Last month I visited China. It had been five years since my first trip and together with forty architects and several manufacturers we visited the cities of the southern Pearl River Delta. Next to Shanghai and Bejing, the itinerary included Hongkong, Shenzhen, and Guanzhou.
In the past 35 years, the small fishing villages of the Pearl River Delta region have transformed into large metropolises with millions of inhabitants. A process that has been wonderfully described by Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen in their book How the city moved to Mr. Sun.
Since 1979, Shenzhen has grown into a city with a population of 14 million people, and the developments are still moving forward. Next to the unsightly concrete colossuses being characteristic of the first generation of buildings, you can now find one spectacular building after the other right in the city centre. Luckily, the densely built urban villages, which also arose during the first wave of growth, still exist. Typical of these organically grown neighbourhoods are houses of up to seven floors, interspersed with small busy streets buzzing with economic activity.
After a building-phase of uniform low-value residential towers, the more recent years are marked by the rise of gated communities. Here, audacious towers with lots of glass, spacious balconies, and spectacular shapes erect in between lush greenery that has unfortunately replaced the buzzing activity of the small streets. New neighbourhoods with city parks, boulevards, and recreational areas (with rental bikes ready to go) are shaped at high-speed.
The upward trend in quality, visible in both design as well as execution, is undeniable. Chinese architects do not participate in the major league yet, both the new airport and Stock Exchange building have been designed by the Italian Fuksas and Dutch OMA, but this is only a matter of time. We face a near future in which our building- and design-quality is no longer necessarily of a higher level. Maybe we can even expect Chinese architects and contractors here soon. Oh, as if they have time for that...
December 2015, Cobouw.nl