At first glance, the Ordos 100 project looks like a great chance for younger architects to build something exciting and significant. Located on a barren desert site near the Inner Mongolian city of Ordos, the development of a grouping of one hundred houses for the wealthy is in the planning and design stage. The developer, who has made his fortune in coal, asked the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to plan and organize the project, and he, in turn, has asked the Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron to select—from their personal “network”— a hundred architects to design the houses. The idea, apparently, is to create a showcase for up-and-coming design talent, and a highly marketable, and profitable, real estate venture.
A hint of trouble appears when we notice that Ai Weiwei’s design company is called Fake Design. Sure enough, when we look at his overall plan for the development, we find that it copies American suburban tract developments from the 50s, say, in California’s San Fernando valley. Cf. the movie, “The Two Jakes.” Sand-blown, treeless, lifeless for all human purposes, but soon to contain “your Dream House”— just sign here! The picture published in the New York Times of the invited architects surveying their desolate sites is absurdly comic and at the same time sad. What must be going through their minds? Is this the Weissenhof Siedlung for the new age? Can I make great architecture here? Will I be mentioned in next Times article? Or, did I come halfway around the world for this? Am I here as an architect, or as a pawn in Ai’s latest art game?
The idea of building large private houses on three-quarter acre plots jammed together without regard for the spaces between or the relationship of one house to the next must be unsettling to many of the invitees, especially considering the history of American suburbs. Some have questioned the lack of even basic design or ecological guidelines in the planning, and may be wondering, too, if Ordos, of all the rapidly developing places on the planet, really needs a retro typology—however updated and upgraded—as the most visible symbol of its future. It would be a more hopeful harbinger of the future not only for this city, but the field of architecture in general, if a number of the Ordos 100 architects banded together and came up with a coordinated overall plan and insisted that it be adopted. And, if it were not, they would simply decline the opportunity.
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- May 7, 2008 / 6:04 pm
- Lebbeus Woods