China, Local Experiences
In the eyes of the West, anything not ‘Western’ comes across as exotic. Above all China. First it was the exotic empire of the Mandarins, later the exotic country of eastern Soviets. Now it is the cradle of an exotic capitalism that is a combination of the free market and authoritarianism. Western architects, too, tend to look at Chinese architecture in terms of exoticism: the exoticism of pagodas, the eastern-Stalinist exoticism of Tiananmen Square, and the exoticism of a process of urbanization without precedent, symbolized by the steel-and-glass skyscrapers that have shot up by the hundred in the main metropolises.
Of course the true China is another matter altogether, with many realities that go beyond mere exoticism, such as architects who firmly resist the corporate construction that is being imposed in all corners of the country. These are professionals who draw inspiration from typological, material, and symbolic traditions, but try to balance out the weight of the past by using a language which is modern through and through. The objective is sensible and ambitious: to make contemporary architecture cease to be an exception in China, and become ‘normal,’ at a par with architectures of cultures that took up modernity a long time ago. This is illustrated by the seven works of different natures that we present here, each defined by a predominant material.