As I am arriving in Pamplona for this saison’s last conference – the International Campus Ultzama, in which the effects of mobility on future architectural practice are to be debated in a beautiful and secluded equestrian center by Francisco Mangado… – I must also gather my thoughts on my voyage d’Orient.
Strangely, when I was in the plane to Hong Kong, I had the sudden feeling I was traveling into the future. And while Europe is indeed economically stagnant (and maybe a little more than economically), one has to be in China to really feel what it means to have a growth of a staggering 11.6% (down from last year’s 13%).
Hong-Kong, for a start, is that place of many splendored things that showed the way ahead to the rest of China in terms of urban escalation, courtesy of the late British colonialism. The truly packed city.
Never I thought I could enjoy the luxuriant scenery of a tropical London, and yet here it was, in between Norman Foster’s still referential first masterpiece, the aerial pedestrian passages, the mix of corporate and jungle space, and the vertical growth of the city into the forest hills.
An important luxury here, as in Macau, Shanghai and Beijing, was to have good friends in the city – Map Office, in this instance – that could translate the city’s sights into meaningful stories of its permanent, incredible transformation.
In Shanghai, we were welcomed by Bert de Muynck and Mónica Carriço, from that other expat, dynamic architectural research unit called Moving Cities, who fed us on other stories of China’s recent urban development, right from the terrace of the historical Mansion Hotel.
If you are planning to go to Shanghai on behalf of the Expo 2010, please do. But forget about the Expo itself and enjoy the city’s massive impact. The Expo isn’t worth much more than the intelligence that went into the concept of the British pavilion or, quite a few points below, the loop feat of the Danish pavilion.
But Shanghai, apart from the sheer mass of people that circulates in it, is a breathtaking city, and culturally is starting to add new highlights to its Bund district with the recently opened RAM contemporary museum.
This, alas, was the moment in which I thought that images (if not the unutterable smells and flavors) are sometimes more powerful than any eloquent description.
As for Beijing – where Cláudia Taborda was our inexhaustible host – a few days were simply not enough to grasp the extension of the city. Its imperial expanse is so marked that you have to take almost a day just to explore a city block.
Ultimately, one is mildly satisfied just to understand OMA’s CCTV in context, to squeeze in the multitudes admiring the Forbidden City, or to spend an afternoon in the 798 art district – where also the new UCCA museum boasted the direction of Palais de Tokyo’s former head Jérôme Sans and Erwin Wurm’s latest show.
China may be lagging behind in a few areas – like in establishing democratic freedom or rediscovering its own creativity – but believe me, whether we like it or not, the future that is not simply an imaginary museum is indeed more prone to be on this side of the world. Expand your networks there.