Khidekel composition

Earlier this year, Floating Worlds and Future Cities, an exhibition and symposium in New York, brought into focus the largely forgotten figure of Lazar Khidekel, and sought to place him properly as one of the pioneers of Suprematism. Khidekel could even be considered the first Suprematist architect, and was instrumental in helping Suprematism move beyond painting towards built form, urbanism and cosmic civilisation.

Khidekel was just 14 years old when admitted to the Vitebsk school of art, under Marc Chagall. In 1919, Kasmir Malevich founded a group called UNOVIS - Champions of the New Art - which also included El Lissitsky, Nina Kogan, Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnik as well as Khidekel.

In 1921, (at the age of 17!) together with Ilya Chashnik, Khidekel headed the architecture and technical department at Vitebsk School of Art, and set about implementing a radical curriculum.

"The training of architects who at the same time will be the organisers and designers of the architectural units of the blocks that will constitute the streets and cities; the training of architects who will also be able to design and plan the economic centers." The official website at offers a tantalising glimpse of Khidekel's talents. The Suprematist works are drawings or paintings on paper, and lack the polish of finished works by Malevich or Ilya Chashnik, but are formally just as stunning.

Khidekel architecton

Suprematist composition

But it is in the architectonic works that we see Khidekel's unique talent, in translating the essence of Suprematist composition to architectural forms. His Architectons matched Malevich's own sculptural explorations, but Khidekel also went further in designing projects meant to be built, such as the Aeroclub project of 1922. As well as practical architectural projects, Khidekel continued to dream of floating cities and futurist visions of space and form. Malevich had called for his students "to show the entire development of volumetric Suprematism in accordance with the sensation of the aerial (aero) type and dynamic", and Khidekel responded with his designs for Aerograd, a city on stilts, hovering above water.

Arguably, only Gustav Klutsis with his designs for a Dynamic City was operating in the same raridied atmossphere, of a cosmic reach for architecture breaking free from the Earth.

Khidekel City on Poles

Cosmic habitat 1924

Floating structure 1923

Later, at the architectural college in Petrograd, Khidekel continued to develop his architectural ideas to more practical applications, as well as working with Malevich, Suetin and Chashnik to create Architectons and Planits.

In 1926 Khidekel created the first realised Suprematist built form, a Workers Club. It was originally credited to Malevich and published in Berlin. A restrained piece of modernism, it is reminiscent of similar avant grade designs of the Bauhaus or De Stijl architects such as Rietveld or JJP Oud.

Workers club

Workers club

In later years Khidekel continued to work on architectural projects, while continuing to create visionary drawings of structures and cities hovering just above the landscape, or orbiting the earth in space.

Khidekel floating city

Khidekel floating city

As Charlotte Douglas noted (quoted in Regina Khidekel's essay "The Trajectory of Suprematism":

"Khidekel’s distinction was that this initial vision of Suprematist structures floating in space remained a central part of his art and architecture for the next forty years, and richly informed his later development as a professional architect." It is not surprising that architects and designers are beginning to rediscover Khidekel's and recognise his visionary works as prefiguring many later projects. In the article "Discovering Khidekel" by WAI Architectural Think Tank, Khidekel is dubbed "The Last Suprematist", still prone to dizzying spatial visions long after his peers and Suprematist mentor Malevich had retreated to a less utopian position.

Khidekel floating city, 1961

"With each brushstroke of watercolor the Bolshevik utopia of utilitarian icons was painted obsolete. With the elongated appearance of each monochromatic volume a new form of revolution was achieved. Khidekel architectural visions transcended the rhetorical games of the revolution by developing complete cities out of sublime architecture. Long before Friedman’s Architecture Mobile, Constant’s New Babylon, and Isozaki’s Clusters in the Air, Khidekel imagined a world of horizontal skyscrapers that through their Suprematist weightless dynamism seemed to float ad infinitum across the surface of earth."

Khidekel Architecton compared against Gazprom proposal,OMA

While the city hovering above the ground still remains a powerful trope in both science fiction and architectural fantasy, Khidekel's visions still manage to look futuristic, arguably more so than most of the Metabolists or Situationist projects that today feel retro-futurist, inextricably tied to the past.

Khidekel's work remains endlessly floating towards the future.

Olympics Brand Exclusion Zone

Advertising restriction zone around Olympic Park In graphic design, an 'exclusion zone' is an area around a logo which must be left clear. Corporate brand and logo usage guidelines demonstrate the proportion of vertical and horizontal space around a logo into which no other element can intrude.

