Ma Qingyun asked us to answer 10 questions on cities of expiration and regeneration
(projection of a new urban growth, from the simulations of the urban planning office of the city of Shenzhen, 2007.)
Head Curator of the Shenzhen biennale Ma Qingyun (who’s also Dean of the USC school of Architecture and planning consultant to the Beijing Olympics) asked all participants and exhibitors to answer 10 questions on the theme of urban expiration and regeneration. The results were published in a 32 page newspaper distributed to all visitors. I can’t find this gem of aggregated thoughts on the future of our cities, but here’s what we contributed:
1. What do we need and get from the city? Conversely, what do we provide for the city?
What we now get from the city is what we can take from it. Our demands exert pressure on the city to adapt to us, and inspire opportunists to shape the city for our further taking.
The city always responds, but we should not confuse that reaction with meaningful spontaneous responsiveness. We have allowed the city to develop without our collective wisdom. We have built mute cities that cannot learn independently.
The city should function as a permeable system of exchange where a dynamic populous with an uncertain future can participate with it in a process of mutual inspiration and complete material and metabolic recycling.
2. Can we trust our judgment of the future?
As the future is something collaboratively created, judging the future is judging our own ability to cooperate in envisioning, illuminating and realizing it.
Can we trust ourselves to envision the future that is most harmonious, equitable and prosperous?
Can we trust each other to mutually build that future?
Can we trust that given our current organizations and practices, there will even be a future?
3. Should we invest in intelligence that maximizes a building’s performance in a given time period or in sentiments which demand its perpetuation?
Building intelligence maximizes ecological integration and democratic participation in the creation of spatial experiences.
We should invest in building intelligence that understands its own context. Then buildings will be extensions of the environment, and evolved and flexible extensions of our life-supporting selves.
4. How can we maximize our needs today?
We can maximize our needs by reconsidering our wants.
We must commonly alter our wants so they reflect what is needed for a healthy interconnected civilization on a delicately finite planet.
5. Should buildings have expiration dates?
Unlike perishable food products, we just can’t tell when buildings should expire. But as technology advances and needs change, buildings render themselves no longer valid and should expire and perish as improved building or non-building solutions emerge.
Rather than look at the expiration date on a building, the building should engage in dialogue about its own existence vis a vis its occupants, their use of the building, and the state of building technologies at large.
Buildings should consider their own life, and play a part in their own decomposition, material redistribution and unrecognizable displaced reassembly.
6. Should a city stay in its current form forever?
No. A good city, like a good tool, should reflect its purpose and function.
Cities should be constantly learning, improving and reflecting the collective and imaged ethos of its occupants.
The physical form of a city will inspire and catalyze cultural crystallizations that will be inscribed in formless media. The content of the formless media will change the form of the city as reflected in the configurations of our past and possible experiences.
7. Can we envision a city composed of temporary buildings, instead of eternal monuments?
Yes, please see 5.
8. What is the polar opposite to the city?
9. What is the essence of agriculture?
Humans should be integrated into the natural world in a process of collaboration not control.
10. Is agriculture the next form of urbanism?
If we define agriculture historically as the cultivation of organisms, then some of the most profound innovations in agriculture are on the near horizon of biotechnology.
The communities and buildings of cities will be the fields and fertilizer of the new age of agriculture, sprouting living things that help us find new life. Organisms will take root that produce endless harvests, including energy (food and otherwise), medicine and environmental assistance.
Our deepest societal values and civilizational needs will make themselves known through our collective biotechnological agricultural practices.
How we engineer the undertakings of living things will establish the next form of urbanism as a platform for the birthing and reflective pondering of life itself.
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Here are the answers from Neville Mars, a Dutch expert on Chinese Urbanization now living in Beijing.