A Chinese Summer

This past summer I went on a study abroad program to China. It was an interesting experience to say the least; it was a different atmosphere than what I had anticipated. At an urban setting there is a lot of resemblance to Mexico City. The street vendors, the public vs. private space re appropriation battle, the ingenious adaptations to create new markets, all of these things that seem to root from the economic issues that prevail in both of these countries start to shape the urban fabric accordingly. One of the most obvious differences is in regards to public space, in Mexico the space is taken over or occupied at convenience and it transforms through time, in China there is a clear invisible boundary stating that a lot of these spaces are off limits and it is well respected among the Chinese population.  What is most interesting about the Chinese city is that there seems to be no density gradient, one minute one could be surrounded by high rise buildings and just a 10 minute drive could be the difference between Starbucks and rural farming.

Some people argue that China is where most of us as architects are going to be working sooner or later, the rapid growth of their cities is undeniable and the fearless approach of the government when it comes to building is astonishing. This notion of super-fast design and production is what China has become to be known for, but among the young architecture students there was a different feeling. As opposed to the fast paced designers that seem to be prevailing in the major cities there is a more conscious approach in the universities. The Chinese students have a grounded sensibility and respect when designing. This became almost a juxtaposition with the American students; the Americans were eager to produce the most work possible and the Chinese students were more interested in setting up a discourse among all of us to try understand history of site in order to respect it, living conditions and more importantly to truly know and understand the people living in the area.

Photograph by  Miguel A. Reyes

Photograph by Miguel A. Reyes