In urban design, exclusion zones are becoming commonplace in relation to sponsorship of sporting events. The Brand Exclusion Zone is the newest form of urban demarcation, and can be used not only to affect signage and advertising, but also restrict personal freedom of choice. Within this context, the London 2012 Olympics represents one of the most radical restructuring of the rights of the city in London. The 'canvas' of London will belong exclusively to the Olympic marquee brands.

In essence, London has abdicated all rights and responsibilities to the International Olympic Committee, and implemented legislation which creates radical new spatial demarcations not only within the Olympic Park, but because of the distributed nature of the Olympic venues, across the whole of central London. London has surrendered the traditional rights to the city to the demands of the Olympic 'family' and their corporate paymasters. What the IOC want, London will give. London will be on brand lockdown.

The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called an Advertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world's biggest McDonald's will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.

Advertising restriction zone around Greenwich

Advertising restriction zone around Wimbledon

This brand apartheid is designed to prevent "ambush marketing", the gaining exposure of an brand through unofficial means. One of the best known examples of this was in the World Cup in 2010, where a bevy of 36 Dutch beauties in orange dresses provided by Bavaria beer gained considerable media attention, to the chagrin of the official World Cup beer, Budweiser. At London 2012, branding 'police' will be on hand to ensure that nothing like this happens, with potential criminal prosecutions against those responsible. Organising committee LOCOG will also take steps to ensure that no unofficial business tries to associate itself with the Olympics by using phrases like 'London 2012', even on such innocuous things such as a cafe menu offering an 'Olympic breakfast'. The Olympics authorities are looking to control both language and space.

Ambush marketing at World Cup 2010

And it's not just London. All the venues for the 2012 Olympics will be on brand lockdown. In Coventry, even the roadsigns will be changed so that there is no reference to the Ricoh Arena, which is hosting matches in the football tournament. Even logos on hand dryers in the toilets are being covered up. The Sports Direct Arena in Newcastle will have to revert back to St. James Park for the duration of the Olympics.

Traditionally, the most epic guerrilla marketing war has taken place between sportswear rivals Nike and Adidas. Whereas Adidas has long been an official sponsor of major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, Nike has cast itself as the hip, streetwise alternative, and taken considerable steps to trump Adidas in gaining exposure at major sporting events.

1996 was ambush marketing's breakout year, with Nike making a concerted effort to upset the official sporting sponsors of both the Euro 96 football tournament in England and the Olympic games in Atlanta:

"The 1996 edition of the European Championships, Uefa’s premier international quadrennial soccer tournament, provided an example of ambush marketing that changed the face of sports sponsorship. English sportswear company Umbro had paid for the rights to be the official sportswear supplier of the championships, only to find that Nike had purchased all the poster space and advertising sites in and around Wembley Park underground station, the main travel hub for England’s national stadium, Wembley. Nike’s move completely negated the power of Umbro’s official partnership. The same thing happened for the World Cup in 1998 when Nike hijacked Adidas’ official association in much the same way. As a consequence Uefa, European soccer’s governing body, has spearheaded the use and enforcement of marketing exclusion zones surrounding stadia, forcing the official sponsorship agencies of the competition in question to buy all the advertising space within a 1.3 mile radius of the stadia. The IOC too was quick to adopt this counter-ambushing strategy. The ability to implement such exclusion zones is now a key element in the process to decide future Olympic host cities."

In World Cup 2010 in South Africa, Nike circumvented the billboard advertising ban by projecting onto the side of a building in Johannesburg. As the authorities get wiser, Nike get smarter.

Nike Write the Future

Nike Write the Future

Whereas the Beijing Olympics represented an embracing of China into the coven of Westernism, the London Olympics will show us just how venal unfettered capitalism can be, how its default modus operandi is paranoia, and rather than a celebration of human endeavour and athleticism, it demonstrates more that the power of branding requires such strict parameters of control that nothing can be left to chance. Brand Exclusion Zones are just one manifestation of the privatisation of public space that London is fast-tracking. For a more thorough analysis of the much hyped legacy of London 2012, I urge you to read Anna Minton's Ground Control, recently updated to include a new chapter on the Olympics.

London Olympics Riot

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the marketeers are way ahead of the urbanists in understanding how the city works. The spatial politics of brand paranoia will be part of the true legacy of the London Olympics.



My favourite architectural image is on display at the moment. Seeing something 'in the flesh' that you've looked for so long in a book was one of those knee-wobble experiences, a pure hyperkulturemia moment.

