ICON 177: The global politics of Chinese eco-cities, Ou Ning, Shanghai deco, propaganda posters and the V&A in Shenzhen 31.01.18

Following an irritable European tour last year in which President Trump questioned the United States’ role in Nato and, perhaps more significantly, pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, political commentators suggested that the US was ceding its position as global leader to China. In a barometer of the priorities of our times, it was Trump’s well-documented scepticism regarding the validity of climate change science that provoked the most ire, rather than his intransigence on world security. 

With the global roles reversed, we now live in a world where Chinese premier Xi Jinping feels sufficiently emboldened by the apparent vacuum that he can lecture the US on environmental issues. As we discuss in this issue, a key component of China’s soft power armature is the eco-city – the country claims to be developing nearly 300 such settlements. From this vantage point, it is hard to determine whether the eco-city bears serious scrutiny. Rapid industrialisation has, after all, contaminated large swaths of farmland. But the government clearly acknowledges that if society is to progress, then the smog-filled mega-cities associated with China’s rapacious development are not a realistic or desirable status quo. A curious by-product of modernisation is the sight of a newly emergent middle-class drifting back to the countryside in search of cleaner air, even as rural poverty continues to drive urban migration. 

Indeed, the juncture at which China has arrived is prompting extensive self-scrutiny. Shenzhen, which once sported the dubious, almost legendary reputation as a hotbed of copyright violation, is reinventing itself as a centre for design and innovation. Central to this repositioning is the new Design Society, launched in partnership with the V&A. In an echo of the venerable British institution’s original remit, namely the education of the lower orders in what constitutes good taste, the V&A is lending some 250 objects from its permanent collection to a Chinese audience apparently hungry for a greater understanding of Western consumer goods. Such is the speed that China moves, how long will be it before the student usurps the master? 

INSIDE THIS ISSUE

FRONT

Scene Trumps US Embassy no-show, and IKEA's new watersports-inspired product

Show round-up The latest from Design Shanghai, Design Joburg and UKCW

Diary Our pick of exhibitions in March

Crimes Against Design Enough with the shipping containers

Opinion Campaigns have little to do with architecture, writes Tim Abrahams

CHINA

 DESIGN

Shenzhen Design Society Will China's V&A-backed museum mark a shift from copier to creator

Shanghai deco Charting China's brief foray into Jazz-Age style 

Emerging studios Benwu, Chen Min Design Office and Atlas Studio 

Icon of the month: Chinese propaganda posters

Q&A: Ou Ning on ruralism, book shops and why the chinese middle class are fleeing the city 

ARCHITECTURE

Megacities for the people Louvre Abu Dhabi Wang Yun's social housing shows care and compassion 

Photostory Scott Newitt reveals the 'pervading emptiness' of chinese cities 

Eco warriors UChina enters the world stage pioneers of sustainable cities

Q&A: Ma Yansong on a new dawn for chinese architecture 

Review: Every House on Langland Road The philosopy behind the Grunt Group's low-rise, high-density housing estates 

Review: AA Woman in Architecture A new book celebrates the women written out of architectural history 

Rethink: The toy book Paper meets electronics in this interactive invention 

What Building? Test your architectural smarts with a new quiz from Tom Ravenscroft  

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