Guangzhou (广州市区)

The Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition and its concurrent Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium was held on 9 – 12 June 2009. Organized by the lighting-focused event planners Messe Frankfurt with Chinese partner YangGuang Lighting Service (YGLS). This trade fair is one of the Messe’s seven lighting, electrical and building technology fairs held around the world, including Frankfurt, Middle East and Buenos Aires.

Pazhou Complex

The show and symposium were staged in the undulating, metallic buildings of the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex (中国进出口商品交易会琶洲展馆), built in 2002. The fairground was designed by the Japanese architectural firm of AXS SAWTO and developed by the Architectural Design and Research Institute of South China University of Technology.

The Complex is especially known for the Canton Fair (Chinese Import & Export Fair) which is held twice a year in Spring and Autumn since it was inaugurated in the Spring of 1957. Guangzhou, the center of the Pearl River Delta manufacturing powerhouse and close to provincial exporting bases. After 52 years’ development… the Canton Fair has become a comprehensive international trade event in China with the longest history, the largest scale, the most complete exhibit variety, the broadest distribution of buyers, the biggest buyer attendance, and the greatest business turnover, and the soundest credibility, enjoying the reputation of “China’s No.1 Fair”.

— Wang Junwen; Secretary General of China Import and Export Fair & Director General of China Foreign Trade Centre

My Talk: Color and Light: Humanizing the Urban Nighttime Environment

I was invited to speak in the Sustainable Development in the Lighting Industry; LED track. Dr. Vincent Chen, Senior Application Engineer from OSRAM China Lighting moderated.

Slide Show

The subject: The use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded. Now with LED (Light Emitting Diodes) the lighting designers’ paint-box has been redefined. Colored light is not only more possible, but is energy-conscious and sustainable in terms of maintenance. However, by what measure can designers, agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the open, public environment. In this talk I reviewed the artistic use of color, and proposed a system of judging good designs with using color theory, case studies and a check-list. 

Please view and print my handout here (click on this link).

China_lecture_collage02

The lecture was well attended. The audience was comprised of lighting designers and engineers, architects, manufacturers, artists and students. The Q&A was lively.  My favorite question — from a student — passionately delivered — concerned China’s current preoccupation with “too much color” and “too much animation”.

Afterward, I joined “From Inspiration to Implementation” a panel of  owners (the government), engineers, and architects…and two lighting designers, including myself. Subjects ranged from questions of creativity through issues of implementation–addressed by each and every participant from varied vantage points. Here I learned that in China a project life span of two to five years is a normal expectation for buildings, or at least for the lighting of buildings in China and so, the expectation of longevity and quality are not the same as in the US – which hovers in the 25-year duration.

people01

As an aspiring linguist, it is fascinating to think in a new language — structure and syntax reveals the inner spirit of culture…however my grasp of Mandarin has yet to be realized.  Thanks to interpreter Jasmine Shi, I was able to understand normal course of conversations, and as well as probing mysterious-seeming motivations and activities. I was fortunate to meet lighting design colleague from Taiwan, Ta-Wei Lin. He has a great sense of humor (a prerequisite for good lighting designers) and it was a pleasure to speak in rapid English over biscuits and team upstairs in the conference mezzanine.

Lighting fixture rarities

Lighting fixture rarities

Time was short between lecture and panel. Jasmine and I rushed through the trade show floor. The products I saw were highly decorative – sparkle ruled the day at this trade show. A beginner in the Chinese market it was hard to understand who the important players are.

Pearl River Cruise

An evening cruise on the Pearl River (珠江) – the third longest in China revealed the student’s issue of “too much” color and animation. Blocky buildings were dressed in gaudy garments of light – dancing, blinking and morphing. A laser effect swept the river. The shore was edged in bright blue light.

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Part 2Hangzhou to Suzhou: From the Elegant (Grand Canal) to the Sublime (Lion Forest Garden)

Part 3 – Shanghai: Simultaneously Chrysalis and Butterfly

Part 4Shanghai Post-Script: Ancient Town Park

Hangzhou (杭州市区)

Today Hangzhou is an important cultural center in China.  It was the capital of the Song Dynasty, starting 1127,  for close to one-hundred years – until the Mongols invaded.  At that time it was one of the most populated cities of the world – estimated at one million.  Throughout its legendary history, Hangzhou has been described an honored as the  “City of Civilization”, “Land Abundant in Fish and Rice”, “Home of Silk”, and the “Capital of Tea”.   Several friends had informed me in advance that the adventurer/explorer Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the finest and noblest city in the world”.

On Saturday, June 13, we arrived to scenic West Lake (西湖) one of Hangzhou’s most visited sites, where we assembled for a traditional lunch on the banks of the Lake.

Camille Liang, an YGLS Account Executive accompanied us on the second leg of the trip

Camille Liang, an YGLS Account Executive accompanied us

Although it was daytime when we arrived – I could see the romanticism of the district emphasized by ornate streetlights and through later conversation and reading I learned that West Lake is famous for light shows and fireworks. After lunch we visited the West Lake  Zoo to meet the panda, birds, reptiles and fauna indigenous to China and Asia.

