Constructing a Harmonious Society: A Dictionary

Critical, Curatorial + Conceptual Practices in Architecture, Thesis

Bonny Yau

Mabel O. Wilson, advisor

The dictionary is a collection of terms whose associations have the opportunity to expose formations and formulations of a given language. Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) gave legitimacy and authority to that moment in time, crafting a narrative of national identity and individualizing its culture and society from the rest of the world. In the same manner, China is in the midst of shaping its own architectural identity against its political past and rising position in the international market. Both comprehensive and focused, the dictionary as applied to the contemporary Chinese city will use the Expo 2010, held in Shanghai, China, to reveal the intricate linkages between architecture, authority, culture, and representation through conflicting perspectives juxtaposed within the authoritative format.

Analysis of the high-profile Expo as a miniature urban center displays the rewards and failures of China’s single-minded focus on the city. Since roughly 2000, the attention of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been towards populating the urban environment with skyscrapers and iconic statements, moving away from China’s historic rural past while wholeheartedly adopting the Expo slogan “Better City, Better Life”. However, this resolution is formed of a menagerie of interconnected themes and pieces that addressed individually will reveal a rickety structure of political, economic, and social forces. The dictionary format will legitimize each piece and create a guide through the network.

China is on the forefront of development and in defining what the contemporary city is and will be. In joining the global language of art and architecture, business and commerce, China is concocting a new culture for itself based on massive and rapidly-constructed Tower of Babel-like cities. A combination of historical tradition and speculative idealism, if this is China’s contemporary, what is its future?