It's this:

Boompjes housing OMA

It's on display as part of the OMA/Progress exhibition currently on at the Barbican. Overall I found the exhibition to be rather disappointing. I am a huge fan of the work of OMA/ Rem Koolhaas but this exhibition seemed to try too hard to downplay the heroic imagery and signature form-making and instead be wilfully as scrappy as possible. In an attempt to counteract the 'starchitect' syndrome and demonstrate the amount of research and the full design process it becomes rather impenetrable. There's much to explore but not much eye candy. Which is why the image of the Boompjes housing project really stands out. It's beautiful.

This has been just about my favourite architectural representation ever since I first saw it in the catalogue of the Deconstructivism exhibition at the MoMA in 1988, curated by Mark Wrigley and Philip Johnson.

It's a triptych created by OMA as a design research project for a housing on the Boompjes in Rotterdam in 1980.

Here's what OMA say about this project on their own website:

At the end of 1980 OMA was asked by the city of Rotterdam to conduct a study of high rise building in the city, and to illustrate the investigations with a planning proposal for a site in the centre. In consultation with the Town Planning Department, a site was selected on the Maasboulevard along near the Maasbridges. We see the angle between the river and the lower side of the grid as a 'hinge' between the city and the river. Here the river is closest to the centre. The shifting of the centre through the injection of gigantic buildings in the second reconstruction makes this point most suitable to take over the role of the 'window' in the disclosing of the riverfront. The site is peculiar. On one hand it is embedded in a network of traffic lanes, like the new suspension bridge across the Maas whose approach makes its way into the city through two inexplicable twists. On the other hand there lies a unique opportunity to connect the river with the city. The city is visible, but hardly accessible; any structure will be noted in passing, at bewilderingly different speeds and angles.

The building and the bridge are designed as an undetachable whole. Built as a composition of towers inserted in a slab, the project carries on the experiments in slaboid mutations and new building types that were done after the war in the bombed areas. It forms a transparent screen along the riverfront. On the riverside the screen acts as a row of stone towers against a glass horizon, introducing a skyline in the Rotterdam skyline, and on the city side it acts as a stone slab with glass towers and slits, that portray pieces of the river. Due to their different angles, the glass surfaces on the city side reflect the light in different directions and mostly they only reflect air and water, not buildings. The building is designed toward the kinetic experience, caused by the passing of the site with different speeds across the bridges and the boulevard: The towers all have a different angle to the slab: some fall backwards, others are contained, others twist away and the steel tower has altogether escaped.

The average height of the building in 72 meters. For a tower this is not so high, for a slab it is (according to Dutch standards). The composition of these elements in this project claims a fair height to be effective in the skyline of the Rotterdam harbour, where the juxtaposition of extremely high constructions with lower city districts is a frequently appearing image.

Now that the city nears completion, the riverfront – more precisely, the so-called Maasboulevard, a curved dike that protects the rest of the city – remains under-exploited and is one of the last frontiers for further development. The two structures for Rotterdam are located exactly at this point; they form a ‘cornerstone’ of the old ‘modern’ centre, and face, across the fault, the multitude of anti-modernist revisions.

This project had a triple purpose: to activate the riverfront; to propose a ‘solution’ for the bridgehead of the old bridge that will become redundant after the inauguration of the new one; and to suggest an apartment building for a site against the old bridge. The site is peculiar: one side is quayside, the other is formed by a riverside highway, one the side of a bridge. It is visible, but hardly accessible; any structure on it will be noted in passing, at bewilderingly different speeds and angles.

There's so much to enjoy in this image - more than you can make out in this small version above, and like all great art rewards patient engagement. It is not a painting, nor is it a traditional architectural drawing, even if it can be read alternately as either. The image mixes and collapses several modes of representation onto one composition, which might be a fairly common concept today but wasn't back in 1980, and owes more to Suprematism than traditional architectural renderings. It is not an image that can be 'read' easily, it does not illustrate the Boompjes proposal but is an exploration, part of the design process. It collapse a huge number of influences and themes onto the space of the drawing. In my opinion it does not represent the project - it is the project.

The central part of the composition in the middle panel is an isometric representation of the site and OMA's proposal, which consists of a slab block articulated by with a number of projecting and slanting towers ("experiments in slaboid mutations"), a Constructivist viewing platform/ tower, and a number of other urban interventions. Extending beyond this is the urban context, with certain landmark elements, such as the Maas river and the two bridges the Willemsbrug and the Spoorbrug. There is also the White House, a Rotterdam landmark as a prototype skyscraper and one of the few buildings left standing after the Nazi bombardment in the Second World War, delineated but not filled in, as our several other nearby tall buildings, shown to provide context. There is also a small drawing of the building plan.

