Hans Ulrich Obrist on Mon, 15 Dec 1997 23:49:20 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> cities on the move


Hou Hanru  &  Hans Ulrich Obrist


Economic, cultural and  political life in Asia is shifting rapidly. Apart
from the already established economic powers such as Japan, Hong Kong,
Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, new economic powers are being developed
in China, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and
other countries. The most visible "peak" of this rapid development is the
pace of construction in cities of different scale. Connected to this is the
pervasive expansion and explosion of urban space and metropolitanization. A
considerable number of new cities have emerged all over the Asian Pacific
Region. Typical examples are China's "Special Economic Zones" such as
Shenzhen, Zhuhai and the Pudong Area of Shanghai. Thousands of high-rise
buildings have been erected from grounds which were agricultural fields or
abandoned land until a very recent past.
The urbanization and high speed construction in Asian cities are also a
process of international exchange of architectural and urban planning ideas
and practices between Asian and foreign professionals. Many internationally
known architects are attracted by such a dynamic context, while Asian
architects are increasingly exposed to international influences. This
process of confrontation and exchange has generated some very innovative
but also controversial models of architectural/urban conception and
practice specific to the particular context of Asia. Rem Koolhaas observes
on his research trips to China that "some architects can design a
skyscraper in three days or four in Shenzhen". This proves to be a new
system of speed and efficiency.Such spectacular transformations are also a
process of re-negotiation between the established social structure and
influences of foreign, especially Western, models of social structure,
values and ways of living. A kind of mixture of liberal Capitalist market
economy and Asian, post-totalitarian social control is being established as
a new social order. Culture, in such a context, is by nature hybrid, impure
and contradictory. According to Koolhaas the new urban growth is bringing
about a kind of Cities of Exacerbated Difference (COED), which "is not the
methodical creation of the ideal, but the opportunistic exploitation of
flukes, accidents and imperfections".  Such a process of urban
transformation inevitably  causes contradictions, con-testation, chaos and
even violence. It lays bare a fundamental paradox behind the pragmatic
conviction, which believes in the co-operation between Asian lifestyles and
social orders and a globalising liberal consumer economy. Meanwhile, this
incarnates perfectly the image of the post-colonial and post totalitarian
modernization in the region and in our world today: the impulsive and
almost fanatical pursuit of economic and monetary power becomes the
ultimate goal of development. But, in  resistance to this new totalitarian
power of hypercapitalism, new freedoms and social, cultural and even
political claims are being made by the society itself. These new claims are
pushing the social actors to reconsider  society's structure and order,
especially in urban spaces which are called "Global Cities" because of
their active roles in the global economy and relationship between
established economic, political forces and emerging forces: The City is a
locus of conflict.


"One quarter of the world's population is racing to become an urban
population which equals or exceeds the world's existing middle class in
both volume and mass" (David d'Heilly)

The obsession with numbers and superlatives  measuring the quantity of
urbanization is a  prevailing  common feature of many cities in Asia. The
omnipresence of exploding figures in the architectural debate testifies to
the tension between the apocalyptic and the utopian. Bangkok based Sumet
Jumsai  gives us some  points of reference:
-in the course of the 21st century more than 60 percent of the world's
 population will live in cities
-of the 23 Megacities with over 15 Million inhabitants, 15 will be located
 in Asia by the year 2000
-the Tokyo-Osaka corridor will be inhabited by more than 50 million people
 who will form a conglomerate city
-Singapore has the largest hotel in the world: a 73 storey  building
-The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, 450 meters high, accomodating
 60000 people, pretends to be the highest building in the world
-in Tokyo there are plans for the future Ecopolis (1000 Meters high)

According to other sources, 80% of the high-rise buildings constructed
during the last 4-5 years in Shanghai are by far empty, especially in the
spectacular area of the Special Economic Zone of Pudong. In the meantime,
the speculation of developers continues to accelerate and the prices of
real estate remain excessively high. Urban congestion is one of  the main
challenges. In many cities the average speed of cars is reduced to the
speed of walking - cities like Bangkok or Guangzhou seem to be collapsing
and still they do work against all odds. In Guangzhou,  Xu Tan describes
this pheno-menon as a symptom of a time of madness, voluntary
schizophrenia, while Liew Kung-Yu mocks the visual terror of kitschy
skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur.


