China Contemporary was a joint initiative of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Nederlands fotomuseum. It was the first opportunity for the Netherlands to become acquainted with China’s contemporary art, architecture and visual culture.

Though their part in the mass production of Chinese architecture was limited, a small group of talented young Chinese architects was designing critical and pragmatic approaches to this situation. China Contemporary showed the work of eighteen of those architects who were striving to introduce greater quality into current architectural production, while at the same time calling it into question. These designers did not employ in-depth studies or charged rhetoric, but used structures that were often seemingly simple and unremarkable. This allowed them to distance themselves from a city filled with architectural icons. The exhibition focused on forty projects that reflected on the distinctive identity of the Chinese urban landscape and responded to it with innovative design solutions. All projects were governed by a pragmatic design approach: it was only possible to take up the ‘struggle’ with reality and prevailing conditions – social imbalances, disrupted urban structures, all-powerful project developers, extreme short-term planning, the veneration of Western architecture, and a decidedly mediocre standard of execution – by actually building.

China is a country of contrasts. The exhibition coupled these contrasts with a bombardment of images that placed the projects in the appropriate context. The exhibition used five themes – Chineseness, Critical Urban Renewal, Urbanscape, Public Domain and Informal China – to frame the contradictions and possibilities inherent in China’s development.

The participating architects were Ai Weiwei (FAKE Design), Yung Ho Chang (Atelier Feichang Jianzhu), Chen Xudong (DAtrans), DeSHaus, Jingyu Liang (Approach Architecture Studio), Li Juchuan, Li Xiaodong Design Studio, Liu Jiakun (Jiakun Architect & Associates), Ma Qingyun (MADA s.p.a.m.), Zhu Xiaofeng (Scenic Architecture), Standardarchitecture, Tong Ming (TM Studio), Urbanus, Wang Hui and Yang Yang (NENO 2529 Design Group), Wang Lu, Wang Shu (Amateur Architecture Studio), Zhang Lei (Atelier Zhanglei) and Zhu Pei (Studio Peizhu). A “stream of images” created by the Crystal Image rendering bureau and work by artists, designers and researchers such as Jiang Jun (Underline Office), Ou Ning, Wang Jun, Wang Yiyang and Xu Tan provide a fitting context for the work of these architects.

Exhibition design: Johan de Wachter Architecten with Michael Smith and Shohei Shigematsu
Graphic design: Mattmo

10 June – 3 September 2006
Client: Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI)

Photos: Dirk Vroemen