Cal Poly Pomona>>Kyushu University>>Harvard GSD

  • anchor

    China. [nuff said]

    By John Tubles
    Sep 30, '12 10:54 AM EST

    [Preface: the previous blog post was sh*t.. and I realized it while on a 14:45 hour plane ride from Newark to Shanghai. Half of the time my I had a knot in my stomach.. probably from the guilt and embarrassment from posting irrelevant sh*t or it also could be the random airplane food we got courtesy of United Airlines... “Here you go... [Hotdog Croissant and Vanilla Ice Cream]”. So again sorry for the previous post and I hope you enjoy reading this one.]

    Back to China...Our option studio class called Common Frameworks: Rethinking the Developmental Cities with Chris Lee and Simon Whittle, went to 2 cities in China: Shanghai for some meetings/Symposium with AECOM and Xiamen for a site visit and countless meetings with the cities planning department.

    I guess the best way to share the experience is a day by day highlights of what has happen... I mind you some of the days were a complete blur because of the mixture of jet lag, Tsing Tsao and the quest for dumplings, so I might get the days/info mixed up so please correct me if you can..

    Day01- 09.19.2012 BOS>> EWR>>PVG
    >I got a window seat next to an old Chinese couple. They were really nice and tried to converse with me but I just keep on confusing them with stuuuuupid Mandarin. “Wo shuu John... Wo shuu pijou..  buoloua”  <Translation I am John, I am beer, pineapple!>

    >NYC! from my window

    >Greenland!  at least according to the flight track map [Look at the White cloud like things... apparently those are snow covered peaks of green land]

    Day02- 09.20.2012 Shanghai
    >This day was a was fairly short because of the tiring trip. After checking in, we had dinner and went to the bund for a bit of a walk and returned back to the hotel.

    >Looking at “New” Shanghai Skyline that still continues to change.

    Day03- 09.21.2012 Shanghai
    >Busy/Jam-packed day, Early morning at the Shanghai Planning Department Museum, then a brief meeting/seminar over lunch at AECOM Shanghai and lastly a Harvard GSD-AECOM China Studio Symposium.

    >This is a gigantic model of Shanghai that filled pretty much the entire floor. It shows pretty much all the built buildings and the ones that are going to be built by 2020. By then the city of Shanghai will probably be almost twice as dense with I believe 20 different subway lines that connects the peripheries to the city center.

    >Renovated buildings in “Old” Shanghai called Puxi.

    >Symposium which got a little heated and controversial in the end. Including a really surprising analogies involving Michael Jackson. But all in all some great insight on working in China.

    >Last Night in Shanghai at Bar Rouge.. it was cool I guess because we went in a group but on that day this place was seem to be filled with either Westerners in their 40's-60's trying to live out their crazy partying days in the 40's.. but then again don't hate.. [Exhibit A: look at left middle part of the picture..]

    Day04- 09.22.2012 Xiamen
    >NOT hung-over nor tired we left a rainy Shanghai and caught an early flight to tropical city Xiamen. This developmental city is pretty important to China because it is strategically located in the South East Coast close to Taiwan and the rest of South East Asia. Being a frontier city, In the 1970's it was designated as a Special Economic Zone and a new Central Business District is currently being parcel-ed and developed. The city right now is relatively small, 3.6 Million people, in comparison to China's Major Cities.

    >Yup...This is another Gigantic Model of the entire Xiamen Island including other developments in nearby coasts that make up the entire Xiamen City Proper.  at Xiamen Planning Department. [look at the people in contrast to the size of the model]

    >Local Xiamenese enjoying the weekend at their "central park" Yundang Island.

    Day05- 09.23.2012 Xiamen>This day was reserved for a tour of Xiamen City and it peripheries with are really enthusiastic tour guide Scarlett aka Scully.

    >A scale model of the Xiamen's Prospective CBD for 2020

    >Typical Mega plot developments in Xiamen.

    >International Garden and Flower Expo Park. According to the literature we got from the place, this is the “World's Largest Park On The Sea”.  This was built for the 2007 exposition... maybe because of the combination of the gloomy weather and lack of patrons, but this park had a eerie abandoned feeling almost like in Hayao Miyazaki's The Spirited Away.

    [*This also was the day we I had my first quasi-desk-crit with Chris and Simon in our hotel's Starbucks which went terrible... Ideas were still barely formulating at that time thus the lack of direction that made them really concerned but in a way a good wake up call..]

    >Zhongshan Lu, Xiamen's Shopping District.


    Day06- 09.24.2012 Xiamen
    >Back in Xiamen Planning Department for a morning and an afternoon meetings with the planning department and a couple of AECOM representatives. Both meetings were extremely long and formal leaving about 15 mins for Q&A...

    >Where we got some sales-pitchy presentation about the city of Xiamen and my China-roomie Roy Lin  became our main translator. By the end of the day Chris managed to negotiate a couple of possible project sites that we are going to visit.


    >This very long and tedious day ended in a Korean restaurant with a steady flow of what I call the “The Korean Trifecta” Beer, Soju and Pork.

    Day 07- 09.25.2012 Xiamen
    >Again NOT hung-over and tired, we visited our project sites in the morning.

    >CBD Site... existing context w/ new development rising in the background

    >Yundang Lake Site 

    >In the afternoon we had another formal meeting/symposium complete with local media coverage And AECOM's head honchos including the most amazing Nancy Lin. She is GSD Alum and Regional Director of AECOM did most of the translation which made the entire meeting really informative... (I doubt you have time to read blogs, but just incase this gets to you thank you very much again Nancy for all the help!)

