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Profit VS Avant-garde


After the Cultural Revolution China had a lot of catching up to do in housing and infrastructural development. The architecture schools were pressured to deliver architects that could work in the utmost efficient manner. Today the demand for architectural design is so high that there is hardly any time left for research and reflection. Even more artistic and/or conceptual architects are preoccupied with building; theory evolves through practice, hardly the other way round. Theory not only needs time to develop, but also platforms or institutes, both within and outside the educational system, to accommodate discussion and research. Just as the city in itself is under construction, Chinese research commodities are practically non-existing, and even research inside the universities is scattered and depends very much on the initiative of a couple of pioneering individuals. This makes theory as a whole very much work-in-progress, and even when a lot of thinking is occurring; it is hard to track it down. 

Briefly, urban construction in China has the following features:- Urban construction is still based on the administrative system;- Besides major big cities, 2nd and 3rd tier-cities are developing; the bulk of construction in the coming decades will happen in China's lesser known cities;- Construction has direct relation to the ambition and reputation of local politicians & architects.

These three features determine the way Chinese cities are developing, as competition between different cities has become a center of attention. This is the result of the need for architectural to stand out (cities trying to distinguish themselves from others), branding and the attraction of realestate investment. These cities also want to secure their position within the overall political power distribution, leading in some extent, to extreme corruption in the construction industry, and in many to its consequent punishments.

In China, one can discern two different architectural systems: the mainstream Chinese system of LDI's (largest and most productive); the other features Western architects and Chinese architects (who often have returned from overseas and might possess innovative ideas). Architects working in LDI's have a more stable payment than the private-owned architectural design studios. In terms of media exposure and quality of design - Western - observers have paid a disproportionate amount of attention to avant-guard architects.