Saturday, October 22, 2011


To escape from China whilst still being in China was something remarkable. I have spoken already about the things that made Xinjiang province different from the prevailing image of current China. It is of course, primarily the people, but I also realise now that for a traveler, one of the most informing aspects of their location, is the architecture. The buildings you see upon arriving at a new destination shape the fundamentals of your first impressions, and have absolute power in establishing the way you remember the ‘vibe’ or the ‘feel’ of the place.

I recall the buildings in North Korea. They were, every single one of them, images from the past. The infrastructure so incredibly outdated I felt as though I was on a movie set. They had less than a handful of metro stations, and each one was a beautiful testament to the Art Deco movement of the 30’s. The apartment blocks were, however, in classic communist style. Large, concrete, uniform.

The metro station in Pyongyang. 
I remember visiting Rabbit Island off the coast of Cambodia and walking the whole island in a few hours. The beach made me happy, the local kids made me smile, the island itself was incredibly quaint, but the small shacks that scattered the shore were the icing on the cake. Small bamboo structures facing the best sunsets. They had small extensions for their animals. They were built on stilts to accommodate for the tide. They were falling apart. They were full of life.

I also remember seeing the scary buildings that remained from the French Colonisation... Remember this?

The human habit to create structures is a remarkable thing. So much understanding of the occupant can be gleaned from a look at their home. Infinite conclusions can be drawn about society according to what they choose to build. You can learn about the environment by looking at the materials. You can learn about the socio-economic status of the people living inside. You can learn about how damn cold it gets in winter. You can learn about society’s priorities by looking at how lavish their holy structures are.

Does this structure have large spaces designed for group interaction? Does that structure use its space for a large kitchen or a large bedroom? Is it possible that this city celebrates its wonderful weather, and so this café is almost entirely alfresco? Does your family’s home have large separate bedrooms, or large dining and living room areas? Could you actually quantify the balance between form and function shown in the buildings of your capital city? Does your kitchen have a pig sty just below the window? Why don’t people walk in your local cemetery?

Going back to Kashgar, I want to just show you a few photos of the buildings in the Old Town and the houses we saw in the regional areas and the beautiful mosques. They are certainly nothing like what you see anywhere else in China. They make me want to go to Turkey and Morocco and pretty much the whole Middle East so badly!! 

I couldn't choose which pictures out of the hundreds to put up, so instead of doing any hard thinking and culling, I just created a new format of post. If you like the small image you can click on it and see it full size!

How can it be that humans, all of us needing the same things and living such similar lives, choose to build such remarkably different structures? Incredible. 

Architecture is truly fascinating, and I have such intense respect for its masters. I can say for sure, though, that had I not travelled, I would not harbor such opinions. It is only by seeing the remarkable differences that I have come to appreciate the phenomenon it is. I’ve not even been to Europe yet, which probably makes you laugh because I couldn’t possibly ‘understand’ this unless I had been to the ‘home’ of architecture itself. If you honestly think something douchey like that, though, I feel like you are missing my point.

 Architecture is something that has grown on me because of it’s relation to and interaction with humanity and society. I appreciate the beauty in the architecture of the Louvre as I would a painting inside it, but the insight I can gain into the human experience from looking at how the Masai, as nomads, build their houses in Tanzania, is what will continue to fascinate me about buildings for the rest of my life. As usual, it all comes back to the inherent humanity of the subject.
I really want to talk more about this. But I have to go make some spaghetti and watch Buffy.

1 comment:

  1. freaking awesome post - this one has convinced me. I've got to go to Kashgar after I get back to Lanzhou this year.

    I've been to Europe - it's okay, nothing crazy like what you're seeing here....but then again I missed Italy. I'm sure once I saw St. Peter's Basilica, I'd be like "Holy crap!!!"

    If you want a preview of Europe, go to Shamian Island (沙面岛) in Guangzhou. Lots of colonial architecture there - it's a cool place.


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