‘Countryside, The Future’ exhibition highlights China’s dramatic growth

Source:Xinhua Published: 2020/2/27 19:13:41

An on-going exhibition presented by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in New York highlights how China has been dramatically redefining its vast countryside with continuous investment in infrastructure and poverty alleviation.

Countryside, The Future, on view through August 14, aims to put the world's countryside, or the 98 percent of the Earth's surface not occupied by cities "on the agenda again," Koolhaas told the Xinhua News Agency at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum when the show opened to public on February 21.

China's rural model

Rem Koolhaas Photo: IC

Drawn from original research on rapidly changing rural areas across the globe, the exhibition fills the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed spiralling gallery of the Guggenheim with an immersive, multi-sensory installation, offering an overview of rural areas from their historical importance and importance in the 20th century to their current state and how they can be used in the future.

China's rural revitalization, featured in the exhibition on the fourth level of the museum's rotunda, provides an important example of the ways that the countryside can be used, said Koolhaas, who has visited China for more than 100 times and is known for his striking, often gravity-defying structures, including the China Central Television's Beijing headquarters.

The installation on China's new countryside include four sections respectively themed "collective economy," "cultural tourism," "rural e-commerce" and "high-tech agriculture" as well as a comparative study on the data of rural development in China, Europe and the US in recent years.

It is a joint project based on field work by the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing and Koolhaas' research studio Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in four villages in China's Henan, Guizhou, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces.

"We could not have done this without collaboration with CAFA... This furniture is designed by them and it helps [visitors] really understand what is going on in China," said Koolhaas, pointing at the tables and chairs that form a replica of an encircling conference room in rural China.

"China is currently one of the only countries that has a policy of keeping the countryside as a viable environment, as a place where there are new opportunities created," he said.

The rural revitalization strategy, first put forward during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, aims at achieving the basic modernization of agriculture and rural areas by 2035, and the grand goal of a strong agriculture, a beautiful countryside and well-off farmers by 2050.

"I think that to some extent China is a model of what should happen also in other territories in the countryside," he said. 

"What we find striking, and what I think is maybe the most, the deepest reason that I have admiration for China is that they never give up trying, and continuously make an effort at improvement."

"It's not surprising that some of the [Chinese] posters that seemed like fantasies in the [19]80s are now kind of being realized simply because of the systematic work, systematic effort and systematic thinking of the Chinese in terms of their own future," he said. 

"If you're in China, you feel that people have a feeling that they are making their own future."

Koolhaas also hailed China's contribution to sustainable rural development in other countries through its Belt and Road Initiative.

"We are showing how China deals with its own country. But we also show how China makes a contribution to other countries. We look at the railway, as part of the Belt and Road project in Kenya. And so we look at what is the effect of the Chinese railway in an African country," he said.

The Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), 485 kilometers in length, has seen more than saw 1,000 days of safe operations following its launch in May 2017. The modern railway replaces the meter gauge railway constructed more than 100 years ago during the British colonial rule, a marked improvement in efficiency and comfort.

Not to be neglected

Countryside, The Future, as noted by some experts, marks Koolhaas's striking embrace of the decidedly non-urban, the broader category of the "countryside" after the architect spending decades devoted deconstructivism and an unapologetic sense of urbanity. Forty years ago Koolhaas launched his city-focused book Delirious New York.

"In this case I have a very clear message," said Koolhaas. "People predicted by 2050, 80 percent of mankind will live in cities, and 20 percent of mankind will live in the countryside."

"I think we cannot tolerate and we cannot let that happen, because it means that basically the largest part of the world would be ignored, neglected, not maintained and not be there as a kind of wonderful place to go to or to exist in," he said.

In addition to China, Koolhaas and his team also explored a series of case studies in Kenya, Germany, France, Italy and the US that address topics such as artificial intelligence, human-animal ecosystems and other phenomena that are drastically changing the Earth's landscapes.

It is "particularly meaningful" to present it in one of the world's great museums in one of the world's densest cities at a time when the world is facing an "inevitable global challenge" with long-term implications for the sustainable development of all countries, Koolhaas said.

"Maybe it seems a little bit crazy, but New York is the center of communication in the world. And basically what I wanted to do with this show is to tell the world as much as possible that we have been looking at cities too much and that we should look at the countryside, and pay a lot more attention to the countryside than we are doing," he said.

"If you're in cities you barely notice global warming. But if you're in the countryside, as soon as you go out of the city, you realize the weather is strange, or there are irregularities in terms of expectation," he said. 

"One of the key things that we are also showing is that this is an interesting moment, because all regimes, all political systems, are realizing that something has to be done."

"And whether they want to or not, they will have to communicate, and we'll have to collaborate. And one of the things we all know is that we have to keep nature in a more careful way," he said.

Koolhaas said he was very much encouraged that so many visitors, especially youngsters, have shown such a strong interest in the exhibition.

"I think it means a lot. And also it means a lot that you see young people reading. Yeah, they're reading the text. Supposedly young people are not interested in reading any more, but actually they read," he said.
Newspaper headline: Rural revitalization


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