Forget culture wars. Class is still the defining force shaping British lives

 

John Cleese bemoans a changing country, but the facts of life in the UK remain the same

 

The Frost Report’s classic Class Sketch featuring, from left, John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett.

If you’re a woman living in working-class Middlesbrough, you are likely to die seven years earlier than if you were living in affluent Hart in Hampshire. If you are a disadvantaged child, you are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at A*-C grades. If you attend a private school, by the time you are 40 you will be earning 35% more than a state school pupil. If you are homeless as an adult, you were almost certainly poor and working class as a child.

Class shapes our world. For many, it constrains their life chances and checks their aspirations. For others, it confers a life of power and privilege.

Yet class no longer seems to shape our politics. The key divide in politics today, as many have observed, is not class but culture. What’s your view on immigration? Are you patriotic? Does multicultural London still feel British? On such questions, rather than on traditional economic issues, does Britain today seem to cleave.

The two parties that traditionally gave political expression to the class divide appear lost. The relationship between the Labour party and much of its working-class constituency has become unstitched over the past three decades. Brexit has exacerbated that process. The Tories are suffering a similar fate.

On Friday, the CBI warned Tory leadership candidates that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous. The Tories seem disinclined to listen. “Fuck business,” Boris Johnson suggested not so long ago.

The European elections revealed a polarisation between the Brexit party and the Liberal Democrats. Last week, a YouGov poll suggested that in a general election, too, the electorate might divide on similar lines. It’s a single poll that needs to be viewed with scepticism, but it does capture the new zeitgeist. The main political faultline, not just in Britain but throughout Europe, is less about left and right than about those who feel at home in – or willing to accommodate themselves to – the new globalised, technocratic world and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless.

What happens, though, when political boundaries no longer map on to social or material divisions in society? When class shapes the social world but is no longer represented on the political landscape?

Look more closely at the political faultline and the significance of such questions become clearer. Those who feel disaffected by the new globalised world range from millionaire globetrotters such as John Cleese, who last week bemoaned the fact that “London was not really an English city any more”, to south Wales steelworkers whose lives have been turned upside down by global capital. Those much more at ease with the new world range from Sri Lankan cleaners working night shifts in London to Lord Bilimoria, the Indian-born founder of Cobra beer and a leading figure in the Remain campaign.

Faced with his sense of disaffection, Cleese can swan off to the Caribbean island of Nevis, where he now lives. South Wales steelworkers are trapped in the insecurities of their lives. Millionaire Bilimoria can prevaricate over cuts to tax credits in the House of Lords. A cleaner may be forced into more than one job to accumulate even the most basic weekly wage.

The new political cleavage doesn’t, as many suggest, reflect the distinction between the “elite” and the “masses”. It obscures it, helping conceal the fact that the political interests of the cleaner and the steelworker are far more similar than of either to Cleese or Bilimoria. Whether in south Wales or south London, workers suffer from the casualisation of work, the stagnation of wages, the imposition of austerity.

The cultural divide in politics cannot erase the material reality of working-class lives. But it has transformed the way that many view that reality. On the one side, many have come to see immigration as the cause of their problems and a more nationalistic politics as the solution. On the other, many dismiss working-class voters who backed the Brexit party as bigots.

Against this background, many influential voices insist that the class politics is passe and we must accept the new cultural divides.

There are, though, no cultural solutions to the social problems confronting us. To pretend that there are will only exacerbate popular anger as people’s lives remain untransformed. We need not to deny material reality, but to change the way that people perceive it, challenging both the view of migrants as a social problem and the dismissal of the disenchantment of sections of the working class as mere bigotry. It has never been more important to remind ourselves of the importance of class and of its impact on the lives of millions.

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist

Article shared privately for educational purposes only

Shocked by the rise of the right? Then you weren’t paying attention

 

The seeds of Trump, Brexit and Modi’s success were sown by endemic racism and unfairness. Tackling that is the answer
BENJENNINGS OPINION 190524 (WEB)

The morning after both Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum, when a mood of paralysing shock and grief overcame progressives and liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, the two most common refrains I heard were: “I don’t recognise my country any more,” and “I feel like I’ve woken up in a different country.” This period of collective disorientation was promptly joined by oppositional activity, if not activism. People who had never marched before took to the streets; those who had not donated before gave; people who had not been paying attention became engaged. Many continue.

