Wrestling with China

School News

Wrestling with China

August 16, 2016

In a lecture in Shanghai on July 21, architect and critic Michael Sorkin recounted his many battles to get his work built in China. Sorkin, who is the inaugural AAC research fellow, spoke at an AAC-sponsored event at the Haworth showroom in the Jing’An Kerry Centre and charted the ups and downs of his planning and design projects. Ranging from plans to build mountain-like highrises in the Zhabei district of Shanghai and an eco-city on Houguan Lake in Wuhan to a design for a jelly-fish-shaped hotel in Tianjin, the projects met with initial acceptance, but all fell prey to fickle decision makers and opaque approval processes.


Using wit, references to old movies (“Gung Ho!” with Randolph Scott and “Mission to Moscow”), occasional hyperbole, and lots of images, Sorkin entertained the crowd of about 100 with tales of working in China. In addition to their common fate, the projects shared a dedication to sustainability and an interest in bio-morphic design.


One project, though, has managed to wend its way past all obstacles and get built. A torus-shaped structure in Xi’an, it began as a world trade center and changed program a number of times before and even during construction. When it finally opened earlier this year, it had become a shopping mall—surprising, but not necessarily dismaying its architect.


Haworth sponsored the lecture and AECOM hosted a dinner afterward for the speaker and special guests.


When asked after his talk why he keeps working in China, Sorkin said, “Like most architects, I’m an optimist. And even with the recent slowdown, China is still where the action is. Where else could I get the chance to build a bagel-shaped mall? I’ll keep coming back.”