Speaking of the future: ten years ago, you drew up a design for Beijing in 2050 and proposed that by then, “a mature and democratic China will have emerged.” Do you still believe that now? What keeps your optimism alive?
I don’t know. Personality, I think — compared to some other architects, I’m not as pessimistic. But also I realized that we are already entering a different era, a post-industrial time. That’s why I, instinctually, don’t like grand buildings. I don’t want a monument. I want to make things more free and natural, to make a tower look curved and soft and rounding off at the top. I say to myself, “All the other towers look super strong. They all look like a man.”
But does it still make sense to think as far ahead as 2050? Even in China, the political and economic situations are not the only barriers to progress; there’s the ecological situation too, the endemic pollution…
In my Beijing 2050 project, I had a proposal to make Tiananmen Square into a forest. I found a historical photo of Tiananmen, which used to be wooded before they cleared everything to make room for the plaza. It would be difficult to realize that proposal, but now they have two large patches of grass, and I already think the place is transforming and becoming more human. So now I have a different dream.
Beijing is getting so big now, with so many people. Right now, unless you are right in the center of Beijing, you don’t know where you are. The city has no character. But old Beijing was a garden — I have to say an Eastern garden, where artificial nature and artificial buildings co-existed in the same scenery. What if we apply this philosophy to the overall city? If the city’s future urban plan can adopt the old philosophy of Beijing’s center, I think it will be the greatest achievement of this generation.
The full interview appears in Even no. 6, published in spring 2017.