Almost three years later the Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, is predicted to top the poll in European parliament elections in which the far right will make significant advances across the continent; Theresa May’s imminent downfall could hand the premiership to Boris Johnson; Trump’s re-election in 2020 is a distinct possibility, with Democratic strategists this week predicting only a narrow electoral college victory against him. “Democrats do not walk into the 2020 election with the same enthusiasm advantage they had in the 2018 election,” said Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic political action committee.

Elsewhere, exit polls suggest Narendra Modi, the reactionary Hindu nationalist leader of India implicated in a massacre in 2002, will enjoy a landslide victory.

Sooner or later progressives are going to have to stop being stunned by these electoral defeats. The first time, it is plausible to ask, “How could this possibly happen?” But when that possibility recurs in relatively short order, what once presented itself as a shock has now curdled into self-deception. It turns out that the country you woke up in is the precisely the one you went to bed in. If you still don’t recognise it then you are going to have real problems changing it.

There are any number of lessons we might draw from this moment – for instance, the fact that our capacity to stage marches has outpaced our ability to build effective movements or the media’s efforts to maintain credibility. We are in a period during which facts are devalued, and appearing on a political show has more worth than answering any questions on that show.

There are many differences between the places I’ve mentioned, but for now I’d like to focus on one thing that unites them: that the countries which keep producing these shocks are every bit as racist, xenophobic and discriminatory as their voting habits suggest. This is not some new virus; it’s a susceptibility to a chronic illness that has crippled us for years. Ethnic and racial plurality and migration as a lived experience are older than any nation state, but equality is a relatively new idea, and some don’t like it. People forget how recently African Americans couldn’t vote, and that Winston Churchill told his cabinet “Keep England White” was a good campaign slogan.

These electoral victories are, largely but not exclusively, the products of those age-old prejudices: not because everyone who voted for them was racist, but because all the racists who did go to the polls voted for them. The intensity of that racism is now growing, as the victors use their podiums and despatch boxes to amplify their bigotry, giving confidence and licence for people to spread their poison. Take Britain. In January 2016, 64% of people from an ethnic minority said they had been targeted by a stranger. That’s before Brexit, and already terrible. That proportion rose to 76% this year. Things were bad. They are getting worse.

An anti-racism protest In New York.
An anti-racism protest In New York. Photograph: Erik M/Pacific/Barcroft Images

In the past, issues of race and racism were misunderstood by some liberals as a sectional interest – a bad thing that affected people of colour. It has taken this moment to make it clear that while these acts of discrimination – be they deliberate, unwitting, covert, overt, individual or institutional – did directly impact the black and the brown, they also undermined the whole of society. Racism was the wedge the enemies of cosmopolitanism and plurality used to prise open a broader cleavage that is dividing us all.

It’s not clear this lesson has been learned. Most, but by no means all, remain devotees I have encountered are far more fluent in the language of race accusation (pointing out the bigotry of the Brexiters) than in the anti-racist activism that would put a racially diverse and plural Britain at the heart of their worldview. Some would be happy if we went back to the way we were before we voted to leave. But that would mean returning to a place where two-thirds of ethnic minority people faced racial abuse. No wonder these second referendum marches are so white.

These rivers run deep – winding through empire, imperialism, caste, settlement, colonialism, white supremacy and beyond. That’s not all these countries are. Wherever there is bigotry you will find an impressive tradition opposing it and a potential audience willing to be weaned off it. A recent survey in the US, for example, revealed that one in seven Republicans agreed with the statement: “When it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, our country has not gone far enough”.

There is no denying that bigotry, once embedded in a political culture, is difficult to excise. But it cannot be avoided for reasons of expediency and complicity either. That is in no small part how we got here: people who knew better eschewing “difficult conversations” because it would cost them votes.

