Particleboards measuring 2.4 m high by 1.2 m wide
are almost the sole material used in constructing the physical fabric
of this model city. Some of the boards that are covered with 5 mm
holes are used to erect 2 m high boxes of different shapes and forms,
representing densely distributed, 100 m tall skyscrapers. Light
rays spilling out from the drilled holes further render a pseudo-realistic
image of an inhabited city. Peeping through the canyons between
the model skyscrapers, the viewer catches a glimpse of the several
overlaying and intersecting bridges in the 'city centre'. Signifying
the multi-purpose transport interchange, the bridges cover lakes,
farmland, illuminated roads and waterway networks. This 'Infra Jungle'
is MVRDV's (Dutch architects Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie
de Vries) master plan for the central station area and new city
development in Guangzhou, China. It creates a base for a highly
accessible town of 8.9 km1 with one million inhabitants. This master
plan model is a unique platform for MVRDV to stage their exhibition,
but it can also be read as a symbolic representation of their visions
for the future cityscape. Curated by Terrence Reily, Chief Curator
of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
this exhibition also features MVRDV's five other smaller-scale projects
in Liuzhou, Tianjin, Nanjing and Beijing, as part of the giant 'Infra
Jungle' model. To position these projects in a global context, they
are surrounded by a descriptive 'wallpaper' of 24 other projects
by MVRDV that connects the Chinese model with the firm's wider agenda.
MVRDV have always considered architecture and urbanism as something
holistic. By negotiating the relationship between individual projects
and urban planning, they tackle the issue of the density of future
cities without losing sight of local cultural demands. Lamenting
the overemphasis on speed and quantity in the development of new
cityscapes, especially in Chinese cities, they wonder if there is
another model for this urban process:
What is the answer for the overwhelming process of space consumption?
What capa-city can 'swallow' this matter, turning it into more compact
environments, ones that would enrich this matter with a more 'urban',
cultural potential? Can these new cities avoid enormous areas to
be colonised and yet leave them for the purposes of agriculture
and natural reserve? Can we then enforce densities, that in the
end would increase the potential for a country if not the world
altogether? ... What form of urbanism will then appear? Can we
develop an urbanism that enters the third dimension in a time where
urbanism is still dominated by 'zoning', a two-dimensional approach
in itself? Can we propose a city that would literally create more
public levels that are viable for enlarging urban capacities? Ones
that can 'absorb' (entertain) different programs endlessly, and
with space for limitless capacities, populations, and possibilities.
Beyond scarcity. Beyond separation. Beyond pessimism and protectionism.
A city that stretches not only in the front as well as in the back
or left and right, but swells above and below. Pure depth. The 3D
The Italian Renaissance architect, Leon Battista Alberti, held the
view that everything that was ideal was ideal in all its parts.
According to his logic, an ideally conceived city would be constituted
of ideal architecture, each detail of which would, in turn, be recognisable
as an ideal fragment.2 This ideal world has come under increasing
pressure since the Industrial Revolution, when urbanism has been
left to its own self-realisation. To date, the tables have not yet
been turned. How architecture could constitute something larger
than itself is yet unclear, but MVRDV's projects beg to differ.
By accepting the whole reality of the contemporary city, they validate
the fundamental elements of contemporary life: production, consumption,
mobility and materialism. Adopting a critical position and harbouring
a relentless interest in the environment and sustainability, their
works are based on a new relationship between architecture and urbanism.
Contrary to Alberti's vision of creating an ideal city by assembling
ideal fragments, their works evolve from a larger vision of the
city. They seek to make the city not ideal, but coherent and legible,
by giving form to forces that shape the city and letting the architecture
develop as an element of the greater vision.
Even as a recognised avant-garde design group in the architecture
arena, MVRDV's visualisation and proposal for the 'sky-city' still
has its limitations. However, their critical attitude and unrestrained
thinking method, their ability to conceptualise laterally and their
persistence in getting to the core of the problem, are perhaps the
greatest enlightenment that one can get from this exhibition. It
is a freefall in endless space.2
By Meng Ching Kwah
1. Reily T. Curator's Forewords. In: MVRDV KM3
Shanghai Gallery of Art, 2005: 12.
2. MVRDV, KM3. Proposals for Chinese Cities. In: MVRDV KM3
catalogue. Shanghai Gallery of Art, 2005: 17.