I am sympathetic to Shenzhen from its occupation. A port city like the one I grew up in. I feel like I know its tricks, talents and aura, even if I am wrong. I don't know Shenzhen that much face to face, I know something in her DNA, which makes me more relaxed about exploring it.
It would have been a shame but almost left Shenzhen without seeing its urban core. Just as I was climbing the stairs and say goodbye to Value Factory where I start to get used to hanging out, watching people and enjoying americanos made by local coffee baristas in training, I finally ran into someone I knew, Gregers Thomsen of Superpool from Istanbul who was there to ran a workshop for MoMA with Constantin Petcou of Rhizomatic and Translocal Cultures. They were going to explore the urban core and the arts district of Shenzen with two architecture students from Macau, the former Portuguese colony and Las Vegas of the East. I joined them and explored the city's metro and neighborhoods taking snapshots first and questioning later. Lucky me, going to an excursion with two urbanists and their students, everybody's first time in Shenzhen except one student who doesn't remember that much from his first visit years ago.
To walk through the working class neighborhoods of Shenzhen is like walking into post communist style state prescribed capitalism. Its gentrification process was illustrative enough to draw parallel lines with other large and changing cities of the world. A gift (to some) and toxic (to some others) of neo-liberal globalism, if you need a reference.
Streets were well kept, housing seem to be affordable and people were industrious with their micro economies the state allowed them to have. I have not seen the interior of a high rise apartment but people made plenty of public gathering spaces around them. There were no shortages of supermarkets and malls, restaurants for the residents and no one was homeless.
We took breaks occasionally and discussed what Constantine practices. He insisted that I keep a copy of his most recent publication “Cultural Practices within and Across” which I am browsing now.
“This book brings together a series of reflections and practices around issues of local and trans-local cultural production within different contexts in Europe, prompted through the agency of a collaborative and networked project : Rhyzom.
All these cultures developed within local contexts are intrinsically related to political, economic, social and material aspects and to specific temporalities, spatialities, individual and collective histories and experiences. Like the whole Rhyzom project, the book is an attempt to create transversal links and connections within and across different local framings and to seize instances of the dynamic and complicated nature of notions of 'local' and 'culture' through multiple forms of practice, which address the critical condition of culture in contemporary society. In relations with 'local', 'trans-local', 'place' and 'culture', issues of conflict and contest, ecologies, politics and care practices, common and commonality, institutions and agencies are adressed.
The book is written by architects, artists, activists, curators, cultural workers, educators, sociologists, geographers and residents living in different rural and urban areas in Europe and is addressed to anyone concerned with the relation between culture, subjectivity, space and politics today.”
Shenzhen is in a semi tropical climate zone. It is covered by lush trees and shaded walks providing a very humane and interactive city life. Its metro system is well developed and efficient. Buildings are fairly new and city has a dense high rise photo identification like many global cities. It has a growing merchant class supported by high volume of service jobs. My impressions of Shenzhen are superficial and surface but its parallel positioning tells me besides the language, all other cultural values are merging as rapidly as the microchips of all sorts and containers of all sizes make it possible.
The city's most recent prize is its Bao'an airport by European architects, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. I have not paid too much attention on arrival but on the way back I was able to appreciate its use of parametric technology in its design and simplicity as an airport where proud Chinese stop by and take pictures of a space, reflecting their ambitions to lead the world into 21 st century in their quite and unassumed ways.
If I can summarize the Chinese, my snapshot tells me they are capable and there is nothing they can't do.
Archinect Senior Editor Orhan Ayyuce is blogging his thoughts, impressions and provocations.