Nor can racism be met halfway, any more than you can remove half a cancer and expect it not to grow back. Attempts to triangulate with weasel words about the “legitimate concerns” of “traditional voters” are dishonest. Concerns about high class sizes and over-stretched welfare services are obviously legitimate; blaming ethnic minorities for them is obviously not. Facilitating a conflation of the two and hoping no one will notice is spineless. It also doesn’t work. Those who dedicate their lives to racism are better at it, and will never be satisfied. Pandering does not steal their thunder – it gives them legitimacy.

There is precious little value in pointing out, once every four or five years, that racism is a problem if you are not advocating an agenda in the intervening time that posits anti-racism as a solution. In the words of the great white hope of Conservative electoral strategy, Australian Lynton Crosby: “You can’t fatten the pig on market day.” You can’t go around producing anti-immigration mugs, pathologising Muslims and demonising asylum seekers for a decade and then expect a warm a reception for open borders in the few months before a referendum.

Or, if you do, the very least you can do is not keep being shocked when you lose.

Gary Younge is a Guardian columnist

Article shared privately for educational purposes only.

We can’t climb Uluru?? But we have larrikin spirit coming out our mateholes First Dog on the Moon

You tell settler Australians we can’t do something and we completely lose our wild colonial minds

sd

Cartoon shared privately for educational purposes.

Copyright rights First Dog on the Moon, The Guardian online.

About the boys: Tim Winton on how toxic masculinity is shackling men to misogyny

 

Australian author Tim Winton argues that misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.
Australian author Tim Winton argues that misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma. Photograph: Lynn Webb

I don’t have any grand theory about masculinity. But I know a bit about boys. Partly because I’m at the beach and in the water a lot.

As a surfer you spend a lot of time bobbing about, waiting for something to happen. So eventually, you get talking. Or you listen to others talking. And I spend my work days alone, in a room with people who don’t exist, so these maritime conversations make up the bulk of my social life. And most of the people in the water are younger than me, some by 50 years or more.

I like the teasing and the joking that goes on, the shy asymmetrical conversations, the fitful moments of mutual bewilderment and curiosity. A lot of the time I’m just watching and listening. With affection. Indulgence. Amusement. Often puzzled, sometimes horrified. Interested, but careful, of course, not to appear too interested. And the wonderful thing about getting older – something many women will understand – is that after a certain age you become invisible. And for me, after years of being much too visible for my own comfort, this late life waterborne obscurity is a gift.

There are a lot more girls in the water these days, and hallellujah for that; I can’t tell you how heartening this is. But I want to focus on the boys for a moment. For what a mystery a boy is. Even to a grown man. Perhaps especially to a grown man. And how easy it is to forget what beautiful creatures they are. There’s so much about them and in them that’s lovely. Graceful. Dreamy. Vulnerable. Qualities we either don’t notice, or simply blind ourselves to. You see, there’s great native tenderness in children. In boys, as much as in girls. But so often I see boys having the tenderness shamed out of them.

Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it’s not just men pressing those kids into service.

These boys in the surf. The things they say to me! The stuff I hear them saying to their mates! Some of it makes you want to hug them. Some of it makes you want to cry. Some of it makes you ashamed to be a male. Especially the stuff they feel entitled or obliged to say about girls and women.

What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting. Trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.

True, the blokes around me in the water are there, like me, for respite, to escape complexity and responsibility for an hour or two, to save themselves from going mad in their working lives, but their dignified silence in response to misogynistic trash talk allows other messages, other poisonous postures to flourish. Too often, in my experience, the ways of men to boys lack all conviction, they lack a sense of responsibility and gravity. And I think they lack the solidity and coherence of tradition. Sadly, modernity has failed to replace traditional codes with anything explicit, or coherent or benign. We’re left with values that are residual, fuzzy, accidental or sniggeringly conspiratorial.

We’ve scraped our culture bare of ritual pathways to adulthood. There are lots of reasons for having clear-felled and burnt our own traditions since the 1960s, and some of them are very good reasons. But I’m not sure what we’ve replaced them with. We’ve left our young people to fend for themselves. We retain a kind of indulgent, patronising, approval of rites of passage in other cultures, including those of our first peoples, but the poverty of mainstream modern Australian rituals is astounding.

