Chloé Vadot

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At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chinese Firms Look to Tradition to Write a New Chapter in Their Nation's Architectural History

This article was originally published on the blog of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the largest platform for contemporary architecture in North America. The 2017 Biennial, entitled Make New History, will be free and open to the public between September 16, 2017 and January 6, 2018.

When we think of contemporary architecture in China, we often refer to the megaprojects by international architecture studios that tend to get covered most in the design media. From OMA’s CCTV Headquarters and Shenzhen Stock Exchange to the recently completed Tianjin Binhai Library by MVRDV and Poly International Plaza by SOM, these projects dominate urban skylines at a singular scale that suggests they were built to impress.

Beyond individual buildings, China’s mega-architecture boom is rapidly developing entirely new cities, a process designed to relieve the country’s principal metropolitan areas of their high density, while offering new prototypes for urban life. These highly branded environments are prompting displacement – as a form of rural exodus – and social stress throughout the country, while also ignoring the legacy of traditional Chinese architecture in urban centers.

Micro Yuan’er Children’s Library and Art Centre in the Dashilar neighborhood of Beijing, designed by ZAO/standardarchitecture. Image by Shengliang SuInstallation view of Archi-Union projects at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Image by Steve Hall © Hall Merrick PhotographersFive Dragons Temple by URBANUS. Image by Yang ChaoyingFab-Union in Shanghai’s West Bund neighborhood, designed by Archi-Union. Images by Hao Chen (left) and Shengliang Su (right)+ 8