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Summer 2006

A new kind of chop suey: China’s contemporary urban architecture

Visiting China’s cities in recent years is like watching time-lapse photography. Consider: the city of Shanghai had one skyscraper in 1985; now they are legion. In 1988, I looked from Shanghai’s famous Peace Hotel on the Bund to the far side of the Huangpo River: nothing but a gray stretch of grimy shoreline. In less than 20 years, Shanghai’s Pudong District transformed from a forlorn swamp to something like the Chicago Loop. To say no more, this kind of construction explosion doesn’t afford much time to evolve a coherent architectural style.

The 20th century was a tough one for China. It began with the collapse … » More …

Summer 2007

Panda Diaries

In Panda Diaries, Alex Kuo’s latest novel, a panda mailman chastises his improbable cohort, Ge, for buying into its pop image. “You’re supposed to be in intelligence. You’ve seen me smoke. If I relied only on that bamboo diet, we’d all be extinct by now. That’s just a story our lobbyists invent for the foreign journalists in Beijing when they have nothing else to write about.” And unlike the surly postal carriers of America, this zoological civil servant is, in many ways, more contemplative and human than Ge can claim to be. A colonel in the Chinese secret service, Ge has been exiled to Changchun, … » More …

Fall 2008

Let the invasions begin

As Beijing prepared to welcome athletes and spectators to the Olympic Games, a quieter and much less welcome influx was already under way.

According to a new study by Washington State University ecologist Richard Mack and four Chinese colleagues, China’s explosive economic growth and ambitious public-works projects have allowed non-native species of plants, insects, and other organisms to spread throughout the country and inflict more than $14 billion of damage on the nation’s economy—and the Olympic Games could provide an opportunity for even more biological invaders.

Mack and his co-authors combed through trade and economic data to discover that China’s economic boom has been … » More …

Fall 2008

The New Virtualism: Beijing, the 2008 Olympic Games, and a new style for world architecture

Something significant is happening in Beijing. It has to do with proclaiming a new style of world architecture at the dawn of the twenty-first century. I call it “The New Virtualism,” and because there are now enough of these buildings in existence, for the first time I can describe the “looks” of this new style.

It is not that New Virtualist architecture is found only in Beijing. As a matter of fact, unlike past architectural styles, which were always regional movements before spreading their influence further afield, New Virtualism is the first architectural style in the history of the world that is immediately global in … » More …