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller started AGENCY to consider the margins of the world. “We use our architectural training to uncover the shrinking of individual agency in public space and the reduction of human rights or potential human rights violations,” Kripa said. Working out of El Paso, Texas, the pair deploys words, maps, wearables, and installations to uncover contradictions in liminal spaces like military training sites, refugee camps, and borders—especially the one between the United States and Mexico. The architects completed their first project as AGENCY in 2008. A decade later, the firm continues to be defined by deep research into contested urban spaces and humans’ relationships to environments, built and digital, that are increasingly designed to collect personal data and monitor people’s actions without their consent. Kripa and Mueller, both instructors at Texas Tech University College of Architecture – El Paso, wound up in the city after a research visit for their forthcoming book, Fronts: Security and the Developing World. They were studying military training environments, like Playas, New Mexico—a village of hundreds of empty homes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses for counter-terrorism training. Increasingly, these simulated spaces feature shantytowns and junkyards, informal typologies associated with the developing world. AGENCY, Mueller said, believes these are both a “preamble to where the U.S. military can engage in the future” as well as a reflection of state attitudes toward public space in the contemporary city. Along similar lines of inquiry, the duo writes "Border Dispatches," a series for AN that explores these and other expressions of militarism along the U.S.-Mexico border. These are worthy topics, but are they architecture? AGENCY believes its designs could not manifest without the deep research it conducts. “In our built work, we start with intensive research and problem identification, where we proactively uncover hidden or emerging realities that are just beneath the surface of contemporary urban space,” Mueller said. “We try to imagine a scenario that can be inflected by designed objects or spaces that have a discreet presence.” The approach is apparent in Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data,¹ a subversion of the made-for-Instagram interiors that trend online. For El Paso’s annual art fair, Kripa and Mueller fashioned the ideal selfie sphere from 162 units of CNC-milled composite aluminum panels that diffuse soft LED light. The pair asked visitors to hashtag their photos from the installation so they could be collected and tracked. “People were very on board with hashtagging selfies so we could collect them,” Kripa said. “That was surprising.” AGENCY may remake Selfie Wall in Juarez, the Mexican city right across from El Paso, with an eye toward connecting people on both sides of the border. Design, they believe, can—and should—be deployed to control data, as well. For Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping,² a project executed during the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, the pair walked the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen with Arduino sensors to monitor air quality. The region’s air is cleaner than it was in the past, but it’s sometimes hard to tell what pollutants still linger, as the Chinese government often releases inaccurate data. To empower people with knowledge about the air they breathe, Kripa and Mueller are looking to mass-produce the sensors and distribute them to residents, who can then track air quality throughout their day. This should be a busy year for AGENCY. At home, Kripa and Mueller are working with a local entrepreneur to adaptively reuse a warehouse site, transforming it into a kitchen incubator and outdoor public market. Fronts is coming out this fall, and after that, the duo is scaling up the Delta Fabrics project. “We want to dive deeper into understanding how to democratize data so [people can] measure their own environment on their own, to take back agency a little bit,” Kripa said.

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¹ Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data was commissioned by the El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department

² Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping was a one-month residency in Shenzhen for New Cities Future Ruins with Future+ Aformal Academy and Handshake 302. The project was supported by Design Trust Hong Kong and Texas Tech College of Architecture as part of the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

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V&A Abroad

Fumihiko Maki–designed culture hub opens in Shenzhen
Design Society, a new cultural hub in the bustling megacity of Shenzhen, China, will open on December 2 with the launch of the Sea World Culture and Arts Center (SWCAC), designed by Japanese architect and Pritzker Prize winner Fumihiko Maki. The hub is a collaboration between London's Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and China Merchants Shekhou, an urban developer that is part of the China Merchants Group, and represents the first partnership between a Chinese corporation and an international museum. Joining Coop Himmelblau's Shenzhen Contemporary Museum of Art and the cultural institutions and galleries in the OCT Loft, a creative arts district in a former industrial area of the city, the SWCAC represents another sign of the city's burgeoning design identity and a bid to bolster China's place in the global arts scene. For the The project is Maki's first project in China, and was commissioned by China Merchants Shekou in 2011. The arts complex, located on the Shekhou harbor, is distinguished by three white stone-and-glass volumes that cantilever out from a central podium building, with a glass opening at the end of each jutting mass that faces in three distinct directions, towards the water, the city, and the nearby park. The building also doubles as a landscape, with a rooftop park accessible to the public via two grand staircases at either end of the site, allowing visitors to take in views of the water and surrounding cityscape. Within the building, a central passageway connects the three main plazas and provides access to all the levels of the building. In total, the SWCAC offers 760,000 square feet of exhibition space over six floors, covering a footprint of 280,000 square feet. Maki envisioned the SWCAC as a "mini city," and so, along with six galleries, which includes a gallery dedicated to the V&A's own collection, the center also includes a theater, multi-purpose hall, restaurants and retail shops. For those curious about Maki or his design, one of the three opening exhibitions at SWCAC will present a retrospective of the architect's 60-year career and a close look at the design process behind creating the building itself, titled Nurturing Dreams in Recent Work: Fumihiko Maki + Maki and Associates.  The December 2 kickoff for Design Society and the SWCAC will include an extensive public program of events and exhibitions. The other opening exhibitions include Values of Design at the V&A Gallery, which will examine the relationship between values and design through over 250 objects from the V&A permanent collection, and Minding the Digital, a speculative digital design exhibit held at the Main Gallery, curated by Design Society and designed by MVRDV.