What are we left with? The sly first beer your uncle slips you. The 18th birthday party where the keg is the icon. Maybe the B&S ball, if you live in the bush. First drink, first root, first bog-lap in your mum’s Corolla. Call me a snob, but that strikes me as pretty thin stuff. This, surely, is cultural impoverishment. And in such a prosperous country. To my mind, that’s salt rising to the surface, poisoning the future.

In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young men in particular are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective. And that’s dangerous.

Toxic masculinity is a burden to men. I’m not for a moment suggesting men and women suffer equally from misogyny, because that’s clearly and fundamentally not true. And nobody needs to hear me mansplaining on the subject of the patriarchy. But I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels and metastasizes in families. Slavery should have taught us that. The Stolen Generations are still teaching us. Misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.

A man in manacles doesn’t fully understand the threat he poses to others. Even as he’s raging against his bonds. Especially as he’s raging against his bonds. When you’re bred for mastery, when you’re trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy, how do you find your way in a world that cannot be mastered? How do you live a life in which all of us must eventually surrender and come to terms? Too many men are blunt instruments. Otherwise known, I guess, as tools. Because of poor training, they’re simply not fit for purpose. Because life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.

Can we wean boys off machismo and misogyny? Will they ever relinquish the race, the game, the fight, and join the dance? I hope so. Because liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and clearly, and most clearly of all, in our politics.

Boy and man stare out to sea.

Pinterest
‘The poverty of mainstream modern Australian rituals is astounding,’ writes Winton. Photograph: Andy Andrews/Getty Images

Children are born wild. And that’s beautiful, it’s wondrous, regardless of gender. Even when they’re feral creatures, kids are reservoirs of tenderness and empathy. But some do turn into savages. And sadly most of those are boys. They’re trained into it. Because of neglect or indulgence. And when we meet them in the street, and have them in our classrooms, and haul them into the courts, we recoil from them in horror and disgust. Our detention centres and jails are heaving with them. These wild colonial boys, they’re a terror to Australia. Real and imagined. But I worry about our revulsion for them, our desire to banish them from consciousness for their noncompliance, their mistakes, or their faithful adherence to the scripts that have been written for them.

Boys need help. And, yes, men need fixing – I’m mindful of that. Males arrive in our community on the coattails of an almost endless chain of unexamined privilege. I don’t deny that for a second. But patriarchy is bondage for boys, too. It disfigures them. Even if they’re the last to notice. Even if they profit from it. And their disfigurement diminishes the ultimate prospects of all of us, wherever we are on the gender spectrum. I think we need to admit this.

But before we even get to that point, we have to acknowledge the awkward, implacable fact of their existence, especially those who most offend our sensibilities. We should resist our instinct or our ideological desire to cross the street to avoid them, our impulse to shut them down and shut them out and finally lock them up. We need to have higher expectations of them. Provide better modelling for them.

But before any of that is possible we need to attend to them. Yes, boys need their unexamined privilege curtailed. Just as they need certain proscribed privileges and behaviours made available to them. But the first step is to notice them. To find them worthy of our interest. As subjects, not objects. How else can we hope to take responsibility for them? And it’s men who need to step up and finally take their full share of that responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

Reinventing “lived traditions” on demolished urban villages: Hadid-Zaha’s Chaoyangmen Soho mall vs. Amateur Architecture’s Ningbo History Museum (part one).

From courtyards to mallyards: Hadid-Zaha’s Chaoyangmen Soho building.

