New Socialist Village

An interesting article in the AR, discussing Darryl Chen’s recent thinktank at the Architectural Association: (full link here)

What happens when the ideals of Chairman Mao meet the theories of David Cameron? The most compelling nugget of the British contribution to the Venice Biennale was Daryl Chen’s New Socialist Village, a provocative project fusing British neoliberal capitalism with Chinese collectivist localism. Rather than present a single installation, the 2012 British Pavilion’s Venice Takeaway hosted 10 research projects each exploring a different nation’s urban conditions in relation to the UK. Now reconfigured for a new exhibition at the RIBA, a programme of public events which use the ideas of the research to challenge British architectural and planning conventions.

Darryl Chen’s work draws from the Chinese phenomena of urban villages, hotbeds of artistic culture unable to flourish within the city-proper’s Special Economic Zones, deriving a set of lessons with which existing communities in the UK could be transformed into prosperous deregulated neighbourhoods unburdened by state control. The vision of happy citizens eagerly self-governing while channelling their new found liberty in to lucrative digital and physical products sounds like a libertarian’s paradise. Like Occupy-activists-turned-Randian-heroes, the workers would contentedly juggle self interest with community vision. According to Darryl this condition quickly leads to a new vernacular of cheap copy-cat extensions and repurposing until the village has its own democratic morphology, distinct enough to draw tourism while open enough that all citizens can participate.

Darryl travelled to the outer-Beijing village of Caochangdi, a thriving community where bottom-up opportunism meets top-down regulation. Pitting the political ambiguities of the Chinese planning system against the UK’s own, the project speculates as to how Caochangdi provides the clue to unlocking the potential inherent in the Localism Act.

Taking inspiration from a renowned scroll dating from the Song Dynasty, Qingming Shang Hetu, a five-metre long scroll was created to depict both present-day Caochangdi and a future British entrepreneurial village. The scroll features intricately detailed illustrations of scenarios within a new kind of village that fosters a uniquely British brand of entrepreneurialism. The proposal was also disseminated through a mass-produced ‘little red book’.

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