Asia's modernization, urban growth and globalization are also a process of
opening to other cultures and geographies. It should be noted that the
fundamental motivation of such a process is a collective consciousness or
desire to (re-)establish Asia's strong position in a modern world through
competing with other, especially Western contexts. Tokyo based critic Koji
Taki evaluates the potential of the city to transgress national boundaries,
to become a model for post-nationality. In recent decades, especially in
the 1990's, Asian countries' new policies of development have coincided
with the rapid globalization of a late-Capitalist market economy, of the
electronic mass media and communication industry, as well as a general
disintegration of all established notions of boundary, nation,identity,
morality ...
Modernization in many Asian countries, which has been considered as a
process of re-enforcement of national identities, sometimes even religious
and ideological identities, is ironically accompanied by a general
deconstruction and disintegration of established values and cultural modes.
A schizophrenic, anxious but enthusiastic aspiration for a more modernised,
somehow Westernised way of living and a society with more freedom and
democracy is becoming the dominant dynamic. From this perspective there is
no such thing as a collective Asian identity . Often such an aspiration is
in conflict with traditional values and even the goal of modernisation
itself. The implicit double-binds  render the situation uncertain and
unstable. Uncertainty, along with the disintegration and liquification of
the Self  hence become the main issues that Asian people are about to cope
with. The "theme-parkization" of urban space which mixes cultural cliches
and mere consumerism of differences is a clear symptom of such an anxiety,
a kind of horror vaccui.


"Modernization                       Westernization" (Tay Kheng Soon)

The globalizing modernization as a form of social, economic and cultural
development involves processes  of "invasion" of international capitals and
global capitalism.  It also unavoidably opens up a window towards Western
cultural modes and values promoted by the late Capitalist media, especially
electronic media. These media have been considerably influenced by the
Western modes and turned towards a commodity orientated mode of production
and consumption. This is obviously opposed  to the established official
ideology and its implicit cultural values. Confrontations and conflicts
between the two camps have become a driving force in Asian urban cultural
life for the last decade. There is a tension between mondernisation and
tradition which is embodied by constant shifts of openness, freedom claims,
criticism, oppression and resistance... However, in the long run, and for
the common interests which are mainly to increase the condition of
investment and development, local and national authorities and
international corporations have tried to go around the ideological
obstacles in order to attain a certain compromise. Culture, or creative
activities, including art, and especially popular culture and media, are
being deliberately sterilized into commonly acceptable and profitable
formulas. One of them, as a Hong Kong television tycoon puts it, is that
the TV programs should be "no news, no sex, no violence." One of the
results is that, since the early 1990's the Hong Kong based Star TV has
succeeded in  covering almost all major cities in Asia with its
spectacularly aseptic entertaining through music videos or soap operas. All
this actually means an indirect, invisible and  almost "comfortable"
censorship and deliberated reduction of spaces for non-commercial cultural
activities. Especially endangered are those for experimental activities and
critical voices. On the contrary to the boom of new skylines full of high
rising buildings and commercial spaces, artists and intellectuals are
losing spaces and infrastructures for creation.  An increasingly important
new task for Asian artists now is to invent alternative "sub-spaces" or
non-institutional "artist-run-spaces". This is often spontaneous,
ephemeral, highly flexible and even immaterial. Process counts more than
the object. Good examples are artists' museums such as Tsuyoshi Ozawa's
"Nasubi Gallery" or Judy Freya Sibuyan's  "Scapular Nomad Gallery". Both
structures are extremely flexible museums without fixed locations which
migrate within the city and permanently question their own parameters. They
are situated inbetween situations - they are "Museums on the Move". Other
artists like Lin Yilin, Shi Yong, Chen Shao Xiong, Liang Juhui or
Arahmaniani develop direct tactics of intervention in urban space through
their mostly ephemeral actions.These gestures are often temporal
interruptions of the high speed of urban mutation in order to open a kind
of "emptiness", or moments of suspension, in the very centre of
construction turbulence: "Detournements", supplements , shifts or
disturbances  amidst traffic and business. In other works, alternative
languages, informal expressions and temporal actions are used as effective
strategies of intervention. The urban flaneurs are now turned into city
guerrillas or what Geert Lovink calls "camcorder kamikazes" who are
rebellious users of the camera instead of passive consumers (see David
d'Heilly or Ellen Pau). The heroes of tactical media are  all kinds of
activists, nomadic media warriors, pranxters, hackers, street rappers....


