Chinese creative constructions must be within constraints


Does the world need more strange buildings?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

When it comes to art, there is nothing more impressive than a city that sparks imagination with its façade while also facilitating practicality. There are countless unique buildings of great significance in the world that we can identify in a flash: the Pentagon, the Burj Khalifa, and the Petronas Towers, for example. These aren’t monuments like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, these are functioning buildings where people work and live everyday. So what’s wrong with making them look interesting?

On February 21, China’s State Council announced that there would be stricter guidelines for urban planning. What does that mean? Well, in the past few decades, China has been erecting odd buildings all across the country, many without any links to cultural heritage or functionality. In another word, China was making buildings weird for the sake of being weird. Buildings shaped like pants, coins, and even a pile of debris can be found in China.

Now, I love art. I don’t always understand it, but I like the fact that it exists. I live in a city full of art instalations that serve no purpose but to take up a spot where a bench or a garbage bin could have been. But it gets people talking, so that is a positive.

However, I always question the monetary value of a piece of art. I know artists need to get paid and all that, but when the money is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets, there better be a damn good reason for the art. China, of course, is now faced with the same predicament. They want to construct interesting buildings, but when the production to make them “original” is costing more than the façades are worth, then the projects need to stop.

A building at its most basic is a box. No matter how interesting a building is, once you are inside, you are in a box. The world would be a pretty awful place if all the boxes looked the same. Take a look at suburban America, where every house is constructed from the same blueprint. That is something we must avoid at any cost… even if the cost is saving money.

Economically, keeping buildings cube-shaped makes sense. It saves room, and in a world with limited space, that’s important. But we need landmarks. Humanity is built upon landmarks; that is why we have the Great Wonders of the World. But greatness is not just about being strange or impressive, it’s backed with history.

It doesn’t matter how the world sees it, it matters for the people who walk in and out of those buildings every day. Yes, tourists will come and go. They’ll snap pictures, and they’ll share the image with people all around the world. Yet, for the people who work and live there, buildings need to be a structure of pride. We spend so many hours of our lives in buildings. Let’s create ones that aren’t just weird, let’s create ones we are proud of. And pride is worth paying a premium for.

Emerging from beneath the Beijing umbrella

Opinoins_protesters-hong-kong-walking-web1Protests are necessary for democratic Hong Kong future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. September 30, 2014

There is certainly more to the Hong Kong protest situation than what we see and hear on television and the Internet. With a foreign eye though, I can only assume that those protesters are just striving for what we have here in Canada—surely that cannot be wrong, although the method of obtaining it’s not necessarily kosher.

When a chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member committee for a region of over seven-million people, that can hardly be defined as democracy; the same democracy that was promised in 1997 when Hong Kong was handed back to be ruled under the Chinese “one country, two system” structure; the same democracy that citizens of Hong Kong have still yet to experience; and the same democracy that mainland China is now keeping at arm’s length, making protocols ever harder for equality to be achieved. The word democracy is a lie. So began the unrest in Hong Kong that resulted in 80,000 people crowding the streets, using umbrellas to fend off law enforcers armed with tear gas.

“Crowded” is the apt word for life in that metropolitan city. My father spent much of his childhood and teenage years there, and I continue to have family residing in Hong Kong; what they always tell me is that the conditions are cramped. A living area the size of a Yaletown micro-suite, with far less lavishness, will commonly house a family of four, five, six, seven, and more. I should be grateful, they hint.

Although Hong Kong is a main hub for international commerce and is an economic powerhouse, the citizens are not wealthy. The majority are middle-class and they are getting by. In addition to this, 50 per cent of the population is living in government-supported or -subsidized housing. And the future influencers—the current students—are looking pessimistically at what can be and what probably will be: a government with a fist full of dollars and a region at its knees. Hong Kong is not what it once was. Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou have now taken Hong Kong’s dominance as China’s gateway from the west. It can be said that Hong Kong needs China more than China needs Hong Kong.

However, Hong Kong’s culture and the Hong Kong people have long been removed from the mainlander’s ideals and values. A simple point is that the two regions don’t even speak the same language. There is no doubt in my mind that the two places need one another, but with a strong desire to take steps further apart, I accept the fact that those of Hong Kong are identifying more with Western culture as opposed to the traditional Chinese way of handling politics.

People of Hong Kong want money and they want status within the global economy—not just China’s. We know what it would be if it stays. I’m interested to see what the people of Hong Kong can do if they depart further.