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May 12, 2009
by Linda G. Miller

Event: James Stirling Memorial Lecture on the City: Beijing Inside Out: Caochangdi, a lecture by Robert Mangurian and Mary-Ann Ray
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.05.09
Speakers: Robert Mangurian & Mary-Ann Ray — Principals, STUDIO WORKS
Organizer: AIANY; Canadian Centre for Architecture; London School of Economics
Sponsors: Underwriter: PKSB Architects; Sponsors: Benjamin Moore & Co.; Buro Happold Consulting Engineers; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa


The Bird’s Nest Stadium. The Forbidden City. Tian’anmen Square. Caochangdi? Though it may not be on most tourists’ lists of sites to see in Beijing, Caochangdi, which means “grassland” in Mandarin, is one of Beijing’s approximately 500 urban villages. It is the largest revenue producing district in the country, and is the home and workplace of architects Robert Mangurian and Mary-Ann Ray, principals of STUDIO WORKS, who won the competition for the third biennial James Stirling Memorial Lecture on the City.

Their presentation, “Caochangdi Urban Rural Conundrums: Off Center People’s Space in the Early 21st Century Republic of China — A Model for the Momentous Project of the New Socialist Village,” gave an insider’s view of life in a place they called an “urban village.” Urban villages like Caochangdi were originally carved out for agriculture and peoples communes, and are now the new lexicon of Chinese urbanism. As presented from the seat of a bicycle coursing along the streets, one sees the floating populations of migrant farm workers, taxi drivers, ex-pats, and artists who find it a source of cheap, albeit “illegal,” three-story residences.

Caochangdi is also the home of artist Ai Weiwei, who after living in NYC, returned to his native China in 1993. Ai Weiwei served as the artistic consultant for design, collaborating with Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics as well as Ordos 100, and is part of what the presenters call “the new DNA for creative development” in China.

The James Stirling Memorial Lectures competition was established in November 2003 by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) to create a forum for the advancement of new critical perspectives on the role of urban design and urban architecture in the development of cities worldwide. It was conceived in homage to British architect James Stirling, who believed that urban design is integral to the practice of architecture and a vital topic for public debate.


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