TEACHING // UNIT 5 2018/2019 - BARTLETT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE

This year UG5 explored the hidden dimensions of the city’s hinterland: a territory lying beyond the visible and the known.

 

Cities get a lot of attention. Following decades of urban triumphalism much of architectural production has focused on metropolitan territories; yet, cities only account for approximately 2% of the Earth’s surface. Rem Koolhaas’s current research on the future of the countryside argues that by looking at the remaining 98%,
we are looking at the future of the world.​


Historically, cities have functioned as the epicentres of political and economic power. They controlled and managed the agricultural and resource-rich rural countryside, and its hinterland, and this dual relationship was the breeding ground for local culture. Today, new technologies, infrastructure and open trade render this relationship as remarkably complex. As we travel deeper into the digital age, cities seem to rely less and less on their neighbouring countryside to feed, maintain and entertain them. They have been emancipated from the constraints of geography. Now, we have global cities with global hinterlands, where distances, dependencies and boundaries between sites of production and consumption are radically redefined and in constant flux.


The city of Shenzhen in Hong Kong, and its uncharted border zone, became the testbed for our explorations. In term 1, we speculated about this residual landscape as a new metropolitan playground. Could this hinterland become a new experimental foreground? For the main building project, our areas of interrogation reached from abandoned Hakka villages to trade, traditions and craftsmanship; from the small house policy to the aquatic maze of water flows; from ancient traditions to cutting-edge technology and from the dynamics of cross-border education to China’s consumer electronics, games and robotics, where the virtual collides with the physical world.


Our field trip took us through multiple thresholds, from the super-urban to the super-rural. We started the trip in Hong Kong, an island of skyscrapers, mountains, tropical forests and beaches, and explored the city’s outer limits, extreme topography, concrete reinforced mountain slopes and reclaimed grounds. From here, we crossed the border zone, a residual landscape locked between two megacities: Shenzhen, a fast-moving city and a mecca for makers – with fabrication laboratories, robotics, electronic markets, drone factories and architecture by I.M.Pei, OMA, Coop Himmelb(l)au and Urbanus – and Guilin, with its majestic rural landscape, reminding us
that days could also pass in slow motion.