Artist Links

Artist Links

Awarding Body: Arts Council England and British Council
Date Awarded: 31st March 2005

4 month residency in Shanghai, China

In recent years, I had become increasingly interested in patterns and models used to analyse and interpret complex human experiences. Previous research has led me to work with the Met Office, the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and Space Syntax, to consider and develop behavioural models to investigate the accuracy, approximation and failings of formulae, theories and mathematical prediction of human activity. I was fascinated by urban growth and social systems which facilitate and are represented by massive communities. In the past twelve months, I had been fortunate to work on the design team of a masterplanning project in the South of England and this had enhanced my curiosity and awareness of the contrast between the logical projections of urban planners and the less predictable and more complex experience of the inhabitants. I was intrigued by the attempts to understand and predict human habitation, movement and trends.

I felt that Shanghai would present the most stimulating context with which to develop and challenge my work. Shanghai was a worldwide focus for growth. In 2001 the 1st World Planning Schools Conference (the 6th Asian Planning Schools Conference) was held at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, Shanghai. While the conference considered issues of worldwide relevance, its location in Shanghai was highly relevant. From 1990 to 2004 growth in city population was calculated as 25.5%. This appears to be mainly facilitated through the increasing number of people coming into the city from other provinces. This inward migration had been supported by massive recent economic growth 12-16% annual increase in manufacturing output and 9-10% annual increase in retail sales. For the past 15 years architecturally, it had been rising faster and higher than any city in the history of the world. Shanghai was now the world's most densely populated city and had more skyscrapers than the entire west coast of the USA.

Shanghai in 2005, appeared to be re-evaluating the implications of this growth and assessing possible sustainable future directions. The relatively soft earth and massive infrastructure requirements of central Shanghai had reportedly necessitated a temporary moratorium on high-rise development and concurrent exploration of alternative models of urban growth.

At this historical pause in Shanghai’s frenetic architectural development, I was very grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the city and the population-related issues which it was confronting and anticipating. Shanghai had had a world-wide relevance throughout the twentieth century (and before) as a trading centre, ‘open-city’ and cultural melting pot. Through different world-wide and regional power struggles Shanghai had maintained a significance, independent of the rest of mainland China, and appeared to be projected to increase in importance as China emerged as a dominant economic power. I bel that investigation of Shanghai would allow for a radical reappraisal of European assumptions of architectural and social development. I looked forward to being contradicted, challenged and inspired through the privileged experience of witnessing a time of dramatic change.

The Artist Links Programme allowed me a period of research into the experience of understanding, representing and attempting to interpret the trends, behaviours and demands of a rapidly shifting population of at least 16m people. I made contact with the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at Tongji University, searched for Wu Jiang, Deputy Director of Shanghai's Urban Planning Administration Bureau and spent time with some of the commercial practices including Will Alsops, PRC, Shanghai and others, which were actively engaged with the debate surrounding the future challenges of developing sustainable and innovative communities within this context.

I sought to use this award to learn from and respond to the attempts to manage, visualise and interpret the incomprehensible complexity of predicting social cohesion, pedestrian and traffic movement, physical accommodation and resources on a scale which may be without precedent. The outcomes were in the form of a new series of artworks which were later presented in various venues China, UK, USA, Italy, Czech Republic and other countries.

Text by David Cotterrell, derived from original residency proposal.

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