Cities on the Move tries to trigger more exchange between art and
architecture. According to Tapei-based architect Chi Ti-Nan, this
"conjugation of imbeciles" is necessary as:
-contemporary art is suffering the loss of value in the conflict of social
 production forces. The art scene seems impotent in dealing with the
 reality we face in the every day world;
-architecture is supposed to be a mechanism for generating habitable
 physicalities and therefore risks to be turned into an utilitarian
The big interest in interdisciplinary dialogues is a global phenomenon in
the 1990s and is as present in  European and American discourse as it is in
Asia. A significant number of of artists and architects work in ever
changing "promiscuous" collaborations" (according to Douglas Gordon these
open  forms of collaborations are more like affairs and not like marriage).
A good exaple is the loose team of Thai artists Navin Rawanchaikul and
Rirkrit Tiravanija, who for Cities on the Move decided to work with cinema
painters and Tuk Tuk producers. Results of their  numerous collaborations
are a road movie, a billboard, a comic book and a real Tuk Tuk performance
in the streets of Vienna. As with many other artists projects in Cities on
the Move, their Tuk Tuk adventure has neither beginning nor end: from every
point of view the spectacle has already started. The line between inner and
outer landscape is breaking down. The project takes place in the museum but
is also spread like a virus across the city.


As we have seen above, Asia's urban explosion  also constitutes openings to
other cultures. Implying  a process of cultural translation it often
signifies motion, displacement and transformation in terms of cultural (re-
) construction of and in the city. The new cultural identities  are claimed
to be open, unstable, ever-changing, hybrid and transgressive of
established boundaries. Beijing based architect Yung Ho Chang  has
discovered that the traditional structure of  the city, expanded along the
axis of the Forbidden City , is now being dismantled and boundaries between
different established zones are being transgressed. Beijing is now being
reorganised both horizontally and vertically into new zones or layers which
can be marked and measured by different speeds of displacements, by car, by
bicycle, by foot,... Chang realizes that different notions of time are
being generated from these different new zones and such a diversity
actually represents different degrees of translation and digestion of
foreign cultures in Chinese society. The different speeds of displacements
and notions of time testify to the paces of different zones of Asian urban
societies' integration into the "global village", or the "network of global
cities" (Saskia Sassen).  In the meantime, they provoke immense visual
impacts in the everyday environment of the city and hence become a 'sign of
the times'. Chang's emphasis on time rather than space is also relevant for
the art context where in the 1990s more and more artists have explored
"time-based-art" (John Latham).


The staggering frequency of displacement, speed, exchange and transgression
of borderlines suggest  a desire to go beyond the established notion of the
city and to imagine new possibilities of restructuring our living
environment. According to Sydney-based artist Simryn Gill, who has
previously lived in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it  matters much more  to
be inbetween geographies   than to belong to a fixed geography. Hong Kong
is the "Migration City"  par excellence. Its handover to China is perhaps
the most significant event of 1997. The reality of Hong Kong is a condensed
spectacle of vertical growth and horizontal displacement, a spectacle of
leaping between fullness and emptiness.  Drawing from Homi Bhabha's notion
of the split of the national subject in modern society, the physical urban
fabric - skyscrapers, highways and infrastructural development: Experiments
meet inter-pretation.  It is the tension generated by the juxtaposition and
crossing of these two aspects that makes the City  a vital global city as
it currently stands, and gives it the ability to continuously recreate and
reinvent itself. However,the urban fabric of Hong Kong is by no means the
result of an urban-architectural master plan following a Western Modernist
ideology. As Hong Kong architectural historian Desmond Hui points out,
necessity is the fundamental force driving the development of the city. It
is necessity which is also the driving force behind the struggle of the
inhabitants of the territory to create a unique modern society.  In other
words, Hong Kong society results from the continuous search for a
(neo)modernity open to "post-national" development and globalisation, and
its specific non-Western, or Asian, historical and cultural context. The
efforts to  create  an original model of modernisation can be seen as a
contribution to the enrichment of current global restructuration.  In the
meantime, it also represents a certain "active resistance"  to the
domination of established Western modern and post-modern models of society
as expressed in its urban-architectural image.  This "active resistance",
shared by almost all developing  Asian countries and regions, leads to the
invention of new models of development and the possibility of different
societies envisioning a future incorporating other conditions of existence.
These efforts are provoking a subversion of the established "universal"
order of social, economic, political and of course cultural life on our
planet. Interestingly, as Desmond Hui notes, this other model (in the
larger sense of the term) is the product of the specific necessities
appropriate to local life, harmonious to both social reality and the
natural environment. Obviously, in identifying with local necessity and
harmony, it is clear that a critique of the Western model of modernisation
is implied. More essentially, this reveals strong desire and courage in
inventing and proposing  alternative projects of modernisation for the


