Beijing: residual vs icon

The residual has replaced the icon. The icon has replaced the city. The residual has replaced the city. Easy. At the beginning of the twenty first century the logic of the city is fairly simple. So simple it has made us suspicious. So simple we seem not be able to understand it without feeling ashamed about it.

In the city where I live the residual is a free floating and mutating urban characteristic, the driving force behind its development, the result of its planning mechanisms and the logical outcome of how the urban tissue is forced to change, expand, transform and tear itself inside out. What happens here is a local interpretation of a global phenomenon determening the future of the world's developing cities; territorial expansion, architectural replacement, population explosion, infrastructural growth, residential sprawl and representational fall-out. To name a few causes. Particularly interesting about this city is the attention it gets; soon the 2008 Olympics will take place here, some foreign architects have build icons and the city is in the midst of an extreme make-over leaving not a single square meter unaffected. It is a know story about architecture and urbanism, but one which neglects the notion of the residual. Everywhere one sees cranes, jackhammers, hard hats, scaffolding, empty plots and new fly-overs. Looking closer one sees that the residual here is not a state of exception, but the rule, a planning principle.

The residual offers a glimpse behind the scenes of our theaters in progress, and is not seldom a source of embarrasment. When it performs in public we call it a dress rehearsal. The residual can be altered at random and without discussion, contrary to architecture; a beam can't be moved without its creator being consulted. The residual's biggest quality is that it doesn't need to perform, it doesn't have to live up to expectations and seemingly disconnected from intelligence and/or reason. It is a by-product. It is outside the consumerist onslaught, bombardment and encroachment of meaning, signification, and messages.

Strolling around in the neighborhood of the large construction sites of this city (CCTV (Rem Koolhaas/OMA), Linked Hybrid (Steven Holl), Watercube (PTA)) I have been peeping over the fence, like a detective driven by curiosity, with an obsession to find evidence, with a precision that was at odds with the chaotic environment I was roaming through. These images touch the contours of the construction site, balance on the edge between construction and destruction. Understanding this, I believe we need to deal with the residual as a unique setting of creation; the creation of the real site, the creation of architecture.

Bert de Muynck