How China is Building Africa

I very distinctly remember my visit to China in Summer 2006: the vast cities wreathed in smog, the highways and ring roads snaking through them, the clusters and stand-alone generic skyscrapers. Shanghai was almost like New York City, Beijing a wholly unfamiliar, spread-out, kind of city. I recently had the chance to revisit those memories when reviewing a recent exhibition: Facing East: Chinese Urbanism in Africa, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City.

The exhibit explores how Chinese corporations are financing, planning, and building African cities and economies. While my review touches on urban design, economics, politics, and culture, it’s important to remember how these new African cities will be viscerally experienced by their inhabitants – through car rides, through dirty air, through homelessness, through business trips, through tourism. These places aren’t just intersections of abstract or global forces – they’re very real and there’s nothing quite like being there.

Link to the Article on Core77

PS. See this recent New York Times article for more on this subject.

Top Image: Facing East: Chinese Urbanism in Africa, 2015. Curated by Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggevan. Storefront for Art and Architecture. Photo by Qi Lin.


When the Park Comes to You: San Francisco’s Unique ‘Parklet’ Program

From crowdfunding to super-rich donors and other more scandalous methods, the means to fund new public spaces are proving to be diverse. But why the sudden rush for public space? Put simply, its rewards of public space appeal to a broad range of constituents: better quality of life for residents, increased real estate value, amplified tourism, and even the glory of architectural iconicity. Yet not all public space need be expensive or grand.

That’s just one of the reasons I like San Francisco’s ‘parklets’: these street-side hyper-miniature parks are temporary, keeping the city’s visual landscape diverse while giving young designers fresh opportunities for acclaim. They’re also surgical, with each location identified by the city as a prime parklet opportunity. Their specificity can also highlight the potential of design to intelligently meet local needs. Lastly, while some architects never study their project’s success (or failure) in the long term, the city monitors the impact of these installations over their lifetime. It’s a fascinating mix of characteristics; read to learn how they came about!

Link to the Article on Core77

Top Image: The Sunset Parklet designed by INTERSTICE Architects. Photo by Cesar Rubio via Contemporist.

Smart About Smart Cities

Like Sisyphus and his boulder, a small community of thinkers is trying to push their vision for the city-of-the-future to the top.

This community is composed of academics, designers, policymakers, and corporations. What unites them is the “Smart City,” a nebulous term for how cities will integrate digital software and hardware into their functioning. It can meany anything from free WiFi to sensors embedded in every street corner and skyscraper. With tens of trillions of dollars estimated for urban infrastructure in the coming decades, everyone is looking to shape the discussion on how that money should be spent. Will the Smart City be about commerce and desirability, ecology and the environment, freedom and individuality? With almost 3/4 of the world living in cities by 2050, the Smart City debate concerns the very essence of the future’s built environment.

However, so far the arguments have yet to grapple with the complexity of this still-amorphous subject. Cities are immeasurably intricate and represent how almost every facet of our civilization, from culture to economics, is organized in space. This struggle was made evident when I reviewed two very different books on Smart Cities. Read on to see two of the many perspectives contending to decide what we think of the Smart City.

Link to Article

Top Image: Cover of The City As Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City, by Martijn de Waal.

Designing for Protest

Political demonstrations, even at their most tumultuous, are enabled by some very thoughtful and deliberate designs.

It’s easy to image the act of design as introspective, custom-tailored to clients and circumstances. However, whenever protesters take to the streets they are forced to rapidly adapt to challenges with minimal material options at their disposal. The designs they produce, under the duress of political confrontation, still manage to be simple, effective, and easily replicable in any global urban area. Examples include turning a plastic bottle into a viable gas mask with some quick cuts and additions. Other designs formulated by demonstrators are unique to their setting: protesters in Hong Kong have used the skills of construction workers adept in strong, cheap, and plentiful bamboo to build blockades. Read on to see the ingenious design of street protest equipment, from both the protesters’ and police’s side.

Link To Article

Top Image: via Business Insider Australia.

When China’s Cities Sway the Fate of the Environment: An Interview with Simon Ma

Napoleon ominously remarked “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” China has been waking, and now urbanizing, enriching, and consumer.

The People’s Republic of China began to slowly embrace capitalism thirty years ago, first in special economic zones. Cities within these areas grew rapidly as they became regional hubs, entrepots, and manufacturing centers. Consequently, they sucked up workers from all of the countryside to work in factories, construction sits, and the service industry.

Now the entire country is a free capitalist zone, with wealth and populations concentrated in dozens of enormous cities. The rapid growth of cities that Western Europe experienced starting two hundred years ago is happening in China at breakneck speeds. However, this time something is different this time around: China’s hundreds of millions of newly-minted urban denizens are consuming at 21st-, not 19th-, century levels. Will they all buy cars and eschew public transportation, leaving a massive carbon footprint? Will they waste food? Build greener or greyer cities? In other words, how would China’s ideas about how it should live (and therefore build) affect the environment?

That was going through my head as I sat to interview Simon Ma, a rising Chinese artist with an architectural education as well as extensive experience working with Chinese real estate developers and Western luxury brands (Chivas Regal, Ducati, etc.). Who better to ask about China’s rise? It seemed few would have better insight into how new lifestyles and behaviors of consumption might affect us all, and sooner than we may think.

Link to Article

Top Image: Simon Ma, Courtesy of Simon Ma.