Criticising the extremely rationalist ideology and simplified reading of
the Western modernism, the  Singapore-based  urbanists/architects Tay Kheng
Soon, Liu Thai-Ker and William Lim propose different models of urban
development which are based on a re-balancing between Modernity and local
necessity, between linear growth and "irrational" intuition, between
progress and tradition, in order to create both human and urban spaces. The
three of them have had a tremendous impact on the architectural debate in
the whole of Pacific Asia since the late 50s but still are to be discovered
in Europe and America. Tay Kheng Soon developped models of a tropical city
as a new modernism which "can include matters of the spirit and of the
senses". Recently Tay Kheng Soon came to the conclusion that architecture
has to be transcended as in his eyes the only possibility to merge the two
agendas is through green products, Trojan horses of consumerism. The big
task which will need transdisciplinary strategic alliances to be achieved
between entrepreneurs, architects, designers...
William Lim stresses that in order to meet the challenges  Asia "must
integrate inherent strength of traditional cultural values into development
processes. Lim promotes  low resource strategies. According to Liu Thai-Ker
 "Singapore has demonstrated that economic growth can be achieved together
with environmental improvement."


"Asia chokes on growing pollution - a pall of haze" (Herald Tribune

During our research   in 1997 it became increasingly clear how central the
ecological issues will be for the future of the whole Asian Pacific region.
The current cost of enivironmental damage in Asia is very high. According
to the Herald Tribune (21-8-97) Asia has lost over half of its forest cover
 during the last 30 years: There is a spread of desert,erosion, flooding: a
third of the regions agricultural land is degraded. This rapid
environmental decline is another paradox as  the pursuit of a harmonious
relationship between man and Nature has always been a part of Eastern
tradition .  The concept and practice of Feng Shui which is usually
translated as "geomancy" or literally as "wind and water", is perhaps the
embodiment of this harmony. Emphasising the importance of respecting the
world's natural state, one which is vital, fluid and ever-changing, Feng
Shui is meant to help the man-made world attain perfect harmony with Nature
by indicating the correct locus for architectural and urban construction.
This could be seen as the opposite of Western Modernism's separation
between Man and Nature. It is because of Modernism's opposition to Nature
that many Asian architects, urbanists and artists have begun seeking a
re-introduction of Feng Shui as essential to the restructuring of urban
space in particular, and Asian (and in a certain sense universal) culture
in general.  This is seen as presenting a liberating alternative to the
dominant Western model of urbanisation, and significantly, as the voice of
the Other in the current process of globalisation.  The re-introduction of
Feng Shui is a cultural strategy meant to confront and resist the
domination of Western modernism and post-modernism on the processes of
globalisation.  This is more of a political struggle than a simple
nostalgic look back at Oriental tradition.  As Asada and Isozaki state,
Feng Shui should be understood as a "tentative fiction" designed to
deconstruct the dominance of the West.  They also state that it is relevant
to use Feng Shui when critically analysing the global information network.
This implies a radical approach to the future. In their critique of
modernistic orthodoxy and their emphasis on local necessities,the work of
pioneers such as Charles Correa, Geoffrey Bawa or Fumihiko Maki becomes
very relevant for the present. Correa's proposal for Bombay  of a certain
density of low rise houses is a statement for a soft modernisation. In
Geoffrey Bawa's work "distinctions of what is man made and produced by
nature become fused" (Brian Brace Taylor) in order to achieve what
Herzog/de Meuron propose as a union of Naturespace and Cityspace for the
future. Other very important predecessors and pioneers in the Asian
architecture discourse are the Japanese Metabolists who were the first to
acknowledge the relevance of Asia's urbanism. One of its founders and key
theoreticians, Kisho Kurokawa, told us in an interview that a
dissatisfaction with functional architecture  as one of their points of
departure. The Metabolists transcended Modernist spaces  away from
