Yesterday I had the chance to interview Neville Mars, director of the Dynamic City Foundation in Beijing and author of "The Chinese Dream: a Society under Construction". I basically picked four books into his bookshelf and asked him to comment them. He participated into the two first ones, Save me from what I want, from the group sexymachinery, edited by Shumon Basar and Vision plus money plus historical circumstance equals 'Cities from Zero', unapologetic expressions of new-found economic - and therefore political - prowess in the 21st century edited by Shumon Basar. The third one is a classic: Mutations, by Rem Koolhaas/Harvard,and the last is a photography book, China Daily Life, by Reineke Otten.
Neville Mars: "Save me from what I want" is a really small beautiful sensitive little project from a team all connected to the AA in London. This team is called sexymachinery and was run by Shumon Basar. It was sort of a cross between art, society and architecture; and this particular booklet is about desire. I wrote a little introductory article called "a message of hope for an uncertain futur". This was in a time where the real big uncertainties hadn't even emerged yet, like 9/11, and the Bush area, etc. This was a time right after the New-Year Eve of the new millenium, with the Y2K bug and stuff like that. It talks about an idea of new generation emerging and how this new generation has to somehow find its own identity. And I was arguing that maybe, you know what many people says the current young generation is completely absorbed with the internet and therefore they would be less creative, etc... This kind of very traditional...
(NDLR): Your point here is it would be the opposite, right?
NM: In a way it's the opposite. What I did is I mentioned a all bunch of arguments that they are right, that we should be very skeptical of the current sort of mobile trend. But at the end of the day, there is nothing, there hasn't been anything quite yet as creative as the internet and the emergence in 2000 of the beginning of the web 2.0.
(NDLR): And burb.tv is the incarnation of that?
NM: At least on our little scale, yes.
Maybe on the same line, also with Shumon, we were invited to write for the annual research book that they do at the AA. In this case the book called Cities from Zero looking at new environment completely build from scratch and obviously ideally build in one goal and build at a very large scale; for instance the environments in China, environments in the Middle-East. I was making an argument that China is a rather unique environment when it comes to cities from zero, truly new cities. Because there are actually no new cities in China. The entire country consists of new cities ie. what we have been calling China is a "new city nation"; and that argument become more and more feasible if you understand that not only are they trying to build hundred of new cities from scratch, even the old cities like Beijing where we are now are being overhauled and rebuild so fast and so radical that they should be understood as new cities. A little preview to our later work...
(NDLR): Then the influence of "some people" (ndlr: Neville begann is career in OMA) on your work?
NM: This is a funny book. "Mutations" or "Mutations" (en français dans le texte), Rem is really good at doing these titles with double meaning. He is extremely good at it. In this case, the book itself I think is really weird, because it was made to sell, to be able to afford to do another book which was Project on the City 1, about the Pearl River Delta. And they were already really deep into it, maybe they even had already started doing the shopping book. But they couldn't obviously fund it. So they just slammed together this book with sort of articles in progress, a lot of images, previous projects, invited some very clever people like Hans Ulrich Obrist and produce this almost instant book. You know a book that is almost as instant as the cities it is trying to talk about. And it looks cheap and shitty to sort of maximise the profit maybe I'm not sure! But it's nice for some other reasons: even there is absolutely no solid direction in the book, there is obviously no real serious effort to make a clearly organized book. It's a bit of slap dash project. It's even field with some really blanked clichés. But that makes it kind of exciting, that's why I quite like the book: because you don't feel unheard to read it. You know you are happy to flip through it and now I read an article in any kind of order. It's always obviously quite good and quite rewarding. The pictures are really good. I'm surprised that many pictures in this book haven't been published in other books, especially this serie from the sky taking pictures of these typical urban typologies in the US, Florida, Vegas, Houston etc...
(NDLR): Talking about pictures... from pictures to pictures?
NM: Talking about pictures, China Daily Life is a picture book in itself. This is a book done by Reineke Otten, but actually the project and the documents were assigned by us. Reineke is an old friend of mine from Rotterdam, and she is a very fast photographer. And she was starting to do what she called "streetology" what is sort of documenting street life. But she does that so fast, that I felt her work was quite methodological. Her work is quite systematic. So I said can you come with us to China for half a year and do your machine gun photography. The only thing what you need to do is categorize it. Stick it in clear folder. Obviously it was a huge amount of work, very difficult. Shout everything you are fascinating by, from chickens to people, to buildings, to door naps, to interiors, to street sections, like specific highways, small streets, hutongs etc... to clouds, anything you want, wallets, as long as you make a clear systematic survey of it. So that's what she done and she published in this book.
(NDLR): And that's what you used in the "Chinese Dream", right?
NM: And it's in the back of the Chinese Dream as a sort of images glossary.
Pictures by Reineke Otten (c) Dynamic City Foundation
(NDLR): Just a question: why did you class it by colors at the end?
NM: The colors was an idea... I thought it was very exciting to let's examine or isolate a single color from a picture. To get an impression what might feel so distinct in Chinese cities. Because there is very very small things that really define our city look and you are not quite aware of it. It's subconscious. So we isolated like the pink plastic...
(NDLR): The Shenzhen look...
NM: The Shenzhen look and the Golden dream etc.
(NDLR): Thank you very much Neville Mars, director of the Dynamic City Foundation.
Neville Mars (何新城) founded the Dynamic City Foundation in 2003 in Beijing, a research and design institute focused on the rapid transformations of China's urban landscape. Its focus is to map the course of China's flash-urbanization and investigates how designers can regain control over the increasingly organic process. The main research framework is China's objective to build 400 new cities by the year 2020. In a multidisciplinary team of sociologists, planners and designers the DCF has developed a catalog of design prototypes suitable for the increasingly market-driven conditions of China. The overarching goal is to establish an holistic approach for China’s cities, to in turn cultivate a healthier society of less social disparities or gaps. The work is open source and available at www.BURB.tv