There are two aspects which define construction in China: labor and bureaucracy. The first is low-priced, but hardly specialized. The fact that most workers live on construction site, come from very poor villages and far from the cities do not ease them into specialization. For them it is a kind of grape harvest and after to finish the construction of the Expo or any other major work, they are forced to return to their villages of origin. The second point, the Communist bureaucracy is extremely hierarchical, any change in the development of the building work (even to move a pot) means to have thousands of meetings and to sign thousands of papers. You can make your own, however in the next morning no one will tell you nothing but everything will remain in the original position. The architects of Hamburg pavilion had a serious problem with the construction company because they could not understand each other. If for the Germans everything is black or white, for the Chinese everything is gray. In any negotiation, they will always choose the midpoint; they will never opt for one of the extreme side, even agreeing.
People smile and look at me like I was crazy when I speak of the Latin character of the Chinese. But it is there, for any treatment in any business, it is essential dining, drinking Chinese liquor with horrible taste and promote good personal relationship. Without mutual trust based on personal relationship nothing is possible. Another false myth is the one who says that Chinese work 24 hours per day: 8.00. the day starts and no one will arrive on time. 11.30. lunch, two hours eating including a nap, they would not care if it is the day before the open ceremony. 13.30. return to work. 17.30. dinner and sleep.
¨Original copy, original copy!¨ It’s an oxymoron that can be constantly heard in the busiest markets in Shanghai. What is surprising is that they say it in such a way as if it was the most common expresion in the world , and of course for them it is normal. They sell copies as iPhones, Prada shoes, Nike T-shirts, Louis Vuitton handbags, … even miniPhone which the originals do not exist. There are different classes: the original copy, as they say, is the best quality and then there are copies of second and third class. At the moment, this is the trend almost in all aspects of the society. In the architecture occurs the same, they have not reached the time to develop their own ideas yet. There are even rumors which affirm that Chinese pavilion is a copy of a rejected project for the Japanese pavilion.
One of the most exciting moments came the day before the opening ceremony of the Expo, unexpectedly at 8 pm they started the test of the fireworks. We all were standing there looking at the sky for an hour despite the stress that we have accumulated those days. We were witnesses of a definitive moment for China and its position in the world. Maybe the fireworks and the Stockholm syndrome have affected me a lot, but I really think in 10 or 15 years China will shift from the world’s factory we can see now to be the leader in creativity. The ability to create changes and learn from them, plus the optimism that generate by seeing the world economy falls and they still resist, will favour that change. From “Made in China” to “created in China.” And if this happens will affect the rest of the world in a way that we never have seen before.
Ion Cuervas-Mons was 6 months in Shanghai in charge of the design and construction of the Ecosistema Urbano’s air tree (Madrid Pavilion) for the Universal Exhibition of 2010. Published in Pasajes de arquitectura y crítica Nº114.
[...] first time I “met” Ion Cuervas-Mons was on twitter, when he still was in Shanghai to direct the construction of Madrid Pavilion for Shanghai Expo. The second time I’ve heard [...]