Eurocentrism to  the "symbiosis of diverse cultures, from anthropocentrism
to ecology,from industrial to information society, from universalism to the
age of symbiosis  of diverse elements, from the age of the machine to the
age of the life principle" (Kurokawa). Another member of the Metabolist
group, Kiyonori Kikutake, invented the Ocean City and the Marine City as
mobile cities amidst the natural resource of water. In Thailand, Sumet
Jumsai focusses on the issue of water being of utmost importance to
Southeast Asia and the whole Pacific Rim. References to nature and
environment also  play a big role in a younger generation of architects who
chose a more situative, pragmatic approach. Ken Yeang has developped
"Bioclimatic Skyskrapers" to respond to the necessity of environmental
considerations. For Toyo Ito all architecture is an extension of nature.
Across his PAO structures, Ito proclaimed a post-identarian city where
boundaries such as inside/outside private/public are becoming porous. In
his more recent projects such as the Sendai Mediatheque, Ito takes into
account the sprawl of electric devices and prothesis which further blur the
distinction between inside and outside: Ito coins the term "architecture as
epidermis" and introduces further analogies to nature referring to
"underwater organisms for  greater flexibility- fluid bodies-biomorphic
structures". In Itsuko Hasegawa's masterpiece, the "Museum of Fruit", a
similar blur of inside and outside occurs. Here the analogies are to seeds
and the foreignness which Hasegawa atributes to their vitality. "Seeds
jumping out of the ground". Hasegawa introduced a participatory
architecture where people are invited to contribute from a very early stage
of the designing process. Lee Bul's inflatable monuments are participatory,
too. They can be erected if there is necessity and  have also a horizontal
form of appearance. The viewer/user has the freedom to choose. In Riken
Yamamoto's cell city each building is connected to the adjacent buildings.
Similar to Aaron Tan's outstanding study of the rhizomatic Walled City
there is no overall plan to be understood. Everything is improvised, the
City happens in a human-architectural symbiosis with a very high degree of
flexibility and elasticity. Improvisation and flexibility also matters in
the work of Kazuyo Sejima. Sejima renounces any fixed programme, her
architecture happens as a "continuous process of discovery" in the
present.This leads us to  Jinai Kim, who is one of the movers of a
relatively new and very dynamic architectural context in Seoul. For more
than ten years Kim has pioneered an internet project on urban culture.


Today's Utopian projects are  based on a consideration of reality, and
confrontation with the chaotic, disordered nature of our world. In other
words, the aspiration and efforts to imagine a new Utopia are in deed
leading to a new understanding of the notion of utopia itself. It is here
that the new term "Dystopia" is introduced in present urban and cultural
debates to describe such a tendency. It signifies an alternative
envisioning of the future, which is essentially distinguished from the
traditional notion of Utopia. Arata Isozaki's recent project,
Kaishi/Haishi, the Mirage City, another Utopia is a valuable example of
this alternative vision of the future. This Economic Zone is close to Macau
and Hong Kong, in order to provide larger urban spaces for the development
of the area. Using the Chinese term Haishi, which means both "city on the
sea" and "mirage", Isozaki proposes to reconsider both the possibility and
necessity of imagining a New Utopia, allowing for new perspectives in the
time of globalization.  Combining the principles of Feng Shui, geomantic
technologies, this project intends to present an innovative vision of a
Global City which is at once harmonious with Nature and connected to the
global Cyber-network. To emphasise global connectivity, Isozaki also opens
his project up to the contri-butions of international architects and the
public through an Internet web site.  Transgressing "(dominant Western)
modernity's three conceptual bases: the frontier, the boundary, and the
vanishing point," this "Another Utopia", or "heterotopia" will become a
"new tourbillon...in which the West wind and the East wind encounter each
other." Whether this "New Utopia" will be realised or not at the end, it
shows us that we are living in the time of Global Cities which are the very
"tourbillon... in which the West wind and the East wind encounter each