Boompjes housing OMA

The isometric view of the main building with its five glass tower elements are reflected below, each given its own colour. Viewing this in 1988 I read these as the structure's virtual reflection, its presence in a Gibsonian cyberspace. Thus the drawing shows the proposed building but also its own mediation. The tower element is a pure Constructivist composition inspired directly by El Lissitzky's platform for Lenin. In the right hand panel is a tiny city map, a larger scale plan, and some other unknown elements. Similarly, the left hand panel contains a series of shapes, which I think relate to the programmatic use of each of the four tower, plus some attempts I think to explore the 'kinetic' view of the project from different viewpoints and speeds, again a homage to Suprematism and a similar concept to that of the early work of Zaha Hadid.

Boompjes housing OMA

In the book Rem Koolhaas /OMA by Robert Gargiani, he examines this project as an example of Koolhaas' Contextualist period:

'The concept of Contextualism was critically examined in the project for the complex of the Boompjes in Rotterdam, prepared by Koolhaas in 1980-82 and commissioned by the City Government. The lot is outside the historical centre, on the banks of the Meuse along Maasboulevard, near the Spoorbrug and the Willemsbrug. This area was emblematically chosen by OMA, without any indication from the city, for its character as a residual zone in a content that was even more chaotic and varied than that of the Binnenhof, at the converging point of different sectors of the city that had been razed by bombing during World War II. The area belongs to the category of the Terrains Vagues of Constant, and therefore particularly relevant for the expression of Contextualism without any precise character. The fact that the government was interested in testing "the impact of the high-rise building on the city-scape", also following the success of Delirious New York, allowed Koolhaas to invent a volumetric situation based on that of the skyscrapers of New York, like the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Rockefeller Center, specifying a functional program on the models of the New York hotel and the Soviet workers' club. The complex. 72 meters in height and composed of the assemblage of multiple volumes, is configured according to the criteria of Malevich and Ferriss as an abstract edified bulk, "designed from the outside in", as Koolhaas put it.

Boompjes housing OMA

The other drawings OMA created for this project do not really interest me (apart from a fantastic worms-eye axon of the Constructivist tower, of which more later). They are about building form, concrete proposal. Whereas the isometric triptych, called the Rotterdam Summation in the MoMA catalogue, is about urban appearances, the self-image of the city.

It's clear to see the development of themes in this project with subsequent OMA projects, but the influence of this image upon the realm of architectural representation should also not be underestimated. I shall be going back to see it again at least once before the exhibition ends on 19th Feb 2012.

Rotterdam hexagon urban identity

Hexagon Rotterdam

In 1972, Wim Crouwel and his Total Design company created an identity system for the Municipality of Rotterdam. The Gemeente Rotterdam identity used a hexagon grid to visually represent the city in an abstracted way.

Hexagon Rotterdam

At the recent exhibition of the work of Wim Crouwel at the Design Museum, there are some more examples of the identity and its application. These images are mostly taken from the fantastic book TD63-73 about Total Design, by Unit Editions.

Hexagon Rotterdam

Hexagon Rotterdam

As the book TD63-73 puts it:

"Rendering the entire shape of the town (sic) with 'honeycomb" shapes was a way to future-proof the identity: it could easily be adapted and able to respond to respond to any further development of the town's borders and harbours."

Hexagon Rotterdam

It is reminiscent of the hex maps of many board games, the hexagon map of London (previously written about here), and also the NikeGrid London:

Nike Grid London

Related posts:
• Branding the Boroughs 2 • Learning from Niketown • Het Nieuwe Bouwen

The ballet of iPod City


Two news items aroused my disurbanist instincts last week, and in my paranoid modus operandi where everything is connected, thought that they represented two aspects of an identical process: the continued fragmentation and mutation of the urban condition.

Firstly, in a great article in The Atlantic, entitled "Gentrification and its Discontents" Benjamin Schwarz reviews two recent books, Naked City by Sharon Zukin and Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin, looking at life in New York, each in part bemoaning the "Disneyification' of Greenwich Village. With the full title of "Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places", it's not hard to guess where the jumping off point is for the Zukin book. Schwarz considers both books to be consciously in a dialogue with Jane Jacobs, the doyenne of urban writing ever since her 1961 book Death and Life of Great American Cities, and compares their relative positions.