One day we (Lu Jian and I) would like to live in a courtyard house that we have “WangLued” (an architectural verb to be explained below). We love the “amateur” architects Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu. My feeling is that their historically-engaged work is increasingly important in China, where big-bucks developers have denigrated the built heritage, not least by bringing in Western “starchitects” to build computer-generated Cathedrals to new wealth and narcissistic consumption. However, that is just the view of a left-wing “waigouren”. Lu Jian ? my Tianjinese wife with expertise in Chinese construction? similarly loves Wang and Lu’s work but also views the new developments in a more positive light.
An iconic example of the new cathedrals is the late Zaha Hadid’s (1950-2016) Chaoyangmen Soho mall located near Beijing’s 2nd ring road. The mall on Chaoyangmen Lu is the second of “Hadid-Zaha’s” four collaborations with Soho China, a property development company whose CEO Zhang Xin regards their buildings as “forming the fate of the city”. Like the majority of Hadid-Zaha’s later  3D-designed oeuvre, the Chaoyangmen Soho’s design is typically biomorphic and flowing.The futuristic structure provides the sorts of journeys that make one want to glide or roll around its curves, rather than merely walk like a pre-cyborg humanoid.
dezeen_Galaxy-Soho-by-Zaha-Hadid-china
Chaoyangmen Soho: Cultural reinvention or socio-cultural death?

Regardless of the plastic-organic beauty, fans and critics have argued over whether the Chaoyangmen Soho provides social, historical and economic value.

Like Beijing’s (also RIBA  award winning) Olympic Birdcage , the Mall was built on land cleared of a historic neighbourhood. The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre’s He Shuzdong described the demolished urban villages as “the old Beijing streetscape, the original urban plan, the traditional hutong and courtyard houses, the landscape formation, and the style and colour scheme of Beijing’s unique vernacular architecture.”

IMG_20171206_114300

merge_from_ofoct (9)That destruction of public cultural heritage is part of a China-wide trend that ? in the capital ? has seen more than half the historic urban areas destroyed by what Beijing’s preservation watchdog calls “greedy developers” working “hand-in-hand with some corrupted officials”. Soho China’s CEO Zhang Xin agrees that property development (like other business) is generally ruled by “gaunxi” (relationships, or “who you know”), but argues that Soho’s development is free of corruption.

IMG_20171206_113004

dezeen_galaxy-soho-by-zaha-hadid_sq1The relationship of the new mall to its urban-historical context was discussed in the English newspaper The Guardian

The paper recorded He Shuzdong’s criticism that the mall had illegally destroyed the city’s built heritage. RIBA, however, praised it for the “rare generosity” of its public spaces.

 

Hadid?Zaha told The Guardian that the mall provides “a reflection of traditional Chinese architecture where courtyards create an internal world of continuous open spaces.” These varied public spaces “directly engage with the city … reinterpreting the traditional urban fabric and contemporary living patterns into a seamless urban landscape”.

IMG_20171206_112424

Zhang Xin views Hadid-Zaha as one of the architects “who understand what the next generation requires; connecting communities and traditions with new technologies and innovations to embrace the future.”

IMG_20171206_112432

Public use of the mall-yards and associated commercial space is one measure of the success or failure of Hadid-Zaha’s reinvention. Micha? Jurgielewicz argues that its current emptiness points to a design failure. Visitor experience of the mall tends to support Jurgielewicz’s argument. There are many photos of the Chaoyangmen Soho building on Tripadvisor, from Chinese and foreign visitors, most of which show it to be sparsely populated.

IMG_20171206_112204

One visitor’s review summed the common experience: “Very photogenic place, but an absolute ghost town. Functioned more like a park than a real office building. But worthwhile to visit if one’s interested in modern architecture”.  On the days of our visits, we also found that the mall’s many retail attendants outnumber the shoppers, while the prices of their luxury goods (tai gui le!) exceed the spending power of most urban village dwellers.

If Chaoyangmen Soho has become one of China’s many urban ghost towns, then  Hank Dittmar may have been correct in describing its formal reflection of historic courtyards as “merely writing an obituary, not keeping the culture alive.”

merge_from_ofoct (9)

Hadid-Zaha’s Chaoyangmen Soho mall vs. Amateur Architecture’s Ningbo History Museum (part two).

Part two: The lifeworld of the hutong: “tian peng, yu gang, shi liu shu; lao ye, fei gou, pang ya tou”.

