Quotable (#222)

China soaring:

In 2016 the world saw the completion of 128 skyscrapers, up from 114 in 2015, according to the US-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (it defines a skyscraper as being higher than 200 m, or 656 ft). Of those, 84 came from China, a new record for the nation. China has topped the council’s completions list every year for nearly a decade (pdf, p. 2). In 2015 it notched 68 such buildings, also a record in China at the time. […] Shenzhen, a city in southern China known for electronics manufacturing, stood out last year, completing 11 such skyscrapers. That’s more than the US and Australia combined.

(Via, and see related.)

Billionaire Doomsday Bunkers


There’s an enticing slide-show at Forbes.

Once each member’s private accommodations are completed, furnished and fully outfitted, their respective quarters will be locked and secured, limiting access to their families and staff prior to lockdown; while Vivos will operate and maintain all common areas (under and above-ground) pending a catastrophic event. […] Members will arrive at their own discretion, prior to lockdown, landing their private planes at nearby airports. Vivos helicopters will then be deployed to rendezvous with each member group, and safely fly them back to the shelter compound, behind the sealed gates from the general public.

The Vivos slogan is deep: Next Generation Underground Survival Shelter. Whichever way you break it up, it spits out strange and ominous signs.

Urban Future @ Work

Benjamin Bratton found this stunning development:


It looks as if it’s really going to happen. (OK, that’s probably over-excited.) Yet another prompt for delirious rapture about the continuing development of Shenzhen.

Meanwhile, there’s also a brutal class war to fight:

Quotable (#39)

Sam Jacob offers a fascinating left-paranoid perspective on techonomic exit:

The gigantic corporatised versions of … idealised hippy communities [such as Biosphere-2] also separate themselves from society. These too are idealised spaces, techno-utopias that turn their back on the world that surrounds them in order to manufacture spaces that can sustain their own ideologies. Just as the biosphere is an introverted ecosystem, we see a similar kind of disconnection, a resistance to the idea of the urban. Each becomes its own world, a place that operates according to its own set of rules and ideas, each wrapped up in its own vision of nature.

These are the citadels of the Californian ideology, places where the digital distortions of traditional urban, architectural and environmental space are manifested, places manufactured by processes of design thinking, holistic and totalised within their own limits.

Perfected and protected as these digital epicentres are, it is the rest of the world that feels the effects of the digital reorganisation of space far more profoundly. Outside the limits of these palaces is where the darkest machinations of digitality really work. Even nature itself, its clouds, hills, forests and rivers, traditionally figured as a place of escape and solitude, has long colonised by the digital. To escape its presence might now be almost impossible and might involve the most extreme schemes.

In the 21st century, everyone wants to escape.

Short Changed

Cities have been grounded, observes Robin Hanson in a down-to-earth post on the subject. Given strong evidence of increasing returns to vertical development, up to 20-stories in Shanghai (and 40 in Hong Kong), it is immediately obvious that the world’s major metropolises are far more tightly earth-bound than direct economic calculation would predict. Super-tall construction is challenging, but high-rise building to a moderate altitude is not being inhibited by any easily-identified economic or technical factors.

After running through an impressive range of possible explanation for urban stunting, Hanson reaches the conclusion:

City density, and hence city size, is mainly limited by the abilities of the conflicting elements that influence local governments to coordinate to enable taller buildings. […] Remember those futurist images of dense tall cities scraping the skies? The engineers have done their job to make it possible. It is politics that isn’t yet up to the task.

The Decopunk Delta

As this blog spirals around to its re-starting point, it fetches back the tasks it has yet to advance upon, including the most basic (announced in its sub-title). Why the ‘Decopunk Delta’? Mostly because that’s where time frays.

+ Golden Age Shanghai is unsettled business, and as things surge forward, they turn back.
+ Art Deco is the world’s lost modernity, as everyone senses, without quite knowing how.
+ Art Deco escaped its time, at the time. It is the pre-eminent time-travel relic of the earth.
+ What Art Deco communicates is vivid, yet still unverbalized.
+ Art Deco fascinates again, today, because it is obscurely recognized as the key to the encrypted meaning of world history, and nowhere is this more insistently hinted than in re-opened Shanghai.

– The ‘-punk’ suffix is pulp-code for any cultural time-travel tool undergoing contemporary development.

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Inhabited Heritage

At The China Story, Ken Taylor discusses ‘Cultural Heritage and Urbanisation in China’ — with Hangzhou and the Shanghai periphery illustrating successful models of deep conservation. Taylor takes the opportunity to promote the UNESCO-approved Historic Urban Landscape principles (HUL), which emphasize the sociological dimension of heritage protection, rather than limiting consideration to the “purely physical architectural fabric.” Shanghai’s restored Zhujiajiao is presented as an example of HUL conservation working well.

Familiar gentrification processes, whilst strongly aligned with heritage protection and restoration, are also associated with local population displacement, which compromises their value from the HUL perspective. Community continuity is therefore introduced as a supplementary criterion, extending the sense of heritage in a concrete ethnographic direction. Dynamic metropolitan development, which — in Shanghai at least —  is increasingly comfortable with architectural heritage protection (and even stimulated by it), is likely to find the full-spectrum HUL agenda awkwardly ‘precious’ and growth-retardant. With the global quangocracy firmly supportive of HUL, any such objection will have to remain discreetly muted, although a critique of these ideas, from the side of high-speed urbanomic flows, can be expected at some point (perhaps here). For urban areas of lower intensity, however, where real estate markets play a less radically catalytic role, HUL ideas will no doubt find a more unambivalently welcoming home.

Shanghai is not only a test-bed for HUL-sensitive development, but also a center for intellectual refinement of the model, following “the move of Dr Ron Van Oers from UNESCO Paris to the World Heritage Institute for Training & Research (WHITRAP), Tongji University, Shanghai in the role of Vice Director with the particular brief to work on the HUL Paradigm in China and Asia.”