Inspired by the unprecedentedly rapid urbanization process undergoing in China, Beijing-based Chinese architect and artist Li Han of Atelier 11 | China has developed a series of drawings on the subject of urban landscapes. The purpose of the series is to record the phenomena Li found interesting and representative in this urbanization process. With techniques and visual languages borrowed from architectural drawings, Li tries to present the spontaneous interaction between the urban environment and human activities. The drawings are not only objective documentations, but also reflections and scenarios on the future development based on the current facts. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Xi Zhi Men
Xi Zhi Men metro station is an interchange station for two metro lines in Beijing, which has the longest transfer distance in the Beijing metro system. The endlessness, crowdedness, and chaos shown in this one of the busiest spots in Beijing make the place a typical example of how people’s daily life and the urban space exert influence on each other. The key feature of Xi Zhi Men is a very complicated linear space – the transfer route, which is always packed. The emphasis of the drawing is on how to express the continuousness of a complicated space. By using sectional cutting with an “invisible knife”, the elements with different special relationships are cut apart to reveal the whole space. This does not only diminish the limit to express the space created by blocking, but also clearly reflects the relationship between the elements in the space. During the process of creating this drawing, the construction of a new metro line was completed and added to the transfer route of the existing system. Some part of the space shown in this finished drawing has disappeared. As unplanned, the recording on reality has become a recording on history.
Xi Ba He
Xi Ba He depicts a typical Beijing-style residential community built in the 1990s. Old buildings and simple facilities do not prevent the residents from living a happy life. Every day people walk their dogs in the garden, fly their pigeons on the balcony, or hold their cats in the sun. At that time Li was going to take part in an international city concept design competition with Environmental Zoo as the theme. So he decided to make the daily life around him as the subject for his submission. He imagined a boundless zoo inside the city. It is a paradise for animals and a city for human at the same time, without the fence between animals and human in the regular zoos.
In this new community, all the facilities are not only built for human, but also take into consideration the need by animals living in the same community, e.g. the shelters for pigeons, cats and dogs, animal hospitals, and animal control center. He even planned shelters for horses and goats and made a mini farm for them. The real environment of Xi Ba He becomes the base for this scenario where reality and imagination are merged with each together. This looks as if a beautiful fairy tale, but we shall never underestimate the potential of “stories”. As commented by architect Wang Xin, “(story) is always a long-term fulcrum for a city…is a invisible city structure…With stories, we will see life.”
San Li Tun
San Li Tun bar street used be the shrine for Beijing underground culture. It was a natural result evolved from the city development but not by administrative planning. However, with more huge capitals flooding in, nowadays San Li Tun becomes a high-end and fashionable destination in Beijing where you can easily find luxury brands and fancy restaurants, but no that approachable and authentic Beijing-style atmosphere any more. But the building No.42 in South San Li Tun seems a reborn of the then bar street. It is a 6-floor apartment building constructed in 1980s and the apartments on the first and second floors are all transformed into bars, restaurants, DVD stores, tattoo stores, adult shops, and fashion boutiques.
People gathering here are from all over the world. They are either well or carelessly-dressed and speaking all kinds of languages. Being local and global is so seamlessly combined here. Technically San Li Tun is more serious than making a drawing, but is not as precise as an architectural mapping either. It does not put emphasis on an artist’s subjective opinion, and not emphasize on the objective properties of the architectural construction either. What this piece cares about is how the whole space is used and its atmosphere, and the interaction between the city and its inhabitants. The size recorded in the final piece may not be accurate, but the scale and atmosphere are very precise. A mechanical way for presentation – explosive axonometric projection – is used in this piece to depict the urban phenomenon.
798 (In collaboration with Beijing-based architecture firm Atelier 11)
798 is a famous art district in Beijing developed from a deserted industrial area. The drawing takes an engineering style in terms of visual language, but what it tries to express in the content is not limited to the architecture itself, but also includes the urban life in and outside the architecture. So besides the large-scale elements like buildings, roads, squares, greenery, and pipelines, the viewers can also find furniture, mechanical equipments, plantations, billboards, displays, and even tableware in the restaurants. The purpose of such documentation is to reflect the complexity and diversity of urban life through an objective recording process without missing the smallest details. In principle, the approach of creating this piece is to be elaborate rather than general, and to stay close rather than keep distance.
What is interesting about 798 and the Building 42 depicted in San Li Tun lies in the fact that the buildings have gained a re-birth with new functions evolved naturally after a long-time use with their original functions. And these new functions didn’t take away the original ones and the two stay rather in harmony. This gives those architectures more significance and indications, which is much more interesting than those official transformation or conservation for old architecture. The old factories in 798 and apartment building in San Li Tun indicate a cleverer strategy to protect the old architecture and district. As being preserved and protected, the old neighborhoods obtained a true sense of contemporary but not pretentious nostalgia. Rem Koolhaas in recent years came back to the subject of preservation after years of challenging and subverting contemporary architecture. Once he commented, “I like preservation more when it is completely spontaneous and accidental”. Then it might be reasonable to assume that factories in 798 and apartment building in San Li Tun shall be something of his interest.