Before comparing the Amateur Architecture Studio’s approach to heritage in their Ningbo History Museum (2008) to that of Chaoyangmen Soho’s reinvented mall-yards, we might pull up a stool under a pomegranate tree, and pause to reflect on the nature of the urban village culture, and what it might mean to “keep it alive”.

pomegranite tree1

He Shuzhong describes the hutong way of life as the one thing that best represents ancient Chinese culture, and sociologist Qing Qing Yang suggests that “the Hutongs themselves are a live archive of history”. The term ‘hutong’ refers specifically to a laneway, connecting the living compounds of houses (generally belonging to one family) and courtyards (often shared by several families whose houses face onto the courtyard). More broadly, the hutong area refers to all three elements (the lane, houses, courtyards). The use of the term hutong to describe a residential area had become widespread in China by the time of the Yuan dynasty (from 1271 onwards).

Different elements of the hutong’s material structure have particular historical meaning. For example, as Mr Li, a Beijing Hutong Dweller explained to Mr Yang

“If you go and look around these formal courtyards you will find most of them have men dun, which tell the visitors information about the household. For example, a box shaped men dun means that the master of the family is a civil official; while if it is a drum shaped round men dun, then the master of the family is a military officer. If there is a lion on the men dun, then the master of this family must be related to royal kinship. If the lion is in a standing posture, then this family has a higher social status, while if it bends over, then it means it is from a relatively lower social level”.

men dun

Qing Qing Yang explains that when people chose a marriage partner, the traditional standard men dang hu dui (????) applied, which meant the gate of the two families, which shows the family status, should match each other. While men dun and many other features of hutong buildings have become redundant in a literal sense, they are still highly valued by residents, for the histories and memories they evoke.

Yang suggests that the hutong, the courtyard and the house are all experienced as aspects of home, rather than separate spaces. Hutong were originally only wide enough for pedestrians and bicycles, and so provided “a haven for kids to play in without fear of an accident”. Lu Jian, who often stayed in her grandparent’s (Tianjin) courtyard house concurs that the freedom of the hutongs was one of the pleasures of childhood.

hutong nanhar

The home-courtyard-hutong space was shared among inter-generational family and neighbours. Yang gives the example of the pomegranate tree grown on a trellis across a hutong. The shade of the tree provides a meeting place where neighbours pull up stools to sit and talk and ? as can often be seen in the Beijing hutong? play mahjong. Shared outside washrooms also provide an opportunity for togetherness, and Yang suggests that the residents wearing of sleeping clothes in the street shows their feeling of home includes the hutong. Lu Jian recalls the sharing of food among the different families who ate together in her grandma’s courtyard; if someone went to the market and got fresh fish, crabs, or shrimp, then they would be shared with the neighbours.

chess under tree

“Communality” and an extended sense of being at home were and are pleasures of the hutong. On the other hand, conflicts among neighbours could sour things, especially as the home-courtyard-hutong life provides for little privacy and escape. Moreover, as Jonah Kessel suggests, the hutong’s living conditions were often poor: space was cramped, buildings suffered from crumbling bricks and leaking roofs, residents relied on coal for winter warmth and had to venture outside to the communal washrooms.

While preservationists would like to see heritage areas (say, within Beijing’s 2nd ring) authentically maintained and restored, it isn’t clear that residents are adverse to modification (and downright fakery) if it enables the preservation of material memories (everything has a story behind it), and continuity of the positive aspects of the hutong way of life. Many former inhabitants have moved to high rise apartments where they appreciate the better facilities (especially the privacy of one’s own washroom) but still long for the tree-lined hutongs, courtyards, and collective way of life. Often a compromise is preferred; residents would like to stay, but have their facilities improved. That may require difficult choices ? if having a washroom installed means losing a sleeping space, which relation needs to go?

3

Much of the compromising done in still existing hutong areas has been with tourism. To the extent that this enables a continuation of a hutong way of life, compromisers may be content to have come part of a “living museum” (as Yang describes it). However, over-commercialisation in some areas has pushed the compromise too far for the maintenance of the social lifeworld of the hutong. In such cases Yang suggests that these hutong have become an “empty shell”.

