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China Provides Architecture Stimulus

China's unrelenting building boom has proven an irresistible lure for hordes of architects from around the world whose jobs disappeared during the Great Recession, reports Brook Larmer.
March 19, 2012, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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While the world's largest architecture firms have designed buildings and operated offices in China for the last decade or more, a new generation of "refugees from the economic crisis" have found a home in a country offering creative freedom and the efficiencies of a top-down political culture.

According to Larmer, "[t]his is the expected global economic formula flipped on its head: instead of American workers losing out to the Chinese, China is providing jobs for foreign architects. Even more surprising is the degree of imaginative license that China offers, even demands of, its foreign building designers. With new cities materializing seemingly overnight, international architects are free to think big, to experiment with cutting-edge designs, to introduce green technologies."

The sheer volume of design and construction necessitated by the largest rural-to-urban shift in history presents an incredible opportunity for creative responsibility for young western architects. However, "[f]or all the lip service given to creativity, [architect Adam Mayer] says, too often the results are cookie-cutter developments that make Chinese cities feel depressingly similar - and surpassingly ugly. 'To come up with something new and creative takes time,' he says, 'and in China, there's not the luxury of time.'"

"Despite the excitement over the flow of projects - indeed, the mere existence of work - there is also a deeper concern: all those empty apartment buildings in Harbin and elsewhere suggest that China's building boom may have passed its peak," as recent dispatches from the country seem to concur.

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Published on Friday, March 16, 2012 in The New York Times
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