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'China is becoming topical'

China: so hot right now. Everyone’s talking about it. Jonathan Glancey’s behemoth of a piece on Chinese architecture in the Guardian rivals the scale of the buildings he mentions, encompassing no less than four local practices, new towns, ‘endangered species’ – and OMA’s goliath CCTV (pictured).

Having had to work for the state, an exciting generation of young Chinese architects seem emancipated yet empathetic to the needs of Chinese people and cultural integrity, designing housing that invokes the spirit of the fast disappearing hutongs while building side by side in (another boomtown) Dubai with the Gehrys and Hadids of the archi-world.

A few sporadic thoughts: Today the Victoria and Albert Museum opens what looks set to be its major show of the year, China Design Now. (an irresistible and disarmingly honest quote from their site: 'China is becoming topical…')

The Chinese New Year lanterns are still swaying, somewhat violently this week, over London’s Oxford Street.

Just two days ago, an Olympian athlete pulled out of the games for fear of the effects on his health, due to the poor air quality in Beijing, The Times reports.

The Press is full of Chinese whispers, ranging from fetishistic celebration and delight in Chinese kitsch, to grave concerns in the Financial Times about the environment and energy consumption of this rapidly growing economy.

The sudden interest in China – of course natural, due in part to the Olympics and to the most overwhelmingly dramatic and rapid urban development in the last century – is a tumultuous and dizzying phenomenon.

In contrast to the optimism surrounding the Chinese architectural new wave, Glancey also discusses the bizarre
Thames Town, and the reciprocal fetishism of ostensibly British sensibilities out there. Thames Town is a displaced facsimile of an English town, where there is no Thames, no river to speak of in fact, where two-thirds of the pastiche properties remain uninhabited, but where newlyweds go to have their picture taken, à la the credits sequence of the Richard Curtis classic Four Weddings. It’s also contentious but worth mentioning that several of the major buildings racing up in Beijing are being undertaken by foreign practices anyway: OMA, Fosters, Herzog to name but a few of the big-hitters (see a round-up in the Economist).

We have some way to go before understanding what will come of this super-speed development of a formerly, even currently ‘protected’ economy; the cultural aspirations felt by this 'new' economy will in all probability not tally with the future we see as potential, however neon-bright. In the face of grandiose global – and national expectations for China, Albert Speer, who is designing an automobile city outside Shanghai, hits the nail on the head when he says: 'Everybody's trying —good and bad.'

In parallel; the urban development of our own future-Olympic hometown is also under the spotlight, as artists (read: the YBA crowd) rail against the reckless development that threatens Hackney’s hive of studios and hangouts, reports the Evening Standard , and Lib Dem mayoral candidate Brian Paddick vows to protect the skyline.

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