How then, might displaced hutong residents view the Chaoyangmen Soho mall? Despite RIBA’s claims that it’s public spaces represent a generous democratisation of Hadid-Zaha’s work, and the architect’s own claims of seamless cultural reinvention, its doubtful the displaced compromisers regard the mall-yards as providing for the continuation of “lived traditions”. It seems more likely they share the preservationists’ view that the Soho represents a kind of luxury-brand gravestone for the hutong way of life. If so, we might (in part three) ask, does Amateur Architecture’s more historical approach better support socio-cultural continuity and, if so, for who?

Reinventing “lived traditions” on demolished urban villages: Hadid-Zaha’s Chaoyangmen Soho mall vs. Amateur Architecture’s Ningbo History Museum (part three).

The Ningbo History Museum: Re-animating “lived traditions?

When Hadid?Zaha, Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu met on the occasion of Wang’s Pritzer prize in 2012, they might have discussed their different ideas of reinvention, heritage and lived traditions. If so, it may have been a tactful conversation as Wang and Lu have rebuked contemporary architecture’s contribution to the large-scale demolition of historic urban villages and their way of life. Amateur Architecture’s Ningbo History Museum (2008) provides a good subject for comparison, not least because it was built on a site cleared of urban villages ? like the Chaoyangmen Soho site ? in order to provide for commercial, residential and public space development.Where Hadid-Zaha claimed to have provided conceptually ‘reinvented courtyards’ within a high-end commercial development, Wang and Lu’s publicly-funded museum seeks to reanimate the beauty of the villages, their built materials, and their lifeworld.

Ningo history museum lu

In a short video for Dezeen, Wang Shu indicates some of the ideas of reinvented heritage he and Lu Wenyu used in the design and process of building the museum. Integral to the design is the use of the villages’ demolition materials, including around 2 million pieces of brick and tiles collected from the rubble.The Dezeen article on the Ningbo Museum describes how these were used in “a traditional technique called wa pan, in which multiple elements of different sizes are packed together “.

The reuse of local historical materials is key to the “amateur” approach and its critique of contemporary Chinese architecture. Wang told the New York Times

Everywhere you can see, they don’t care about the materials …they just want new buildings, they just want new things. I think the material is not just about materials. Inside it has the people’s experience, memory — many things inside. So I think it’s for an architect to do something about it.”

laneway wapan

The participation of the local artisans in the museum’s wa pan building practice reinvents “lived tradition”, with some artisans re-learning their lost local tradition, while the process involved the artisan’s selection of materials and their placement in the cladding design. Wang differentiates these uses of materials as intrinsic to the lived experience of the building from the idea of historical objects placed within a museum display, whereupon they are positioned as belonging to the non-present past (he says they have become “dead”).

The spatial design of the museum also reanimates the lost lifeworld of the villages. As Evan Chakroff (2012) observes the museum is organised around two courtyards open to the sky is “a familiar form of traditional Chinese residential and temple”, which visitors access through a low gateway. Inside the visitor’s journey proceeds via large staircases and other smaller punctures that reflect “the courtyards, pathways, and captured spaces of traditional Chinese gardens”.

shulian

The museum’s “roofscape” has “the human- scale proportions of a traditional Chinese village”; the “voids slashing through the building intersect at angles that instantly recall the pitched roofs of local vernacular architecture”; while the cuts ‘reflect the width of historic pedestrian lanes’. The walls show the wa pan method mixed with bamboo-molded concrete. Here we can see the manifestation of Wang and Lu’s idea of historical reinvention where materials are used in relation totradition rather than in simple repetition: the structure relates to its history as a “new creation”.

museum-city-scape-1

Wang and Lu’s building invites the visitor to view the urban development from the standpoint of local history as lived tradition. if the museum re-historicizes the urban environment for the Chinese (national) visitor, it is also more specifically intended to re-memorialise for the displaced local villagers. In this it is consistent with the egalitarian public service ethos of the Amateur Architects, who view themselves as fellow artisans, on a continuum with the local craftsmen and women who built the museum’s wa pan cladding. “WangLuing” then ? the Amateur approach ? includes this egalitarian love of craft alongside the trans-historical reanimation of the lifeworld of pagodas, temples, and courtyards.

Conclusion: Reinventing for who? Reinventing towards what?

