Renowned Israeli architect Haim Dotan lectures in Shanghai

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/21 17:08:39

Haim Dotan, an Israeli architect who designed the breathtaking Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, recently delivered a lecture at Shanghai Library. Dotan discussed the process behind making the bridge and also shared the Jewish and Chinese philosophies that inspired him to do so.

Jointly held by DeTao Media and the library, Dotan poured through old texts about Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy started by Laozi. Taoism contends that people should respect nature and seek integration with it.

When talking about the glass bridge, Dotan said that he was inspired by a sentence from Tao Te Ching, a classical work of philosophy depicting Taoism, that says "a great sound is inaudible; a great image is formless."

"Therefore, I was thinking about designing a formless bridge," he said, "which is thin, light and invisible in the mountains." Dotan added that he wanted to realize the harmony between human and the nature, which brought challenges to engineers who were primarily concerned about safety.

Dotan spent three years seeking "a perfect solution" to achieve both beauty and safety, finally deciding on glass because it is transparent yet still quite strong even at just 60 centimeters thick.

"Thanks to the inventive engineers of China, we finally found such kind of glass," he said. "We also made handrails like wings and built a bridge that is both beautiful and safe."

According to Dotan, the bridge has brought social and economic benefits to locals, as it has started to turn a profit after just one year in existence. "These people can profit from scenery in the sky instead of oil, guns, coal or theft," he said. "That is what ecological tourism means: to make all parts win."

Israeli architect Haim Dotan delivers a lecture at Shanghai Library. Photos: Chen Shasha/GT

Family, education and economy

In addition to the bridge, Dotan was also the chief designer of the Israel Pavilion for World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The pavilion took the shape of a seashell with two parts held together like hands. "It told a story between Chinese and Jews, yin and yang, as well as the relationship between China and Israel," he said.

That building, unfortunately, was demolished shortly after the Expo ended. "It was such a tragedy that it had to be torn down, despite all the efforts and difficulties we had been through to build it," he said. "But memories always last longer than the physical stuff."

Dotan said that both Jewish and Chinese culture are ancient civilizations which have a lot in common. He contends that the importance of Jewish and Chinese philosophies lies in the preciousness of life, nature and the universe.

He also read The Analects of Confucius, a book illustrating the thoughts of Confucianism. "The Bible teaches people to be moral, to respect their parents and to not kill. Confucius does the same thing," he said, "It is the bible of the Chinese."

"Jews and Chinese share the same values in three aspects: family, education and economy," he said, adding that he believes a strong family is what makes a strong society.

When talking about education, Dotan quoted Einstein. "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

An attendant asks Dotan a question.

Inspire, create and develop

"Teachers are like a gardener and a student like a flower," Dotan said. "What teachers need to do is to give students confidence and encourage them to follow their curiosities and seek answers. Inspire them to create and develop and learn in a smarter way, instead of spoon-feeding them."

Having taught in China for over six years, Dotan feels that Chinese students should be encouraged to ask more questions. "Chinese students are too shy to ask questions, but I always encourage them to do so, because a question could have many answers. Asking helps them open their mind, which is quite important today," he said.

Dotan said modern China ought to start designing more buildings that embody the unique beauty of traditional Chinese culture now that the society has enough Western-style office buildings and skyscrapers that were hastily constructed following the country's reforms in the 1980s.

"There was a great demand for office buildings, roads, factories and new cities," he said, "China had to build fast by copying and borrowing a lot of styles, technologies, systems, transportation, even some mistakes, from the West."

He explained that Chinese residents used to live in lilong (alleys) and siheyuan (courtyards), but now they mostly live in apartment towers so they can't socialize as well as they used to, which is detrimental to the social fabric of the culture.

"China changed," he lamented. "The designers and planners didn't take time to reinvent modern living situations and an ecological environment. We need to build homes integrated with nature," he insisted, "to honor Chinese characteristics and culture instead of being a copycat."

Newspaper headline: Integrating with nature


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