Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Design Like the Chinese

I recently returned from working at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. Many things blew me away during my visit but foremost were the incredible venues built for the 24 sports. With Edmonton's raging debate on the design possibilities of new downtown arena, I questioned whether we could ever produce here what they did in Shenzhen. My conclusion was a decisive no.

This is an image of the Universiade Centre which comprised the Athletics stadium (not seen here but same essential design), main basketball venue and swimming venue. Not only are they striking by their geometric design, at night they light up in an array of incredible colours. Walking through here day or night impressed upon me that you would never see this in North America. China's streamlined decision making, large budgets and desire to be globally admired and lauded makes this possible. Even with matching budgets, frankly this wouldn't happen here because we all have to have a say.

Our design by committee attitude has left North America essentially devoid of any venue remotely similar to what was seen in Shenzhen (yet another example is the "Cocoon"). We've created functional, sometimes cost-efficient buildings that are like our living rooms inside and often like stark office structures on the outside. Nothing that makes you want to look again and again like I did at Universiade. It's no wonder then that Edmontonians are nervous of what our new arena will look like.

We are our own worst enemy when it comes to design. It's not as though we don't have architects able to design incredibly diverse buildings but we don't let them. Most of us are not architects or urban planners with an eye and expertise for large scale design yet we tell them how to do their jobs. I'm not advocating for one party rule but we need to back off and let the experts do their work. Some of us will hate it, as some likely do of Shenzhen's venues, and many more of us will love it. That is the price paid for uniqueness. It's time for us in Edmonton to start shelling out. Much like the Chinese have.

No comments: