Verso Est / Slideshow

The MAXXI Museum in Rome is currently hosting an exhibition investigating the evolution and the impact of contemporary Chinese architecture. Curator Fang Zhenning talks about the philosophy behind the exhibition and how the presentation of Chinese culture to a Western audience enables trade between East and West to be more than just commercial.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1912, up until the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, China has been adjusting is social structure and order but without any proper attention to residential housing needs. Although the Ten Great Buildings were constructed in Beijing in 1950s, including the Great Hall of the People, Agricultural Exhibition Centre, they are more like symbolic images for a new nation than for the people. It was only about ten years ago that China really started to look into the housing problem and began to build large quantities of buildings for people to live in.

Instead of only exploring the Olympic architecture, in the exhibition Verso Est I wanted to present the variety and complexity of Chinese architecture to the Italian audience. Architecture plays a vital role in China: it is a main pillar of China’s economy and many changes are taking place in the cities because of architecture. The prosperity of architecture cannot be achieved without the prosperity of the nation’s economy. Chinese architects, although influenced by contemporary Western architecture, are also very influenced by local culture, something which is unfamiliar to a Western audience and valuable when you consider that Chinese architecture is just taking off.

New architectural projects are constantly improving the human experience of the city. As a result of globalisation, the Chinese people are being exposed, in various ways, to information from the outside world. They are beginning to know the meaning of “being trendy”. As a result, people’s requirement for the living environment and quality of life is quickly increasing. An insensitive mind will be abandoned by the market.

The rise of boundary-pushing architecture in China has only happened in the last ten years. Innovative architects and I are all concerned with the same questions, and not just in China, but also in other places around the world too. It is not easy for an architect to have their designs accepted by society and it becomes even harder when most officials and developers have no idea what contemporary design really is. In fact, these innovative buildings are not only the continuation of traditional Chinese architecture, but also a result of the architect’s thoughts on the combination and application of local custom and traditional architectural solutions, with their informed knowledge of contemporary architecture. They raise the question of the relationship between architecture and sustainability, and how to realise humanistic care.

Holding the exhibition abroad is a way to communicate between different cultures. For Chinese architects, such exhibitions are far from enough.

Fang Zhenning is an art and architecture critic, and curator of the ‘Verso Est: Contemporary Chinese Architecture’ exhibition at the MAXXI Museum in Rome. The exhibition runs until 23rd October 2011.

Phoenix International Media Centre in Beijing, designed by BIAD_UFo © Shao Weiping