The question of what audience an architecture performs for seems relevant when comparing the different kinds of reinventions provided by the Ningbo History Museum and the Chaoyangmen Soho mall. Arguably, Hadid-Zaha’s mall speaks to Beijing’s growing middle and elite classes, both the consumers intended to flanuer their way around the mall-yards, and the displaced hutong dwellers whose property compensation may have contributed to their upwards socio-economic mobility. Perhaps the mall’s role in the political economy contributes to that upward movement. Possibly it’s mall-yards and economy are generous democratic contributions.

On the other hand, its emptiness suggests that it has not successfully reinvented the once-thriving lifeworld of the demolished hutongs, not for displaced residents, nor for middle-class and elite consumers. Nor has it yet become the engine of innovation and economic growth envisioned by its developer, merging seamlessly with the surrounding city. Soho China CEO Zhang Xin asserts, Chaoyangmen Soho is one of the buildings “forming the fate of the city”. If so, is it just one of Beijing’s vanity project for the extremely wealthy, one symbolising their power ? and the powerlessness of the displaced villagers? in a form less phallic than that of China’s tallest tower competition? The fate being foretold in Zhang’s hopes for the reinvented mall-yards may just be one of inequality and forgetting unless it’s subject to radical reinvention (for example, cheap public housing, public health facilities, libraries, education). That kind of public spirited transformation would be at odds though, with the anarchic capitalism of Patrick Schumacher, Zaha Hadid’s architectural practice partner and now CEO.

Amateur Architecture’s Ningbo History Museum, in contrast, is dedicated to remembering a lost lifeworld for the displaced urban villagers. For the visitor, the museum’s material and form reanimates the presence of the historical villages and their way of life and frames the contemporary city through that experience and view. For the local craftsmen, the building reflects their involvement in the construction of the building and the reanimation of traditional building practices (wa pan) that express the layers of local history. Wang and Lu assert that the building serves the memories of the displaced local villages, it enables their remembering. The structure, form, and experience of the building contrast with the internal exhibition, which is exactly the kind of mimetic reflection that Wang and Lu described as evidencing a lifeworld’s death.

exhibit ningbo a

Who is it useful to, this built lived tradition? Is it visited by the displaced villagers whose memories and history it seeks to honour? What might it mean to the displaced migrant farmer who may not have received any compensation? Would the displaced villager now living in a compensation-purchased high-rise return to visit, like the Beijing villagers tourist-visiting hutongs in order to remember? Does the museum generate economic activity that supports the strata that formerly belonged to the urban village?

Or is it intended as a place for critical reflection, a material standpoint from which a privileged viewer might desire the positive elements of the hutong lifeworld, and condemn its demolition? As such a standpoint, the Ningbo History Museum is, albeit in a conflicting way, as futuristic as the Chaoyangmen Soho. Literally grounded in dialogic history (the wa pan cladding forms the base, and was selected with the local craftsmen), it also speaks of a relationship to nature (the upper-level concrete is molded by bamboo).
museum city scape

The visitor views the surrounding city through lines of perspective guided by history/memory/nature, and these lines suggest a trajectory for future ‘development’, one that conflicts with the dominant trajectory of buildings like Zhang and Hadid’s mall on Chaoyangmen Lu.

West-Eastern Civilization: conflicted and hybrid histories

Dear Students,

welcome to this introductory course on the history of civilization.

This year, We’re going to look at the concept of Western civilization, and critique it (note, to critique something doesn’t mean to simply reject it, but to engage with it critically).

Semester one: The Eurocentric history of Western civilization

This semester we’re going to look at the way that history differs depending on who tells the tale (history belongs to the victors, as the saying goes).

With that in mind, we’ll look at the standard Western account of the history Western civilization, and the way that kind of history includes the ‘east’.

Semester two: The Eastern origins of Western civilization

Then, in semester two we’ll look at revisionist histories that complicate that kind of history by more fully including an eastern perspective. We’ll look at some of the Eastern roots of civilization, and some of the Eastern routes taken to get there.

Finally we’ll get to the point where we can reconsider the concept. We can ask the question: Does it make sense to talk about Civilization as something Western or Eastern?