Greenwich Village with Lower Manhattan Expressway (Image showing Greenwich Village if Robert Moses plan for the Lower Manhattan Expressway had been built, by Vanshnookraggen)

What has come to pass in Greenwich Village? The vibrant mixed-use community that Jane Jacobs wrote about so affectionately and campaigned to save from the tyranny of Robert Moses has, lo-and-behold, turned into a kind of bo-ho theme park, in the process losing its soul, or 'authenticity' as Sharon Zukin would have it. I'm sure the same thing applies to other renowned neighbourhoods in great cities across the world - Haight-Ashbury in SF springs to mind, and here in London Carnaby Street, Portobello Road and much of Notting Hill are pale shadows of what made them unique in the first place.

But what does 'authentic' mean in this context? Schwarz argues convincingly that the Greenwich Village that Jane Jacobs depicted in the most oft-recalled part of DALOGAC was at a transitional point between the old industrial usage and a largely residential usage, under the forces of gentrification, and that what Zukin wants is for the city to remain in this transitional zone, forever teetering on the cusp of the future. It's a nostalgic, highly sentimental view and one that Jane Jacobs writing is also guilty of. She observed a city that was already changing, and presented a series of matronising, personal opinions as an indisputable analysis of what makes cities work.

Jane Jacobs

We know where this leads. Jacobs founded a powerful myth of urbanism, that the sine qua non of urban form was to found in the 'ballet of Hudson Street', and with it created such as narrow definition of what represents vitality in cities that it can only be achieved with the values that Jacobs proscribed, and that conversely, anything that ignores any of these principles must be doomed to failure. The New Urbanists have taken a set of observations from Death and Life of Great American Cities, and turned them into design guidelines, a form of environmental determinism that in many ways is the exact opposite of what Jacobs wrote and stood for. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a compelling read, but it is deeply flawed book.

Such a narrow depth of field seems increasingly less relevant in today's globalised economy and accelerated culture. The forces of gentrification move ever faster. The city districts that Jacobs wrote about so evocatively/cringingely can now be seen as a mirage, or at least a frozen moment in the evolution of a neighbourhood. Even New York, arguably the definitive city of the 20th Century, seems increasingly irrelevant as the hothouse for urbanism for the 21st Century. For this we need to look beyond Greenwich Village, outside the western cities of Europe and the US, and look at Asia and South America. Jane Jacobs principles seem increasingly irrelevant to the raging economic and urbanising forces at work in say Shanghai, Dubai or Sao Paulo.

The urban landscape of 21st Century China is not somewhere that a 1960's treatise on diverse, walkable neighbourhoods in the US has much relevance. The forces of globalisation, and the transformation of Chinese society under Deng Xioping's plans for economic reform have led to the situation where almost all goods are manufactured in China, and unprecedented urban growth in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) such as Shenzhen and across the Guangdong province.

China has become literally the workshop of the world. In parts of the Shenzhen SEZ, giant manufacturing complexes represent a new set of local urban conditions, factory cities on a vast scale. Many employ hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have travelled in from rural areas to try and earn money for their families, living and working in tightly controlled and highly regimented communities

Recently the news has been full of stories about working conditions at the Taiwanese owned manufacturing corporation Foxconn, anchored by the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, an electronics assembly firm building computer and electronics hardware for US and Japanese owned corporations like Dell, HP, Microsoft, Sony and most notably Apple 1. In the past 6 months alone, 10 Foxconn employees have committed suicide, leading to an increased scrutiny in the West to the living and working conditions inside these factory cities.

Foxconn's walled Shenzhen factory complex, the Longhua Science & Technology Park, is a citadel, within a city within a megalopolis of 14 million people and growing. The Daily Mail dubbed it iPod City back in 2006 - since then its size has nearly doubled. Here Foxconn employs over 420,000 people - more than the population of Bristol (in fact there are only 9 cities in the UK with more people). With such a large migrant workforce, lacking residency permits (hukou), most employees live in company owned dormitories, and travel to work on company buses. The streets, buidlings and infrastructure are all Foxconn built and owned. Yet there are few good intentions on the pavements of Foxconn city, no Cadbury Brothers or Titus Salt looking to build model communities for their workers. A soft blend of commerce and utopian socialism has been replaced with a schizoid mix of global capitalism and hardline Communism.

