Lost in transmution
Ian Martin visits Blingnang Freepitch
MONDAY To Blingnang, China’s fastest-growing urban megabulb, to push the professional development envelope.
Capitalists and communists alike have reservations about how this ‘hybrid economy’ works but I can honestly say the plasmic arts are much the same all over the world. They have a saying in Blingnang: ‘A stranger is just a contact you haven’t bribed yet!’
TUESDAY Things have changed since my last visit. Most of the ‘itinerant rurals’ who gave Blingnang’s historic quarter such character have disappeared, along with the historic quarter itself.
From this ashy rubble will rise a new People’s Centre for Cultural Transmution. The client’s being quite vague about what will actually occur there, and my Chinese agent’s being quite vague about who the client is. Although, I discover during lunch, my Chinese agent seems otherwise alert.
‘In Mandarin my name means One Who Is Steadfast As Rock, but please call me Edward. Here, let me help you with that pan-fried shrimp and golden noodles. And should we tab another bottle of this excellent rice wine to your hotel room, which I believe is 1516, thank you waiter’.
OK, I don’t know what a centre for cultural transmution is. I do know however that the conceptual design fee is substantial, the building is to be fortified, the style guide is ‘Downton Abbey meets Swinging London’ and the top two storeys will accommodate some kind of ‘internet trace blocker’.
Obviously I have misgivings about this project. But come on. Moral certainties are a luxury these days and, like oysters, can actually CAUSE serious internal misgivings if they turn out to be ‘bad’ moral certainties.
Yeah, sod it. Resolve my misgivings by cladding the cultural transmution centre in a neo-Classical sheath, with faux-marble fluted pilasters and ‘dolly bird’ caryatids.
WEDNESDAY Edward and I are at Blingnang Freepitch. It’s a weekly event held at a swanky digital tea house, where spatial artists and clients of discernment mingle without obligation in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and venality. I play the old ‘Invisible Tower’ manouevre.
Tell a high-rolling client you have detailed schematics for the world’s tallest luxury mixed-use tower. Two miles high, fashioned from materials so innovative nobody’s heard of them. An articulated ‘hard air’ core with suspended floorplates of ‘spectraluminum’ and walls of translucent ‘smart jelly’. Advanced light management plus magnetised atomic gap alignment equals ‘building that blends seamlessly into its environment’ and a new post-contextual global planning prototype.
Then you ask them if they’d like to see a rendering, they say yes and you slip them a blank sheet of paper. At this point it can go one of several ways but it usually helps if they have a sense of humour in the broadest sense, or if they’re drunk.
Tonight I attract some interest. Edward is there to follow through and talk me up. Even I with my non-existent Mandarin I can tell he’s taking liberties. ‘Executive designer’ becomes ‘he has overseen several executions already this year, each more ruthless than the last’. There are approving nods.
The evening ends with half a dozen potential clients exchanging details with Edward The One Who Is Steadfast As A Rock, and some drunken architectural karaoke. One guy does a belting version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum before falling off the table.
THURSDAY A sophisticated Blingnang middle class is these days looking beyond traditional Chinese architecture. Already the city is fringed with an anthology of pastiche executive housing ‘capitals’ - a miniature Paris here, a dinky Berlin there. Now the jaded bourgoisie seeks something new, beyond the comforting exotica of Classical Europe’s palette.
So I’ve come up with Blingnang Inner Citiburbia, a low-density upmarket gated community modelled on the sort of high-density downmarket shithole that would theoretically exist in counterpoint to what’s actually there.
The site visit’s inconclusive. Everything looks a bit depressing but I can’t tell which direction it’s going in.
That’s a thumbs-up from Edward.
FRIDAY Get some brilliantly atmospheric shots of my Pea Souper Dickens apartment block (shaped like Big Ben) by waiting until the smog’s really thick.
SATURDAY To the opening of my brand pavilion. The client’s very pleased. It’s full of tubular challenges and triangular fragments, and things ‘punching through’ other things.
SUNDAY Reclining slightly in the plane home. Irritated. Can’t for the life of me remember who the brand pavilion was for.