Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

On February 28, the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB) was scheduled to wrap up its three-month run at the renovated Value Factory in Shenzhen, China (the exhibition was extended to March 14). The UABB billed itself as "the only biennial exhibition in the world to be based exclusively on the set themes of Urbanism and Urbanization," taking "Urban Border" as its theme for this cycle. Co-organized by the neighboring cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, the biennale was directed by Ole Bouman with Li Xiangning and Jeffrey Johnson. We highlight some of the award-winning projects from the UABB.
Organizing Committee Award: Value Factory Renovation

The main venue for the UABB was the Value Factory, a former Guangdong glass factory transformed specifically for the exhibition and many of its events. Bouman led a large team of "creative stakeholders" to reuse and adapt the historically important yet derelict factory, in effect turning something transitory (Biennale exhibition) into something permanent. The committee members who awarded the project commended its "permanent contribution to the exhibition site and surrounding areas" as a "demonstration of the power of architecture in a direct manner."

Bouman described the Value Factory as "a complete cultural facility...with a manifesto hall, silo adventure, urban beacon, chapel, panorama deck, museum, event platform, urban farm, design and consultancy studio, academy, education center, think tank, exhibition facility, workshops, shop, bar and restaurants."
Academic Committee Award: Working on Yingzao Fashi
Program Partner: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)

Yingzao Fashi is considered a building manual for traditional Chinese roofs. With the help of OMA and their ubiquitous blue foam, a group of architecture students researched the manual with the help of experts, incorporating the traditional roofs into contemporary building designs. Their installation became as much about process as product, or as committee member Terence Riley described it: "[It] allows visitors to understand the thinking behind an exhibition's development, not just the final product – an exhibition of an exhibition."

Even though the UABB was extended by two weeks, as soon as the initial date of February 28 hit, the models were boxed up and sent to Venice for the upcoming Biennale directed by OMA's Rem Koolhaas.
Academic Committee Award: Value Farm
Program Partner: The Chinese University of Hong Kong + The University of Hong Kong

The popularity of urban farming is growing (no pun intended) and will continue to do so as more people move to cities and there is more demand for locally grown food. This applies as much to cosmopolitan cities like New York as it does to smaller international cities and China's mega-cities. Value Farm, as the name indicates, occupies a slice of land within the Value Factory. The farm was inspired by a rooftop farm in Hong Kong's Graham Street Market, as "Little Hong Kong" gardens were transported to Shenzhen for use in the Value Farm. Like the Value Factory of which it is a part, the farm will survive well beyond the Biennale, becoming, in the words of committee member Zhu Rongyuan, "a prime example of how urban green environment can be achieved."
Academic Committee Award: 14 City Cases - Past, Present and Future
Curator: Zoe Alexandra Florence

A long hallway was the setting for this installation in which curator Zoe Alexandra Florence asked emerging architects to examine the past, present and future of urban borders. The assigned cities included Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the host country, but also Mexico City, Paris, Detroit, New York, and Ceuta, Spain, among others. As displayed on serrated boards in the hallway, the installation subtly expressed borders – images were visible on one approach, while text was visible from the other side. Committee member Shi Jian commended the focused research, saying, "it corresponded well with the theme of the Biennale."
Academic Committee Award: UK Pavilion – Liquid Boundaries
Curator: Jeremy Till (Central Saint Martins)

In response to what architect and educator Till calls "the fixity of boundaries and the regulation of space," the UK Pavilion uses films to explore "liquid boundaries." Co-housing, temporary interventions and the Occupy movement are a few of the methods explored in videos that committee member Terence Riley called "inviting." Each of the four films, produced with students and staff from Central Saint Martins, were 129 seconds long – "the average time someone spends in a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale," according to Till.
Public Choice Award: Communication or Confrontation, a Timeline of City Edge
Li Danfeng and Zhou Jianjia, Yearch Studio (New York)

Visitors to the UABB could vote on site and online for their favorite exhibits, three of which received prizes. Appropriately located in the long corridor next to 14 City Cases, Communication or Confrontation studied the concept of "border" and "boundary" through hundreds of city plans hung from the ceiling on translucent materials. The layering of illustrations and varying heights created an ambiguity that questioned how city edges are defined and challenged.
Public Choice Award: Shenzhen Hong Kong Special Material Zone
Program partner: Droog with TD

Dutch design company Droog is interested in how material resources can keep up with the increasing demand that arises from a rising global population, particularly the middle class. In 2012 they provoked the need for alternative business models with "Material Matters" at European furniture fairs, and they followed those up with the SZHKSMZ (Shenzhen Hong Kong Special Material Zone) exhibit at the UABB. Based on the concept "Materials are Finite, Ideas are Free!", the exhibit encouraged innovation through imaginary responses to tax incentives created by the SZHKSMZ.
Public Choice Award: Rapid Response Collecting
Program partner: Victoria & Albert Museum

In the V&A's new curatorial initiative to build a collection that represents the "now," the London museum recently aquired "Katy Perry Lashes," false lashes that are sold in stores and online. Their so-called Rapid Response Collecting goes against the norm of, in their words, "establishing categories of objects that they feel are valuable and representative of the past." For the UABB, V&A collaborated with Chinese thinkers and experts to "collect objects that represent the reality of Shenzhen presently," many of which will enter the V&A's permanent collection.
Finally, here is a six-minute documentary on the UABB and its closing:
John Hill
Published on
Mar 10, 2014