Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Dragon has Landed (Feb 19)

Beijing has been quite an extraordinary experience experience, It was more infused with doses of the expat life, having meals with other embassy workers, where our host drove us around to most places. Natalia arrived on Saturday and we had some of the most amazing food, and soooo much of it. Dumplings, steamed buns, chicken, candied apples, pork, peking duck, on and on and on. I am going to struggle to eat most Chinese food in the US now.

Beijing is probably even more extraordinary than Shanghai, purely based on the visible changes taking place there. It is absolutely mindboggling and astounding the amount of construction going on there. The numbers tell it all. Within the last 10 years, one billion square feet and $160 billion dollars of building will have taken place, which is the equivalent of three manhattans. And this is in one city alone. But, the building boom certainly extends beyond the city. The entire country now accounts for half the world’s use of concrete and a third of the consumption of steel.

I felt the importance and significance of architecture in Beijing more so than any other city I have been to. The built environment (and the relationships therein) is often a manifestation of what is valued in culture and society. And it is a pretty good indicator of the social, economic, and political forces that are driving the times. The physical changes taking place in Beijing now are indicative of the entire country. Massive housing and office buildings are going up everywhere. Each complex is 10-15 buildings of 30-40 stories. The old hutong (traditional Chinese alleyways and houses) are quickly disappearing as the demand and need to build, build, build is quickly overrunning seemingly everything.

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