The death of optimism

Ruins of an Alternate Future, a piece by Evan Chakroff on the role and fate of Jinhua Architecture Park (via Archinect Blogs). Curated by artist Ai Wei Wei and constructed from 2002 to 2006, the Park emerged bold and blazing onto the then nascent online image portals, a glittering abstract celebration of form making and modernism for modernity’s sake (Google Map). Involving 16 international architects, including Michael Maltzan, Tatiana Bilbao, Toshiko Mori, Fernando Romero, HHF and Herzog & de Meuron, and photographed by Iwan Baan for publication in Domus, Jinhua set in place a form of dialogue between the emerging landscape of Chinese architecture and the West.

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Most notably, H&deM and Ai Wei Wei went on to set up ORDOS 100 on the plains of Mongolia, an architectural zoo for invited practices to explore their most radical domestic designs, all of which would then be unleashed on the kudos-hungry buyers of the new Chinese entrepreneurial classes. The development – as yet unrealised, with its domain name given over to squatters – is the subject of a new film by the artist, simply titled ‘Ordos 100‘, which can be seen in full on YouTube (and at the 2012 Rotterdam International Film Festival).

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The film doesn’t feature much in the way of actual architecture. Instead, it’s a travelogue, a chronicle of a series of meetings and journeys as the invited teams make their way across an unfamiliar landscape. Client, land owner and architect are set against each other from the outset with confusion about payment of design fees, and the rather obstructive behaviour of the land owner, Cai Jiang, ’40-year-old entrepreneur Cai Jiang, who made his fortune in the uniquely Inner Mongolian combination of coal and milk’ (from this page).

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From about 40 minutes in, when the architects descend on a scale model of the site and start slotting in their own models, juxtaposing disparate ideas that the organisers quietly note might be tricky to build with the available materials and skills, you get the sense that this is a project doomed to fail. Initial expectations swiftly give way to a sense of resignation. ‘It’s a zoo. The setup was to create a zoo, and what we get is a zoo’, says one architect, a term and sentiment echoed by many others. The film portrays a little pre-crash bubble (source), almost perfect in its rendering of the peak of formal optimism in contemporary architecture.

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Other things. Chakroff has a fabulous collection of architectural photography on flickr, including lots of sets on China (from where teh above image Fernando Romero’s Bridge Tea House at Jinhua / Command and Conquer in HTML5 / Dan Forys builds things like the Mesmerizer, the Animator and a ticking clock. Hakim also experiments including the DOM tree and this 404 page for .net magazine (which is running an unofficial piece titled ‘Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good web design) / Moonlander 3D, a browser game / Touch Effects / dirty screen? Don’t play Where’s the pixel?

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