    >Then the night ended in a nice dinner with the entire crew.. AECOM, Xiamen Planning Department and GSD peeps. We also played a traditional Xiamen game involving a bowl, 6 dice and rule sheet that seemed incomprehensible.

    >oh and ate some happy prawns!

    Day08- 09.26.2012 Xiamen
    >Back in our Xiamen home base, The Planning Department office, we had a morning workshop trying to solidify our ideas to somewhat of a scheme.

    >In the afternoon we presented our studio's 2 weeks worth of work called the Brief History of Type aka BhoT to local planning and architecture students and their professor and again, the head honchos of AECOM.

    [*This was the day I had an epiphany, both for a possible project scheme and GSD and Grad school in general.. I will probably discuss this on a separate blog post... but yeah! Finally an uhhh---hah moment.]

    >This was also our last day in China with our our professor Chris Lee so naturally we all went to a seafood dinner at Xiamen's most happening spot Shuyou Happy Paradise Restaurant and Hongguan Zizhushi Karaoke til 3AM.

    Day09- 09.27.2012 Xiamen
    >Last Day in Xiamen so we had a chance to visit a couple of housing developments in Xiamen:

    >From High-End-Orange-County-fake-Tuscan/Everything-Italian by the Neoclassical Master Robert Stirling.

    >To the “new middle class” development which are basically either subdivisions and gated communities less luxurious high rise housing buildings.

    >To shop houses and small apartments in the old part of the city.

    >We also went to Gulangyu, an island south west of Xiamen. Now this is a famous tourist site because of its beaches and colonial architecture which was the result of 13 different countries i.e. Great Britain, France and Japan establishing consulates in this small island.

    Day10+11 09.28.2012-09.29-2012 XMN>>PEK>>IAD>>PVD>>Amtrak to Boston South Station
    >This day was an ordeal complete with a delays... over priced airport food and drinks...fully booked flights.. airport hotel.. and a warm and slightly smelly seat mate in the Amtrak.

    But at least we were send off by the sweetest, most adorable and enthusiastic tour guide from Xiamen... Scully! She ended the trip with us singing in the bus... One little, Two little, Three little Indians...

    So yeah China was surreal. It was not my first time but it might as well have been. After listening to all these people that are so knowledgeable in the ins and outs of China.. all I can say is that China is a whole different animal to deal with. It is a very challenging place to practice because not only the cultural differences but also the form of government and its policies. Moreover it is hard to even comprehend the amount of development that is going on in China. I am baffled with the idea of developing a city purely for speculative capital. Where the City's identity is almost wiped down clean in order to create a new identity based on marketability towards new investors and defined by the new developments with slight hope that there are still some traces of the past and not just a romanticized after thought which will be then be marketed as “historical”.  Clearly I am not an expert on these issues but China is getting bigger and bigger... I just want to hope that it also gets better.

    Now back to studio work... pin-up and presentations due on Thursday.



    • Great post!

      Sep 30, 12 4:03 pm  · 

      How much power do planners have in the current developments in China?  When you look at how things are going, it still seems like Identity and history have little baring.  However anyone in Architecture and Planning in China seems to realize these obvious issues.      

      Sep 30, 12 8:49 pm  · 

      I am going to share with you some notes I got from one of the speeches that the head of Xiamen Planning Department gave us... [the notes were taken from the translated version of his speech]

      1] "When I first entered the planning department I was hopeful that I could make a difference, but quickly I realized that 70% of the Planning Policies have been determined before hand by the government."

      2] "The Invisible Hand which could be the developer and/or common consumer control the rest of the city planning."

      3] "The common consumer is based on the future consumer [speculation]."

      4] "The city, especially a developmental city is no more than a set of public goods"

      5] "Political Leaders/ Institutions are very powerful in China and they can control most of everything."

      6] "[After years of work]I believe that architecture alone cannot move/change/influence the city.

      ---[My Impression - You can choose to take it or leave it]--- I really like this man because he was really honest and a bit candid about his answers... I actually found him being too honest because maybe i had an idea that in a communist government is usually very secretive.. anyways he seemed too honest that it maybe premeditated to stir the conversation/studio study in a certain controversial direction..

      Oct 2, 12 6:12 pm  · 

      nice post!   We just can't possibly keep moving this fast without derailing sooner or later.  Do you get the feeling that things have slowed down? 

      Oct 3, 12 11:56 am  · 

      Thanks for the Notes.  

      Oct 3, 12 12:40 pm  · 
      John Tubles


      Well I cannot say that "i felt the slowing down" because I am not from there... and from 2 years before, i was just baffled with all the construction that is going on in every city i visited with the exception of Hong Kong.  The news says that China's development is slowing down.. but the term "slow" is all relative. China is still developing in a rapid pace. But the interesting thing is that our group met a planning lady from shanghai while we were in the symposium.. she acknowledge the fact that Shanghai's growth is slowing down and it is a good thing because now it gives them (the planning department) some time to breathe and re-think what is happening to their city... Which is something that i hope is true because there is a really funny thing that is  happening in Shanghai... Even though the development there is mostly concentrated in Pudong (location of the CBD and all the new towers) most of the people are still doing much of their living on the Puxi side (old Shanghai).


      No Problem! 

      Oct 5, 12 9:00 am  · 

      Block this user

      Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

    • Back to Entry List...
  • ×Search in:

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

  • John Tubles

Other blogs affiliated with California State Polytechnic University, Pomona:

Recent Entries