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Overthinking It

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I’ve lived and worked in China for almost three years now. There’s many things I still don’t understand but there’s no urgency. These things will sort themselves out.

Representations of grass (1)

A Chinese Tier 2 city with aspirations to becoming a New Tier 1 city will generally have a metro system in place and, where I live, people are on the case. Overhead power cables are being relocated underground. Footpaths are either being widened and/or relaid after being destroyed by the roots of roadside banyan trees. Roads are being widened to include dedicated bus lanes and dedicated bicycle and e-bike lanes. After about three years of inconvenience the major roads are mostly done.

Once the roadworks are over, rocks, mature trees and shrubs are moved in and sods laid. The verge landscaping is in place within two weeks at most, but usually within one.

There’s also much construction going on. Most is behind site hoardings that are usually one of two types. An actual wall built of concrete block on the site boundary and topped by a tiled or imitation-tile capping will probably surround long-haul projects of four or five years. When construction begins, these walls will be kept fresh with graphics and encouraging slogans, often against a backdrop of artificial grass. Here’s two of this type.

Less permanent hoardings on shorter projects will be freestanding assemblages of modular panels. A hundred metres of two-meter high metal panels spanning frames inserted into four-meter long concrete bases can appear overnight. By the next night it will be sheathed in artificial grass and by the night after will have the project name alternating with graphics and encouraging slogans.

“Life depends on exercise, Success depends on work”
“I will be first to raise my hand to sort garbage”

Sometimes, it’s as if metal panels simply have to be sheathed in artificial grass as quickly and expediently as possible. There’s a sense of urgency.

Sometimes, instead of artificial grass is a graphic of a close-up of a stylization of artificial grass. I don’t know how to understand this graphic representation of artificial grass that itself is a representation of grass. Is it post-modernism squared? I don’t think it’s a case of a representation of something being as good as the real thing because site hoardings aren’t situations where you’d prefer to see real grass anyway. Having said that, in Shanghai once I did see part of a site hoarding that was an actual living wall.

I used to think this fixation on natural over metal might be a Chinese aversion to the sight of metal. The five traditional elements (or phases) of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water each have their own properties, interrelationships and place in the Universe. [For more information look here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuxing_(Chinese_philosophy). It’s a surprisingly robust way of understanding the world.] However, the five elements may be different but they’re all still equal. No one is better or preferable. It can’t be that.

Nevertheless, I definitely see an effort to avoid the sight of metal in gardens or when surrounded by plants. Here are four examples including a wrap of a country scene, two views of bamboo screening a water treatment plant, and bamboo screening an electrical distribution box and the metal fence surrounding it. I’m not imagining this.

Drains alongside roads and paths are fitted with metal grilles that stop them being clogged by leaves but these grilles may be covered with a layer of pebbles. This is a nice thing to do.

If metal has to be used in a garden, it’s often the colour green. For now I conclude that the sight of metal and grass together is not unsightly per-se. It might just be that the natural colour of metal is jarring or somehow discordant.

Along with painting the metal green, I also saw this which I thought strengthened my theory even though I wasn’t sure what my theory was. Perhaps all it is, is that people just prefer plants to metal. I won’t go back to my Chinese elements theory or invoke feng shui but green and greenery seem to be consistently countering metal.

Representations of grass (2)

The city of Wenzhou where I live is between mountains and the ocean and there’s much surface water as well as subterranean water. This and the ongoing relocation of overhead power lines underground means there’s a lot of manholes. A lot. Manholes for 10kVa cables occur in the middle of footpaths and access roads but also in lawns where they will invariably be covered by a piece of fake grass. Fake grass being fake grass, the colour is never the same as real grass and nobody’s fooled. I think I’d rather see the manhole than these poor attempts at disguising them but, once again, I get the feeling there’s something cultural at work. If this were merely the personal preference of individual gardeners then I’d expect to see more variation, less consistency of approach.

Metal or concrete manholes aren’t a problem if they are not on grass.

For three years give or take this hasn’t worried me. It’s just something that I noticed I was always noticing. Focussed on fake grass as I was, I didn’t pay that much attention to what was happening with other manholes in footpaths.

• • • 

You see what’s happening.

Special cases are dealt with.

These next two are my favorites. I find it amazing somebody thought this was important. It’s all done by stonecutters with hammers and chisels and handheld cutters.

Here’s one being restored. These covers aren’t as robust as solid metal or concrete ones but still people think it is a good thing to do.

• • • 

I think I finally understand. Discontinuity, when it invariably occurs, must be countered by a continuity. Before, I used to see the artificial grass as a discontinuity rather than a continuity, and although I still do, not so much. One person’s complexity and contradiction is another person’s simplicity and consistency. These next five images can be read either way.

• • • 

Comments

  • I askes GPT for a post about the state of Polish Architecture in the style of Misfits Architectire. Even after few rewrites to nuance the effect, it is still very basic and spoon deep:

    WARNING: The following text contains controversial opinions and is intended for educational purposes only. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the AI language model, and not of any human.

    Polish architecture has been a subject of controversy and debate in recent years, especially in the last two decades. While there have been some notable achievements in the field, there have also been significant challenges that have hindered its progress.

    One of the biggest problems in contemporary Polish architecture is its lack of innovation and originality. Many architects seem to be content with replicating tried and tested styles, rather than taking bold risks and experimenting with new designs. This has led to a proliferation of uninspired, cookie-cutter buildings that do little to add to the cultural landscape of Poland.

    Another issue is the disregard for historical context and urban planning. Poland has a rich architectural heritage, but many developers and architects seem to ignore it in their rush to build new structures. As a result, we see poorly planned developments that clash with their surroundings and disrupt the continuity of urban landscapes.

    Furthermore, there is a growing trend of prioritizing profit over quality in architecture. The commercialization of the field has led to a situation where many buildings are designed with the sole purpose of maximizing profits, rather than meeting the needs of their occupants or contributing to the public good. This has led to the proliferation of cookie-cutter designs that are more concerned with maximizing floor space than with creating livable, functional spaces.

    Another contentious issue is the quality of Polish architecture education. While there are some excellent architecture schools in Poland, there are also many that provide inadequate training and fail to prepare graduates for the realities of the profession. This has led to a situation where many young architects are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of designing and building high-quality structures.

    In conclusion, the state of Polish architecture in the last two decades has been a mixed bag. While there have been some significant achievements, such as the use of sustainable design principles and the incorporation of modern technology, there have also been significant challenges that have hindered the field’s progress. These challenges include a lack of innovation and originality, a disregard for historical context and urban planning, a focus on profit over quality, and inadequate architecture education. Nonetheless, with a concerted effort to address these issues, there is hope that Polish architecture can once again flourish and contribute to the cultural landscape of Poland.

    • says:

      hhh thanks for that Alia. I think you could substitute the name of any country for Poland and still feel there’s an element of truth in what’s been written. It’s very fluid though and convincing on that level but it’s not that very much is being said. However, we shouldn’t criticize it for showing no insight or perception when we know it’s just a statistically probable array of words. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see any traces of pre-2013 misfits architecture there, but perhaps I hadn’t found my style yet. =)