MAPPING IDENTITY: Studio ARC 305 at XJTLUniversity
MAPPING IDENTITY: An urgent redefinition for a glocal China
What is exactly people’s identity is a tricky question nowadays. We live in an era where the recognition of local roots is confused with a mixture of global influences and identities. Our glocal condition—first mentioned in the 1980s—is truer than ever. We are globally connected but at the same time, we are living moments of contradictorily local radicalism with very different origins and support (from Brexit and regionalisms, to ISIS and Trump’s policies).
We also know that identity is a key factor for architectural practices. We can even assert that building identity is the main target of architects as socio-cultural agents. People need a feeling of belonging as a basic ingredient of their emotional comfort. Identity must be found in architecture’s different scales—from cities to neighborhoods and homes—without redundancy, drawing subtle differences between them. The sequence of people’s self-identification works one inside the other, in a constant interconnection, hence it should be meticulously considered. For this task, we should be extremely attentive to people’s lives and aspirations with a deep knowledge of history as necessary background. In this way, we will understand that identity is an interweaved combination of what we are and what we want to be. Observation and knowledge, as two of the most precious architect’s tools, are essential for untangle this.
Thinking about identity in a historical and global way, trying to find its universal ingredients, we could assert that the linkage between past and future, between history and aspirations, is undoubtedly one of those shared components. The common factor between such different architectural expressions as the ancient Greece and the Roman Empire is this past-future connection. Roman monumentality came from a background of State’s colonialism and the political desire to continue conquering. The domestic and sensitive scale of Greek architecture was a consequence of a deep consideration of human beings and existing landscape and their wish to keep these values. Because of this, the way each culture builds identity is at the same time a testimony and a manifesto.
If this is the common ground, what is the specificity of contemporary identity? What are we doing in our identity recognition differently to ancient times? Although the answer to this question will be part of the studio’s initial research, I will point out that glocalization is a vital concept in this answer. Our trans-modern era and its emphasis on dissolving boundaries in all scales—from corporations’ transnationality to body transgender—is also characterized by the melting between us and the others. Local radicalism is a reaction to this fact, coming from a resistance to the necessary reconfiguration of identity. To erase traditional concepts—such as nations or gender—is extremely painful and the establishment resists it violently because the in-betweenness is a space of fundamental denial of control, a space for people’s freedom. Despite to resistance, this is an ongoing process with no way back.
In this conceptual framework—resumed as the crossroad between past/future and local/global—is where we need to redefine what Chinese identity is going to be for the 21st Century. We must consider the knowledge of China’s history and the Chinese people’s aspirations for the future as a necessary background. We will also be obliged to think critically about the different approaches to this question coming from the common people—bottom-up—or the economic and political establishment—top-bottom. Pudong area in Shanghai with its characteristic clash of domestic and corporative architecture is the perfect field for this exploration.