In the evening we had dinner with  Mr. Shen Wei of  Zhejiang Urban Construction Garden Designing Institute – selecting ingredients in sidewalk bins which were served in novel and delicious ways.

Images courtesy Wei Shen and Mondo Magazine

Grand Canal images courtesy Shen Wei and Mondo Magazine

Mr. Shen took us to the Grand Canal (大运河),  A spectacular man-made waterway flowing over 1,000 miles, the most ancient sections were started in the 5th century BC, and partially navigated sections were combined in 581–618 AD. There we experienced the recently opened lighting installation by Roger Narboni (with management by Zongtai Lighting group) – a collage of green-illuminated trees, large scale blue rectangles hovering over the water and softly lined and lighted bridges. On the opposite bank Shen’s designed -and -installed architectural lighting installation marked the landmark wooden buildings which have just been renovated – echoing with pre-tenant emptiness. Luminous red plexi-and-metal lanterns are effective here – creating a mysterious and quiet pattern of markers, and the building eaves are lined with white LED. In both lighting installations I question the use of cool stark white — and would rather have seen a soft candlelight color — more difficult to attain with LED.

Suzhou Train Station

Suzhou Train Station

Suzhou (苏州)

A smaller town than Hangzhou or mega-city Guangzhou, Suzhou is known as a garden city.  Four-thousand years old, Suzhou is one of China’s  “24 Cultural and Historic Cities “.  Additionally, Suzhou is known for its historic creative personae –   “remarkable politicians, philosophers, strategists, scientists and artists”.  Today prominent cultural institutions and talents reside in Suzhou.

An infinate variety of handmade paving patterns

An infinite variety of handmade paving patterns at the Lion Forest Garden

Well preserved are Suzhou’s double chessboard layout of  “water and land in parallel, canal and street in neighbor”, its network of rivers and canals composing three vertical, three horizontal and one ring, and its unique landscape of “small bridge, flowing water, white wall, black tile, cultural relics and classic gardens”. In today’s Suzhou there are 487 cultural relics under municipal-and-upper level protection, of which 15 are under state-level protection and 101 are under provincial protection. Over 60 classical gardens are well preserved and nine of them are listed in the Catalog of World Cultural Heritage,  Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden , Master-of-Nets Garden, Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty, Surging Wave Pavilion, Lion Forest Garden, Garden of Cultivation, (among others). –Suzhou Culture and History Website

LionsForest

In 1991 I studied the “kare sansui” (dry landscapes), while living in Japan under the auspices of a Japan-US Friendship Society grant.  I understood that the rock garden concept and craft was “borrowed” from the Chinese. Viewing the Chinese-designed rock-gardens has been a life-long goal.  We visited the Lion Forest Garden (獅子林). The entry sign informed of  caves and tunnels — which I could not picture.  Japanese garden design did not prepare me for the experience to come.

Suddenly we were in a cool, dim cave.  I fell in love with the framing of each view from under and over the rocks. An invitation to climb was implicit. We did. Walking along the rim of the naturally hewn rough rocks and then down the man-made steps and edges was exciting and enthralling… a highly aesthetic adventure playground.

Shanghai (上海)

Shanghai_Hotel

From Suzhou the bullet train to Shanghai took 40 minutes.  The view from the taxi window showcased a city festooned in scaffolding.  The Shanghainese are preparing to welcome the world – 70 million visitors are expected — for Shanghai 2010 ” Better City, Better Life”, May through October 2010, by repairing facades and generally sprucing up. We sped along and entered a hardware and tool district – and then our hotel, Riverside Bund – just adjacent to the famed  Bund (外滩), or Wei Tan District, busy with locals and tourists.  The pre-1937 European-influenced Bund architecture  is nestled on the banks of the Huang Pu River.

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, a principal from Guangzhou Yang Guang Lighting Service Co. Ltd. (YGLS), headquartered in Guangzhou, joined us for the final leg of the journey.  YGLS has multiple mandates; management of lighting projects (as owners’ representative), partners with Guangzhou Messe Frankfurt Exhibition (for Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium), and Urban Planning and Design Institute of Tsinghua University (for educational forums). They organize overseas lighting tours to facilitate communication within the lighting industry and have established Yang Guang Lighting Designers Growth Foundation to support young Chinese lighting designers.  Finally, YGLS publishes a lighting magazine,Yang Guang.

Tongji-University

The first appointment was at the Tongji University Architectural Design and Research Institute. Mr.Zhou Jianfeng, Deputy General Architect and Yixiu Yang, Architect shared architectural projects – buildings and interiors, and I shared works of Light Projects and elaborated on my ideas for creative lighting approaches to infrastructure and public space.  I went on a tour of the inventive, adventurous building where my host YGLS holds lighting seminars.