"Cities on the Move" is the first joint presentation of art and
architecture from Asian Cities in Europe. The exhibition endeavours to shed
some light on the incredibly dynamic architecture and art scenes of these
cities which are mostly unknown in Europe, and will try to introduce more
than one hundred different positions and points of view to the European
audience. Recurrent themes are Density, Growth, Complexity, Connectivity,
Speed, Traffic, Dislocation, Migration,  Homelessness and Ecology. The
different positions make clear that there is no such thing as an "Asian
City" but that there are manifold heterogenous concepts of the city : Some
of the concepts in the exhibition and the present  book are:
Agglomeration City, Airport City, Bubble City, Cell City, City for the
People, City of Bites, City of Wheels, Compact City, Constellation City,
Collage City, Compact City , Conglomerate City, Cut-and-Paste City,
Diaspora City, Eco Media City, Elastic City, Electronic City, Entropic
City, Flexible City, Fractal City, Fundamental City, Fuzzy City, Garden
City, Generic City, Glam City, Global City, Horizontal City, Hybrid City,
Improvised City, Inter-active/communal/textual/communicable City, Just-in
-Time City, Linear City, Liquid City, Madang City,Marine City, Mirage City,
Mobile City,  Multigeneric City, Multimedia City, Neon City, Network City,
Ocean City, Open-to-Sky City, Posturban City, Post-Identarian City, Real
City, River City, Robot City, Sacred City, Shaman City, Sim City, Soft
City, Sprawl City, Super-Fluid City, Symbiotic City, Techno City, Temporal
City, Thin City, Time City, Transnational City, Tropical City, Vertical
City, Virtual City, Walled City, Water City...
"Cities On The Move" is the first chapter of two main events to celebrate
the Secession's centenary before touring to other Western institutions. In
1998 Robert Fleck will organise a historical and contemporary survey on the
Secession as one of the most important laboratories and sites of exhibition
for art of this century. The Secession-movement in the later 19th century
was highly influenced by Asian culture. That the Vienna Secession is one of
the most significant places where Western Modernism was generated and
developed provides not only an interesting space to present the story of
Asian modernisation and urban development,  but also, more importantly, a
"tourbillon ... in which the West wind and the East wind encounter each


The present publication is the second volume in a series of source
materials and is preceded by Unbuilt Roads -  107 Artists Projects - edited
by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Guy Tortosa. Cities on the Move is about projects
but also about daily  practice of and in the city. The projects and
reflections on the city are presented in alphabetical order with an
additional text section. It is more than a catalogue accompanying the show
Cities on the Move, it is rather an extension of the exhibition in book
form. The diversity of the layouts submitted by the artists and
architectshas been fully respected  which makes the the whole volume into a
heterogenous reader of different city concepts, ideas and practices.


We would like to express our deep gratitude to all the participants for
their wonderful contributions which you are invited to discover on the next
450 pages. Both the exhibition and the book would not have been possible
without the enthusiasm of Werner Wurtinger, Kathrin Rhomberg , Kerstin
Scheuch, Sylvia Liska, Barbel Holaus, Christine Bruckbauer, Gabriele
Schobersberger   and the whole team of  the Vienna Secession. Cities on the
Move was made a reality thanks to their exemplary openness. The exhibition
and the book are a coproduction of Vienna with the CAPC and ARC EN REVE  in
Bordeaux who coproduce the exhibition. We are particularly indebted to
Henri-Claude Cousseau, Michel Jacques  and Marie-Laure Bernadac and their
colleagues  for this fruitful  collaboration . We would like to express our
thanks to  Cantz in Ostfildern: Annette Kulenkampff for her vision as a
publisher  and to Gabriele Sabolewski for her myriad graphic inventions.
Mats Broden and Artnode Stockholm will develop the Cities on the Move
Website. Our warm thanks  to  Chitti Kasemkitvatana,  museum in progress,
agnes b. and Carrie Pilto.

Johannesburg/Berlin  1997
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