In a satirical piece, IT journalist Dan Lyons [who publishes online under the moniker Fake Steve Jobs] writes:

"But the Foxconn people all work for the same company, in the same place, and they’re all doing it in the same way, and that way happens to be a gruesome, public way that makes a spectacle of their death. They’re not pill-takers or wrist-slitters or hangers. They’re not Sylvia Plath wannabes, sealing off the kitchen and quietly sticking their head in the oven. They’re jumpers. And jumpers, my friends, are a different breed. Ask any cop or shrink who deals with this stuff. Jumpers want to make a statement. Jumpers are trying to tell you something."

As an act of architectural performance, Foxconn's suicide jumpers are every bit as profound as Jacobs' ballet of the sidewalk. Foxconn's intial responses were architectonic - to put up safety nets; and spatial - to increase rooftop security patrols, before starting to address pay and working patterns.

Safety Nets

Can we begin to understand life in iPod City? Can we even comprehend what it is to live and work here, let alone began any comprehensive understanding of what constitutes urbanism or streetlife here?

In addition to its dozens of assembly lines and dormitories, Longhua has a fire brigade, hospital and employee swimming pool, where Mr. Gou (the founder of Hon Hai) does early morning laps when he is there. Restaurants, banks, a grocery store and an Internet cafe line the company town's main drag. More than 500 monitors around the campus show exercise programs, worker-safety videos and company news produced by the in-house television network, Foxconn TV. Even the plant's manhole covers are stamped "Foxconn."




Foxconn (Images of Foxconn found here)

Guangdong Province and Gotham, Shenzhen and SoHo, are locked in a symbiotic relationship of economies and cultures. If Manhattan was a laboratory of the urban condition during the 20th Century, it is Shenzhen which is the petri dish of 21st century urbanism. The key to understanding the urbanism of Chinese factory cities, isn't to be found in any book by Jane Jacobs.

Some of the most insightful analysis of the urban forces in Shenzhen are to be found in Great Leap Forward: Project on the City 1, by Harvard Design School, and co-edited by Rem Koolhaas. It carries all of the hallmarks of OMA's analytical investigations into emerging urban conditions, and as part of a wider investigation into the Pearl River Delta region of China, explores the origins of the inherent contradictory nature of the Shenzhen SEZ, analysed as a linear city:

"'Three Paths and One Leveling,' the slogan that inaugurated the construction of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, delineates the formula of a minimally yet ambitiously planned city. Along with the necessary erasure - the preparatory 'leveling - Shenzhen is shaped as a LINEAR CITY. Between its first (1982) and second (1984) master plans, the Shenzhen SEZ was laid out as a linear instrument for organising the flow of capital. Although stretching 50 kilometers along the border with Hong Kong, its layout numbers only three east-west avenues (the 'three paths') and twelve north-south cross connections. It is precisely the scarcity of connections and the freedom from a preestablished pedestrian'grid' that forms the basis for all future urban incarnations. Distilled into an 'essential' traffic pattern, the plan of the zone underscores the INFRARED redefinition of the city as infrastructure. Recognizing that Hong Kong owes its prosperity to its infrastructures - container ports, tunnels, bridges, and highways connecting the harbor with the New Territories ( a warehouse hinterland storing containers and people alike) - the Shenzhen SEZ advertises itself as a colossal infrastructure, and link between the financial incentives of the socialist market economy and international capital flowing out of Hong Kong."






(Images from Great Leap Forward, showing, from top, Shenzhen SEZ compared to Manhattan, traffic plan of Shenzhen SEZ, the 1982 masterplan, the 1984 masterplan, the 1996 masterplan.)

But the book seldom comes down from the macroscopic view to look at life at street-level in Shenzen. This post at Polis blog shows that within the explosive growth of the Shenzhen megapolis are engulfed and assimilated a number of smaller villages. These Villages in the City are to Shenzhen as Greenwich Village was to New York - perhaps a Chinese Jane Jacobs will emerge to champion their unique qualities, but it is more likely they will eventually be swept away on the unstoppable tide of progress and Five Year Plans.

Schizophrenic Shenzhen has replaced Delirious New York.

1. I say most notably because it always the Apple connection that attracts the press headlines. Part of this is due to pure linkbait - publishers know that mention of Apple leads to more eyeballs and web links. But I think that the press love to explore the dichotomy or the irony (and possibly the schadenfreude) - that those lustful consumer electronics products (of which the iPod, iPhone and iPad are perhaps the most visible examples) we enjoy in our western homes or Greenwich Village coffee shops could be the product of a toxic workplace, unsavory working practices and inhumane living conditions. That products presented as liberating pieces of lifestyle tech come from one of the most secretive, regimented and restrictive working environments is a delicious, tempting irony few hacks can resist.