Sophisticated and venacular Shanghai

Sophisticated and vernacular Shanghai

After dinner in the center of Shanghai City, compliments of Rock Hsuing of  Roled Opto Electronics,  an evening walk took us to visit Xintiandi (新天地) – literally Heaven on Earth, a jammed, fashionable nightlife district composed of adapted, reused and recreated warm-wood and -grey blocks of the Shikumen housing of early Shanghai.  Framed within the antique walls and tiles is a highly programmed composition of galleries, bars, cafes and themed restaurants. The complex felt strangely sacrilegious – authentic and inauthentic – hard to put my finger on… and then it turns out…

The principal architect of Xintiandi is, not surprisingly, an American: Benjamin Wood, who once worked for Benjamin Thompson, the designer of Quincy Market. (Wood recently relocated from Boston to Shanghai.) Wood’s design is a clever mixture of renovated old buildings and new construction imitating the style of shikumen, the gray brick town houses that were built in many Shanghai neighborhoods beginning in the eighteensixties. Three-story structures built along narrow alleys, with elaborate, stone-carved entries leading into small interior courtyards, shikumen—the term means “stone gate”— generally housed upper-middle-class families. (Under Communist rule, shikumen were converted to tenements, and as many as seven families were shoehorned into them.) Like many buildings in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a shikumen combines Asian and Western influences; it is a Chinese home with a Parisian sensibility, a hybrid form both delicate and monumental.

The inspiration for the Xintiandi project was a gray brick building, no larger than a house, sitting in the middle of the site; it is where the Chinese Communist Party originally met, in 1921. (Mao himself attended the first meeting.) Vincent Lo, the developer who runs Shui On, was told by government officials that the buildings adjacent to the old meeting place had to be maintained, and that none of the garish commercialism that marks most Chinese retail establishments would be permitted beside it. – Paul Goldberger,  New Yorker, “Shanghai Surprise “, 2005

I had the opportunity to visit the Shanghai EDAW office and meet a wide variety of urban designers, landscape designers, architects and planners; introduction compliments of my friend Chris Choa (who is quoted in the New Yorker article if you read it all the way through).  James Lu welcomed me and a spirited discussion occurred about new cities in China and issues of public lighting.

A real surprise was waiting in the form of Z58 by Kengo Kumo, architect – the home of Zhongtai Lighting (中泰照明).

Z58

Martin suggested to expect a great building for our next meeting at Zhongtai Lighting with Emma Jiang and Claudia Cai.  I pictured an interesting building and an office within… as I walked up to the threshold of No. 58 Pan Yu Road preoccupied with the taxi ride through the French Concession and all the traffic, my view was filled with a tall silver and green surface – a living wall. Through the door, an astonishing view upward was framed on left, right and on the ground plane with sleek hanging gardens and water dripping and flowing.  It was cool and majestic and I realized that this was not a normal “interesting” office building.  And it dawned on me that Zhongtai was the only tenant…

Z58 is multi-functional – a design and events gallery, offices, and food service for those privileged to work and visit, and – amazing – two “6-star” bedrooms for visiting dignitaries. But the area I liked best was a setting of two Eames lounge chairs surrounded by a softly flowing rectilinear pool on the top floor with a view of the garden and Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (上海孫中山故居紀念館 上海市) China’s doctor-leader known as the “National Father of modern China”.

Zhongtai calls itself “one of biggest professional lighting companies in China with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou”. The lighting division is but one of a larger holding company with other divisions in construction and energy industries.  It was Zhongtai Lighting that coordinated the work of French designer Roger Narboni in Hangzhou for the Grand Canal lighting master plan and  subsequent implementation of his design.

Bird market

On every trip outside the U.S. my partner and I visit the local bird market.  At Shanghai’s Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (花, 鸟, 鱼和昆虫市场) we spent an enchanted hour meeting the birds and their owners, inspecting the ceramic dishes and grains, feeding baby starlings and wondering about the phantasmagoria of crickets….  Here, I have found Mr. Xing-Bao Jin’s– Shanghai Institute of Entomology– invaluable website resource on Chinese Cricket Culture.  In the baskets and little cages  live the crickets who inspire by song and signal the seasons and seasonal activities (see images above).

Listen to the Cricket
by Bei Ju-Yi, Tang dynasty

The Singing cricket chirps throughout the long night, tolling in the cloudy autumn with its rain. Intent on disturbing the gloomy sleepless soul, the cricket moves towards the bed chirp by chirp. — from Chinese Cricket Culture

Pudong_airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport: Terminal 2 designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, opened in 2003

June 18th: after an early morning visit to Gucheng Park (古代公园), Tai Chi and frantic packing – time to return to New York City.  Shanghai / New York City the two are completely compatible.  Can you love more than one city?

Pudong International Airport (浦东国际机场) another gorgeously wrought public space helped ease the transition home.

Ancient Park 2

A highlight of  our Shanghai trip was the visit to Gucheng Park (古代公园).

Ancient Park

On a hot June day people gathered in areas well suited… here men and their birds stopped for beverages and conversation. Through the bamboo woods there is a narrow shady path.

TaiChi-Ancient Park

Here Mark Kramer and I met up with an impromptu group of Tai Chi players and experienced the energetic inspiration and comradeship that practicing the meditative martial art form provides.