We just came across an interesting New York Times article about art, design and architecture in China. Much of it deals with the work of Ai Weiwei, an artist and designer (and son of famed poet Ai Qing), who has created a number of interesting living spaces, such as loft complexes, where the living space is near to or combined with gallery space:
Mr. Ai designed a voluminous gallery on the first floor of Mr. Meile’s living space — it is now the Beijing branch of his gallery — and a two-bedroom apartment on the second. The main gallery is lighted by angled skylights at either end, so the light is dispersed. Traditional Chinese houses can be dark, but many of the spaces in Mr. Ai’s architecture, including Mr. Meile’s unit, are dim to diffuse, and are lighted by clerestories, or long, slender windows. “In darkness,” Mr. Ai said, “the mind is more peaceful, and big windows don’t necessarily give you a sense of home.” On the other hand, the only way to reach the apartment upstairs is to exit the building and cross an open-air balcony, which has a stunning view of the courtyard and the vast expanse of sky.
Ai designed his own house and studio as well — one of its most notable features is that the toilet and shower are not closed off, as part of another room but are situated just like any other object or piece of furniture. The artist claims
he has a weird fetish this challenges our notion of privacy and the home. It might also challenge our noses were it not already on the less public second floor of his house. Ai’s star has been on the rise throughout the ’90s, and his bragging rights now extend to the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and you can watch an interview with him on the New York Times‘ interactive multimedia website, “China Rises”. (For trailers for the rest of the videos in this series, try here.)
The article then shifts its attention from Beijing to Shanghai and the new Cambridge Watertown, located near the Zhu Jia Jiao ancient water town in Qingpu district:
Ben Wood Studio Shanghai, which under the name Wood & Zapata designed Xintiandi — a commercial district that is considered the SoHo of Shanghai — created Cambridge Watertown as a “contemporary interpretation of a traditional water town,” said Ben Wood, the principal architect. Unlike Guan Yi and Ai Weiwei, Mr. Wood, 58, is neither Chinese nor self-schooled (he studied architecture at M.I.T.), but he and his partner, Delphine Yip, are similarly intent on creating an architecture that marries traditional Chinese materials and building types to a modern vocabulary.
Judging from their website, the houses do look pretty snazzy, and that might make us, as future residents, feel better about all the people we have displaced when
having sex cooking grand Italian repasts in the open kitchen while the kids and dogs play on the manicured lawn. That said, if all the planned subways do work out, living in the ‘burbs and commuting to Shanghai might actually be a viable option, and not a bad way to raise a family away from the noise and hubbub of the city. But then what happens when our American diner cravings strike us in the wee hours of the night?
Ai Weiwei photo from detroitmona.com.
 Soho — South of Houston Street in New York — love or hate it, this is one of the most unique neighborhoods in New York City. How Xintiandi coud be called the “Soho of Shanghai” is beyond us — doesn’t seem to be that much art around, and neither is there freshly made guacamole to be had (as far as we know). Next thing you know, they’ll start comparing Shanghai to Paris or something.